Is STEM special?

What’s so special about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)? asks Alfie Kohn on Answer Sheet.

. . . President Obama announced an expensive new public-private initiative last November called “Educate to Innovate” that will focus on improving student performance exclusively in STEM subjects. Then, in early January, he was back with a new education project. Was its intent to spread the wealth to other kinds of learning that he had overlooked before? Nope. It was to commit another quarter-billion dollars to improve the teaching of STEM subjects. And a few weeks later, in his State of the Union address, the only academic disciplines he mentioned were, yet again, math and science.

Thought experiment: Try to imagine this, or any other, president giving a speech that calls for a major new commitment to the teaching of literature, backed by generous funding (even during a period of draconian budget cuts).

STEM has an edge because it involves numbers, Kohn argues. We respect the quantifiable and distrust the qualitative.

Productivity and profit are the priorities for STEM boosters, Kohn writes.

“The nation that out-educates us today,” said President Obama last month, “is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” . . .  it is not a sentence likely to be followed by a discussion of the humanities.

Education isn’t just a mechanism to produce tomorrow’s workers, Kohn believes, quoting linguist Robin Lakoff: ”Education is invaluable not only in its ability to help people and societies get ahead, but equally in helping them develop the perspectives that make them fully human.”

Common Core Blog agrees with Kohn, though I see commenters who resent the idea that math and science are dehumanizing.

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