THE BLOG
06/05/2012 10:40 am ET Updated Aug 05, 2012

STHEM, Not STEM

Yet another government study committee, in a report released this April, decries the failure of science, technology, engineering, and math education in this country. Citing ample statistics, the Chairman's Staff of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress makes the case that Americans must produce more students to fill STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs or the economic future of the United States in the new global economy is doomed. And the incentive for students: a good job with a corporation.

There are two big problems with the report and proposed solutions.

First, the authors of the report employ the already-failed strategy of emphasizing a few academic subjects at the expense of others. We will not solve any problem by just teaching more science, technology, engineering, and math. Why don't we understand that we need our children to have a well-rounded education?

Norm Augustine, retired chairman and chief executive officer of the Lockheed Martin Corporation and former undersecretary of the Army, knows this. He's eloquent about the role of the humanities -- particularly history -- in creating great engineers and scientists. For Augustine, education is about citizenship, critical thinking, and understanding the world we live in. And, by the way, Augustine reminds us that education -- learning -- is supposed to be fun, a pursuit we undertake because we enjoy it.

Instead of promoting STEM education, we should promote STHEM education: science, technology, humanities, engineering, and math. The humanities -- the disciplines that seek to understand the human condition, such as literature, languages, history, sociology, communications, anthropology, and law -- are essential for the effective application of the more empirical disciplines.

The second big problem with the Joint Economic Committee's report is the economics argument. It is completely and totally uninspiring. STEM education will get students good jobs, the report argues. They will be financially successful. Is that all we can offer the next generation -- a good job? Is that all America is today? Are the American people simple economic units?

Where are the inspiring arguments that sent steam-powered boats to fuel westward expansion, solved the engineering challenges of the transcontinental railroad, put electricity and telephones into nearly every home on the continent, and conquered space and landed men on the moon?

Our students must understand that education is not about preparing them just for the workforce. Education should prepare them to be citizens of their communities, their states, and the nation. It should prepare them to meet the challenges of tomorrow. It should prepare them to inspire other Americans to accomplish what others around the world do not dare to try. It should prepare them to be innovators -- to see a problem as a creative opportunity to pioneer unforeseen accomplishments.

We can't teach our children any of that, however, without a balanced education that includes science, technology, engineering, math, and the humanities.