01/30/2013 07:43 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

Eliminating the Silos in Education

The debate over STEM or STEAM, while intense, only marks the beginning of what needs to happen in education. Harvey White, founder and former President of Qualcomm, says both the STEM and STEAM concepts are really "placeholders" for something else that needs to be done in K-12 education and the universities: elimination of the silos and a renewed focus on interdisciplinary learning.

The existing silos or disciplines, for example, are really irrelevant to finding a job. Math and science and art and music become important to the extent that they are folded into a larger context, and used to solve real world problems. Only then can the student understand how and why such disciplines are relevant and necessary. Education should not only make young people world-wise and hopefully, ignite a love of learning; it must give our students the skills they need to live a meaningful, productive life, i.e., for most this means a job and a living wage.

Not that this is the only reason for an education, particularly a college education. Indeed, according to a number of studies by the PEW Research Center there is genuine confusion about what a college education (or high school diploma) is supposed to accomplish.

I know many tenured professors earned their expertise in one of those many disciplines most revered, and you certainly won't persuade them that their Ph.D is irrelevant. At the same time, their disciplines are changing. Even the coveted field of computer science, for example, is slowly redefining itself and the faculty too, whatever their degree, are recasting themselves, repositioning what it means to be "an expert."

The broader curriculum -- in college, and to an extent in K-12 too -- is slowly changing. But most colleges keep adding courses, even degrees or minors, to be current; and most academies are hesitant to edit anything out. This only adds to the confusion and difficulty of choosing a college let alone a career path.

But there is something about the field of art and art-based training that is really a lot like learning to read or communicating -- skills one learns to foster life long learning, and participating in society.

This is one of the reasons why "arts integration" is growing in importance and essentiality because both hemispheres of the brain are nurtured and the student begins the process of acquiring new thinking skills. It is why government organizations like the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts are encouraging art and science collaboration to develop new courses/new projects -- even new curricula -- to be folded into the existing educational mix. It is also why total curriculum integration makes sense too -- to foster the skills needed for the new,knowledge-based global economy.

Eventually all subjects need to be integrated. And taught differently too, using all we know about how people learn in light of Howard Gardiner's "multiple intelligences" which only now, after 30 years since its first appearance in the literature, is being taken seriously by the educational establishment.

The advance of technology ushers in yet another major reason for revamping what we learn, how we learn and where we learn.