Written by John Eger
Last month, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), Co-Chairs of a Congressional Caucus committed to putting A (the role the arts play in nurturing young peoples new thinking skills) into the language of the America COMPETES Act (also know as the STEM act), together with 28 other house members, wrote the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology urging inclusion of provisions supportive of STEAM.
Its time they said, that:
“STEAM should be recognized as providing value to STEM research and programs across federal agencies through ‘Sense of Congress’ provisions and language clarifying that current research, data collection, and STEM programs may include arts integration strategies and programs,”…”Additionally, we ask that, where appropriate, data collection, surveys, and reporting on STEM activities and grant making in the federal government specifically look at arts integration activities. Finally, current interdisciplinary and inter-agency programs should be strengthened and language added to clarify that arts integration is an avenue for doing so.”
The Caucus reflects what more and more educators, parents, and policymakers and researchers are saying about merging the arts and sciences and creating more meaningful interdisciplinary experiences as the best way to nurture the next generation of leaders and workers for a workforce demanding creativity and innovation.
Dr. Krishna Kumari Challa, scientist, artist, writer, poet, and designer based in India, has said, “Art and science … are two sides of the same coin.” While science is Dr. Challa’s first love, art and literature are “life itself.”
Dr. Challa, like many scientists see science as art and art as science and often inspired by each. Unfortunately, many others still see art and science as distinct and separate disciplines. Not unlike physicist-turned-novelist C.P Snow, who wrote over fifty years ago there are “two cultures”:
“Physicists and writers exist, where “hostility and dislike” divide the world’s “natural scientists — its chemists, engineers, physicists and biologists — from its literary intellectuals.”
He found it strange that more scientists weren’t artists and musicians and more artists lacked a similar interest in the sciences. What happened to the classically trained person, he mused. In his day all these subjects were “branches of the same tree.”
The challenge of our age is to blur those lines, merge art and science, and develop the new thinking skills kids need to be creative and innovative in the wake a truly global-knowledge-economy.
Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein who authored a seminal book called Sparks of Genius looked and at the top 150 scientists who lived over a period of 200 years and made a rather startling discovery that each was equally accomplished in the fine arts as well as the hard sciences.
To those educators lobbying for more emphasis on the sciences, they pointed out that Galileo was a poet and literary critic. Einstein was a passionate student of the violin. And Samuel Morse, the father of telecommunications and inventor of the telegraph, was a portrait painter.
The Root-Bernstein’s examined the minds of inventive people and found that creativity is something both artists and scientists can learn and, more importantly, that the seemingly disparate disciplines of art and science, music and math, complement and enhance one another.
When the White House and Congress first passed the America COMPETES Act, they were clearly thinking about the vital import of science, technology, engineering and math–not art. At the time, they authorized $151 million to help students earn a bachelor’s degree, math and science teachers to get teaching credentials, and provide additional money to help align kindergarten through grade 12 math and science curricula to better prepare students for college. The Act has been reauthorized several times since.
In the meantime, educators are discovering the power of the arts and art integration, adding “A” or the arts to the mix, and insuring that both hemispheres of the brain are nurtured, the whole brain is engaged, and art and the humanities and all the sciences reinforce the connections.
Also in the last few years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), realizing that creativity and innovation clearly support U.S. economic interests , launched an effort to fund proposals that demonstrate how art and science can be woven together in an artwork, or play, demonstration or lab experiment or educational effort. Proposals costing no more that $10,000 to $100,000 were encouraged.
The National Science Foundation, responsible for STEM initiatives, also funded the Art of Science Learning last year to produce three conferences — in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Illinois and San Diego, California — to look at what business, education, and communities across the United States were doing to merge the “two cultures” of art and science; and is closely examining ways to make young people creative and innovative.
More recently, the NSF funded experiments in Chicago, San Diego and Worcester , Massachusetts, called “Integrating Informal STEM and Arts-Based Learning to Foster Innovation,” to find a new model for sparking creativity and innovation in our schools. Specifically they stated:
“The goal of the project’s development activities is to experiment with a variety of innovation incubator models”… “to generate creative ideas, ideas for transforming one STEM idea to others, drawing on visual and graphical ideas, improvisation, narrative writing and the process of using innovative visual displays of information for creating visual roadmaps.”
Both the NSF and the NEA stopped short of endorsing STEAM per se — but it now may be time to change the focus and change the vocabulary and thus send a message to schools across the country: Merge art and science curricula, provide more interdisciplinary courses.
Barney Mansavage, a principal architect at SRG Partnership focusing on architecture for education and civic places, put it this way:
“Architecture is not a science, it’s an art; cost estimating is not a science, it’s an art; leadership is not a science, it’s an art”… “We might also say that even science is not a science. It, too, is an art, and as such, evolving from STEM to STEAM makes real sense.”
John M. Eger is the Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative, San Diego State University
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