STEM + the Arts Boosted by U.S. and U.K. Reports

07/11/2013 02:39 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2013

Within weeks of the release of a report by a Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, established by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, called "The Heart of the Matter", the University of Oxford reported this week --after an analysis of the employment history of 11,000 graduates who matriculated at the university from 1960 to 1989--that "Humanities Graduates Play Big Role in British Economy."

While both reports stress the importance of studies of all the humanities and social sciences to "the country's economic future and urges (citizens) to value a well-rounded education," as The Washington Post wrote, both reports see the arts, broadly defined, as of equal importance as science, technology, engineering and math, the STEM subjects, making the argument for STEAM...recognition that education reform will not be complete unless and until all the disciplines are recognized as essential ingredients to the curriculum.

Specifically, the U.S. Commission said:

Scientific advances have been critical to the extraordinary achievements of the past century, and we must continue to invest in basic and applied research in the biological and physical sciences. But...we must recognize that all disciplines are essential for the inventiveness, competitiveness, security, and personal fulfillment of the American public...The humanities remind us where we have been and help us envision where we are going. Emphasizing critical perspective and imaginative response, the humanities ... foster creativity and appreciation of our commonalities and our differences, and knowledge of all kinds.

Likewise, the UK report concluded:

The contribution graduates make to economic growth, the skills required to make that contribution, and the value of higher education to social mobility have been prevalent concerns in recent public policy discourse, with employers calling for skills of communication, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving and managerial ability - most of which are core elements of Humanities degree programmes.

Both reports noted that in a knowledge economy, new workplace skills that fostered an innovative, competitive and strong workforce were vital to the economic prowess of a nation; and that while the same skills insured that skills were essential to personal as well as professional growth, they provided the understanding needed to thrive in a 21st century democracy.

The emphasis on STEM is not misplaced, and in the U.S. the "America Competes Act", also known as the STEM initiative for Science Technology Engineering and Math, initially 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. The congress reauthorized the legislation supporting STEM initiative several times.

In the U.S. and now we know the U.K. and elsewhere in the world we are beginning to witness a realization, as the Commission from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences did, too, that all disciplines are essential for an age demanding creativity and innovation.

The truth is that the humanities--the arts and art infusion-- matter a great deal if America is to succeed, let alone survive, in the new global economy. And that, we need a huge infusion of capital and a change in attitude about science, technology, art, engineering and math if we are to lay the foundation for a creative and innovative workforce.

Several years ago the Conference Board -- an international nonprofit business research organization -- released "Ready to Work", a study which clearly agrees that "U.S. employers rate creativity and innovation among the top five skills that will increase in importance over the next five years, and rank it among the top challenges facing CEOs." Confirming their assessment, IBM also reported at about the same time, "creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking."

Most analysts studying the new global economy agree that the growing "creative and innovative" economy represents America's path to a brighter economic future. Whether we can all be a Picasso or Einstein is another matter. By focusing on a curriculum that gives young people the new thinking skills they need, we can help ensue our nation's and our children's success in the new economy.

Yes, we need STEM but importantly, STEAM too.