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John M. Eger

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Now This Is a Sputnik Moment

Posted: 06/12/2012 2:15 pm

Last week, eight more states were granted waivers of the federal "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) Act that forced educators to concentrate on math and science scores to the exclusion of all else. This brings the total to 19 with more to come.

States now have the unique opportunity to change the curriculum, to merge art and science, and create a truly interdisciplinary curriculum.

For too long many in Washington including the president, have called for another "Sputnik moment," a concentration on just math and science and standardized testing. All, of course, to make our schools more competitive in the world. Now it is up to the states, state education leaders, and cities and regions throughout the nation, to seize the initiative.

The earlier call for another Sputnik moment, frankly, simply elevated support for more testing -- typical of NCLB. It also accelerated the push for STEM (for science, technology, engineering and math) education which has dominated both the Bush and Obama administrations.

The space race of course, was over 50 years ago.

President Kennedy laid out the challenge very specifically, and while we were already exploring rocketry, the renewed emphasis to accelerate the effort to concentrate on more math and science worked. The end result unfortunately was to cut out anything in the schools that might detract from turning out students who might excel in today's fields.

We were successful in launching the rockets that put a man on the moon, and the rest is history. But this time it is different. This time the enemy is not Russia, but the "new knowledge based economy"... an economy that because of globalization, allows every nation, every individual to compete with every other.

Clearly, we need new skills to compete in the "new economy."

America has lost most manufacturing jobs simply because of labor costs and we are steadily losing service sector jobs because computers and Internet access is available to most everyone in the world. What we are left with-although still not well defined-are the creative and innovative jobs. These jobs we know too, requires skill sets that allow our students to think differently, to use both hemispheres of their brain, to understand art and science.

Many artists and scientists know that the divide between art and science is a myth and perhaps are amused that there is even a debate. However, the belief that art and science were two separate disciplines demanding different teaching methodology is not serving our students or our economy very well. We have been living with such a false divide in our understanding of education, our professional endeavors, and in how learning takes place or teachers teach.

Last fall, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), issued a paper called "Reaching Students Through STEM and the Arts," which stated, "Teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are discovering that by adding an "A" -- the arts -- to STEM, learning will pick up STEAM."

When we think about the current demand for creativity and innovation, more often than we care to acknowledge, the creativity comes first, then the innovation. And creativity is the magic bullet.

What we need to figure out is how creativity is best taught, is best defined, and is best rewarded so that we can maximize our efforts in education to nurture these new skills. But we can do this and with little new costs. In fact, some schools are already deploying art infusion techniques and are showing terrific results.

 

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