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stem vs steam

Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 31634

I'm starting to hear about arts being added to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). This article says:
The unique moniker reflects both the international movement to add the arts — which can include the fine, language and musical arts — to STEM education

And the huffington post says:
STEM can be found in virtually every discipline and in every product. STEM is not exclusive to the subjects of science, engineering, technology or math. We must continue engaging students in the STEM disciplines and encouraging them to combine technical knowledge and skills with the creativity that leads to innovative ideas -- ideas that give the arts new technologies, music new instruments, farmers new machines, and our businesses a competitive advantage. Unless we continue building the STEM pipeline, each profession suffers.

So, we are excluding history and gym? When I was in middle/high school, we took math, English, science, history, a second language, gym and an elective like art or music. (In later high school, there were electives like Programming.) If "art" is considered to include language (English/second language), art and music), this means almost every subject is included.

I'm not saying art isn't important. STEAM feels like diluting focus. Clearly human factors, usability, etc require art skills.


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K. Tsang

Joined: Sep 13, 2007
Posts: 2757

School subjects at high school level (back in the days) can be categorized as: language & literature, humanities (history, philosophy etc), social sciences (psychology, economics etc), physical & natural sciences & math, aesthetic/creative (fine art, music, drama etc).

Then in college days, it's basically arts & sciences. We know what sciences are: math, physics, chemistry, biology, geology etc. Everything else is considered "arts".

There actually is a fine line for those "social sciences" subjects because these areas overlap the skill set needed from pure art and pure science.

Furthermore, all this I believe deals with the application of xyz in such and such area/subject more than teaching the concepts/ theory.

Paul Anilprem
Enthuware Software Support
Ranch Hand

Joined: Sep 23, 2000
Posts: 3411
[rant start]Globalization makes the markets more "efficient". What we don't realize is that this efficiency really comes from sacrificing the quality of life. I have seen this happen to children in India in the past couple of decades. About two decades ago, kids spent a good amount of time on arts related subjects. Worry for college didn't even start until you were in 11th or 12th grade. But now, right from grade 9, all they have to focus on is pure science. If they don't do it, then they will lose out to the competition that exists for college admissions and then for jobs. They take extra classes on science/math just to be able to compete. There is absolutely no time for arts, history, or gym.

I have started seeing the same trend in US as well now. Indian origin (and I assume Chinese) kids in the US are already "ahead" in this game because their parents have gone through this in India. Caucasian kids are now waking up to this slowly because they can't get into good schools with just average SAT scores anymore. African American kids are still in bliss.

Bottom line is, you can say goodbye to arts unless your parents are rich and can support you for life or until you become famous.
[rant end]

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Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 31634

Paul: In the United States, the SAT covers both math and English. Which means some of those extra classes are in English. But not the part you'd consider art. It doesn't cover reading. (or much thinking IMHO.) Memorizing words and dealing with odd analogies is hardly useful. There are also SAT II exams in specific subjects that cover the gamut. I didn't take any of those though. In the US, the drive to minimize art in the curriculum is lack of funding and an emphasis on standardized test. Well off people still supplement that with sports/art/music after school or on weekends. More so when kids are younger than high school though. The "good" schools here require more than just a high SAT score to get in. The "good" school thing is a topic in its own right so I started a new thread for it

Tsang: Yes, STEM/STEAM is about innovation and application. Artists are creative. I didn't realize we had a problem there. Or maybe the problem is connecting them to technology? I see plenty of that in the Maker movement already though.

chris webster

Joined: Mar 01, 2009
Posts: 2028

So, er, what's not being included in STEAM?

Education in the UK has traditionally had a real problem with the "arts vs. science" divide - the so-called Two Cultures. Our political leaders are famously ignorant of science, and you can still catch a whiff of the old patrician disdain for earning one's living through practical skills such as science/engineering rather than from property ownership. Just look at how the UK establishment still fawns over City financiers and insists on "rewarding excellence" in get-rich-quick scamsters, while largely ignoring and refusing to invest in science and technology.

If you want to go to university in England/Wales, you need to pass the "A level" exams (Scotland has a different and more flexible exam system). In my day you could usually only do 3 or occasionally 4 subjects (today it's often 4 or 5), but kids tend to choose all science or all humanities. Indeed, I used to be regarded as an oddity because I studied a mixture of science and humanities at school and university (I may still be regarded as an oddity, but probably for different reasons...).

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that kids need good grades at A level to get into a good university, so they - or their schools - tend to go for subjects where they think it's easier to get a good grade. STEM subjects are perceived as being harder than humanities subjects, so fewer kids take them at A level. This means there are fewer kids who are able to study for a degree in those subjects. A similar logic applies at degree-level: many students seem to choose subjects where they think they can get a good degree grade, rather than subjects that they perceive as being more challenging. In recent years, many universities have been cutting STEM staff (even whole departments) or introducing catch-up courses for those students who still want to study STEM subjects but might not have the necessary background from their school education.

Personally, I think any educated person should have a mix of humanities and science in their education and all children should have the opportunity to explore all these subjects to an appropriate level for their abilities/interests. But right now I think the last thing we need is to confuse the real shortage of STEM skills with a nifty but empty acronym like STEAM or the literally true but misleadingly woolly idea that "STEM is not exclusive to the subjects of science, engineering, technology or math".

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Jayesh A Lalwani

Joined: Jan 17, 2008
Posts: 2553

STEAM seems to be a way to lump together all the things that Chinese kids focus on. A lot of Chinese (and other East Asian ) parents focus on math, science technology and music. It seems to me that STEAM is a way to reprioritize school budgets to align with East Asians

There's nothing wrong with it. I think music education is good. However, let's be honest. Within the East Asian community, music training is about developing discipline and rigor, not creativity. The make the kids practice practice practice. Probably a lot of people have heard about tiger mom. I don't think the American education system will go to such kind of rigor in art. I sure wouldn't want my son to be forced into it such repition, unless he wanted to.
Greg Charles

Joined: Oct 01, 2001
Posts: 2867

My opinions are at least partly shaped by this TED Talk, which was one of the best ever. The STEM concentration in schools is important. However, it's still good to remember that we're not just teaching skills to help kids get a job, but skills that will allow them to have a life.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 31634

chris webster wrote:So, er, what's not being included in STEAM?

Yeah. That was my first reaction. Reading doesn't seem to be included!

Jayesh A Lalwani wrote:STEAM seems to be a way to lump together all the things that Chinese kids focus on. A lot of Chinese (and other East Asian ) parents focus on math, science technology and music. It seems to me that STEAM is a way to reprioritize school budgets to align with East Asians

Excellent point. That makes it seem less random.
I agree. Here's the link:
subject: stem vs steam