In a noble effort to get more politicians to appreciate important role of the arts in education, House Representative Suzanne Bonamici (Dem. Ore) sent a letter to her colleagues asking them to join her and Aaron Schock (Rep. IL) on a "newly formed Congressional STEAM Caucus to increase understanding of the importance of arts and design to STEM subjects, to spread the word about STEAM, and to prioritize STEAM education."
Supporting the effort, the Americans for the Arts, announced that:
A bipartisan team of members of Congress have launched the Congressional STEAM Caucus. The STEAM Caucus, a popular acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, which "aims to change the vocabulary of education to recognize the benefits of both the arts and sciences -- and their intersections -- to our country's future generations. Caucus members will work to increase awareness of the importance of STEAM education and explore new strategies to advocate for STEAM programs.
To date 11 other members have signed on: David Cicilline (D-RI) , Jim Langevin (D-RI), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Jared Polis (D-CO), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY). While its still too early to tell how many additional House Members will join the Caucus, the significance of the Caucus to the national debate over STEAM is not at all clear.
Last fall an exciting grant was announced by the NSF to experiment with a variety of innovation incubators "designed to foster and accelerate innovation and creativity... to generate collaborations of different professionals and the public around STEM education and other STEM-related topics of local interest that can be explored with the help of creative learning methodologies such as innovative methods 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."
This followed an NEA program in art and science to fund proposals that demonstrate how both subjects can be woven together in an artwork, or play, demonstration or lab experiment or even an educational effort.
Bill O'Brian, senior adviser for Innovation programs at the NEA said at the time that "creativity and innovation" clearly support U.S. economic interests and he expected this effort to continue well beyond the current request for applications but like the NSF, he stopped short of endorsing STEAM per se.
Now that a Congressional Caucus on STEAM has been established, there is hope that STEM will turn to STEAM. The so-called STEM bill was first introduced by George W. Bush and signed into signed into law a bill in 2007. The America Competes Act, its proper name, 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.
Fortunately, there are regions of the country that have taken the lead in this effort to marry art and science, to reinvent the curriculum and embrace art integration techniques, and experiments with art based learning techniques too. These state by state, school by school efforts can help send the signal to educators around the nation and help spur the kind of thinking we desperately need.
The Congressional effort would change STEM to STEAM--but don't bet on it.
The idea that Congress would adopt this idea; and that Congress and the Obama Administration might get together on one of the most important issues facing our country, a new hope for America in the wake of a globalized economy, is probably just wishful thinking.
While renaming the STEM as STEAM legislation alone would be fabulous, it probably won't happen in a nation's capital which can't seem to agree on anything.