STEM vs. STEAM
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education and the need for Makerspaces in libraries is important, we all agree. I’m not backing down on the fact that all young people need to learn to code, it will be a ubiquitous skill, but we don’t want to leave the arts behind.
You may have heard about the move to add “A” to STEM to create STEAM education. The ‘A’ includes fine arts, music, design, theatre, and literature, among others. Experience backed up by new research shows we need to exercise all parts of our brains to maximize creativity, communication, and compassion.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
We still can't answer that question. During the previous twenty-five years, while we have focused on increasing our technological and scientific prowess, we may have been neglecting other important subjects of arts and humanities. Robots and AI have already surpassed human capability in math and data, but in the human traits of empathy, compassion, and creativity- we still excel.
We use “empathy” to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Interestingly, this is precisely what happens when we become absorbed in a story. It does not seem to matter whether we are listening, deep reading, or are engrossed in an epic movie. Television does not seem to work according to researchers. (Pennington, 2017, p.15)
Rock, Scissors, Paper Beats Digital
You may notice I referred to this experience as ‘deep reading’ and it does not occur when we read digitally. It requires a kind of focus hard to achieve in this medium.
“In sharp contrast to deep reading, which involves a large part of the map of the brain and its two hemispheres, reading online is surface reading that engages the brain much less, and in a different way. The brain is thereby reconfigured for this quicker and more superficial form of reading-lite. The circuitry for deep reading is either never developed, as can happen in digital natives, or loses functionality or strength of connectivity as a result of disuse, that is, inactivity causes the weakening or pruning of synaptic connections, as can happen in digital immigrants.” (Pennington, 2017, p.156)
In his fascinating book, The Shallows- What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, Nicholas Carr adds, “One other finding of the study sheds light on the differences between reading Web pages and reading books. The researcher found that when people search the Net, they exhibit a very different pattern of brain activity than they do when they read book-like text.” (Carr, 2011, p. 1210
In 2016, Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University, Steven Pearlstein, said in his view, “The good jobs of the future will go to those who can collaborate widely, think broadly and challenge conventional wisdom - precisely the capacities that a liberal arts education is meant to develop.”
We will continue to need multiple skills as we move forward. I loved this statement from Daniel Goleman suggesting a current job posting may read, “Help wanted: Techies with passion and intuition.” (Goleman, 2000, p.45)
An article on the Mindtools website discusses Daniel Pink’s, A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. The author states, “Pink suggests six areas vital to our success. One of which is empathy; the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position, to imagine what they are feeling, to understand what makes people tick, to create relationships and to be caring of others: all of which is very difficult to outsource or automate, and yet is increasingly important to business.”
Fortunately, as in most of life, it’s not an ‘either/or’ matter. You can benefit from technology, enjoy the features and information of our digital life without ignoring the language and beauty which contributes to our humanity.
If you do not want to be outsourced and you want your children to complement AI, not be replaced by it, be sure your family spend lots of time with stories. Tell them. Listen to them. Read them. Love them.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite book quotes from Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.
The character Faber says, “Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them, at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
Carr, Nicholas. (2011). The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains
Goleman, Daniel. (2000) Working With Emotional Intelligence
Pennington, Martha C. (2017) Why Reading Still Matters