You Can’t Have STEM without STEAM: The Great Debate

STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is a movement in which educators and policymakers are pushing for children in schools to focus their attention on the technological and engineering fields as career choices. While motivation and education for children in these fields is critical, we absolutely cannot forget the importance of the arts: language arts, fine arts, performance arts, and liberal arts. What kind of scientist and inventor would Leonardo da Vinci have been, without his conceptual visual design skills and enormous talent for painting and sculpture? What about a modern day Renaissance woman, like Elizabeth Gould, psychologist and neuroscientist, who dreamed of becoming an artist as a child, but found “a great deal of creativity in science?” Let’s take a look at why STEM without STEAM does not have life.

Arts education provides children valuable interpretive and communication skills. If a child is able to communicate clearly the meaning behind a science fair project, or explain a complex coding problem in the simplest of terms, they are utilizing their interpretive skills. Storytelling, language and metaphorical phrasing, and visualization are all interpretive techniques that can be enhanced with a solid arts education. Performing and fine art is the heart of communicative perception as the viewer, critic, or subject experiences it. When children are put in the role of communicator through these mediums, they are given the opportunity to see from both sides, as artist and critic, how their message is being intuited.

Arts education, when teamed with STEM subjects, helps cultivate deep learning. At the recent Martin Luther King Day Breakfast hosted by the National Action Network, arts education advocate, health professional, and MLK Merit Award recipient Floyd W. Green III presented about the importance of STEAM in education. A struggling child in math may have an easier time understanding fractions when studying music. A student who doesn’t understand reading comprehension may have an interest in memorizing lines and conveying a character from a play. See what he says during his award acceptance speech here.

“We must put a crayon back into a child’s hand, so they can create rainbows.”

–Floyd W. Green III

Arts education welcomes students to appreciate differences and be more culturally-aware. Large ensembles such as choir and orchestra have provided children with a wider appreciation for a variety of music and instill a dedication to teamwork across the group. Those children who actively participate in arts education develop more cultural sensitivity than their peers. They are aware of the importance of diversity in education, appreciation of various populations and their contributions to the human race.

Where arts education is waning in your community, make contributions to your local Arts Council. Reach out to your school districts. Donate art supplies or old musical instruments to schools or nonprofit groups. Enroll your children in arts and music education programs. Remember to educate the whole child.

Sound Off: What is being done in your community to advocate for STEAM? What do you credit in your life to arts education in your youth?


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