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Does a STEM Need a Blossom?

April 14, 2012

This is an interesting metaphor I originally heard in a Washington Post blog:

“Science and technology are meaningful when interwoven with all of the other modes of learning. A STEM, without its bloom, quickly withers in the forest of everyday life.”

These types of articles seem really defensive to me. “History is Important!” “Not everyone should study STEM!””But what about The Arts?!”

But maybe it’s me being defensive, and not the articles.

Maybe I’m biased because I had an especially interdisciplinary engineering undergraduate experience and am now studying for a PhD in Engineering and Public Policy, but I think getting as many people to study STEM as possible is awesome.

Just because STEM study is really constraining at most schools does not mean that STEM is de-contextualized/narrow-minded/robotic in and of itself. What I take away from these articles is that a liberal arts education is really useful for enhancing critical thinking and curiosity. That’s what engineering school can be too if you let it. There is an entire division in the American Society for Engineering Education focused on applying liberal education to engineering.

In my mind, the reverse question – Does a Blossom Need a STEM? – is just as fair a question as the original. Why just learn about philosophy when you can also discuss how it intersects with physics? Why take an art class that is completely disconnected from the chemistry involved?

STEM is so cool and fundamentally, it is good training for systematically approaching problems. However, just because something is systematic doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have space for the “blue sky ideas”. Obviously, all of education should just be more interdisciplinary. Problem solved.

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