All parents want a bright future for their kids. Which is why this history major, French-poetry minor, writer mom wants her kids to ditch the artsy, literary track I once held as the height of achievement and make stuff. Invent, design, discover, and build actual things.
This surprising revelation is rooted in my vague understanding that the fields that are growing in this country are in science, technology, engineering, and math -- the STEM fields. And our country needs STEM experts to thrive. And, unlike the field of writing, there's money and stability in STEM careers.
I have been talking, mostly seriously, about wanting my kids to make stuff for a while, but suddenly I've got a child who is old enough to begin making decisions about her future -- and the future she sees for herself is in STEM. So I, like our whole country, need a serious attitude adjustment.
I need to get behind STEM education in a big way. I need to get educated and stop playfully furrowing my brow in not-quite-mock confusion whenever anyone brings up talk of science and technology. Fortunately, my oldest daughter Zoë, an eighth grader, is helping me out.
"No, I don't want to learn how to fix carburetors," she said, rolling her eyes, when I questioned her interest in touring a high school called Brooklyn Tech.
Brooklyn Technical High School, to ignorant folks like me (whose snobbery about our literary bent should be plummeting as steeply as our earnings prospects), sounds like a vocational school. "Are you really sure she'd want to be in that kind of uncreative environment for four years?" one similarly artsy-fartsy friend asked me, when I told her about Zoë's interest in Brooklyn Tech.
Actually, Brooklyn Tech is a top STEM high school that teaches students college-level courses, has churned out Nobel laureates, astronauts, and titans of industry, and is harder to get into (gulp) than Harvard. It is also a highly creative place, which, I'm ashamed to say, surprised me.
Not Zoë. On the tour, she was wowed by the biochemistry labs, the robotics workshop, and the industrial design classrooms. The "uncreative environment" my friend and I envisioned was a figment of our uninformed imaginations -- set straight in a giant, bright architecture room in which students were designing and building a beautiful two-story house.
The connections between creativity and STEM came alive for me in those hallways and classrooms; I began to see clearly why it's not a contradiction for my modern-dancing, poetry-writing daughter to want desperately to go to a STEM-oriented high school.
Yet, while I agreed the school is amazing and exciting, I couldn't stop myself from letting Zoë know I thought it seemed "a little techy." That was a colossal understatement. Zoë smiled at me kindly, as if I were a quaint, delicate relic from a charmed past. "I love it, Mom," she said.
Embracing my child's STEM passion is easy from a parenting perspective -- I want her to follow her heart and mind. But if she and her similarly-jazzed cohorts of this generation are going to build and invent the future that will keep our country strong, there's going to have to be a cultural shift to a bigger commitment to STEM education.
This is not just about keeping school funding high enough to support expensive engineering workshops and physics labs; it's about creativity, too. How can our collective creativity support the people who teach and the kids who learn STEM subjects?
Our family's high school search happened to coincide with a competition at Ashoka Changemakers, where I work. The competition seeks to discover the best ideas for connecting talented STEM professionals in communities with students in our increasingly-strapped schools.
Entrants in the Partnering for Excellence: Innovations in Science + Technology + Engineering + Math (STEM) Education competition, a partnership with the Carnegie Corporation of New York and Opportunity Equation, not only demonstrate the creativity and excitement that infuses the STEM fields, but also the clear, undeniable potential the United States has to regain our excellence in STEM education. These solutions inspire not only kids like Zoë, but the kids like me, who weren't always clear about the relevance and thrills of science and math, or why they are so important to our future prosperity.
The programs that are finalists in the competition are ripe for replicating around the country, including one that sets up apprenticeships for students in video-game design and solar car engineering. Another taps STEM professionals to lead a series of in-school classes in which students work on relevant, real-life projects, which have the "wow factor" that only STEM subjects can deliver. I mean, who doesn't get excited by rocket launches?
You can actually help advance STEM education right now, by checking out the ten impressive competition finalists and voting for a favorite. The winners will share $150,000 to invest in and scale their solutions.
It's a great way to be part of supporting the kids who will one day invent, design, discover, and build the things that will make our lives better. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to vote. Even a history major, French-poetry minor, writer mom can do it.
Follow Alison Craiglow Hockenberry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/changemakers