GOOD

Psst, President Obama: Our Students Aren't All Future Tech Workers

While ensuring kids acquire the STEM chops they need is certainly a worthy cause, there's a danger to this narrow emphasis.


Will turning America's high schools into hubs of STEM education solve our economic problems? At Tuesday night's State of the Union address President Obama announced, "a new challenge to redesign America's high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy." He plans to do that by rewarding "schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math—the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future."

Except that while ensuring kids acquire the STEM chops they need is certainly a worthy cause, there's a danger to this narrow emphasis. We can't forget that the purpose of school isn't just to serve the nation's economic interests. Indeed, while Andre Perry, the Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for the Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education in New Orleans tweeted that given the President's emphasis on STEM, he better get his "two-year-old more science kits," he also cautioned, "Let's not forget ethics training Mr. President. Science without wisdom = high tech oppression."


That doesn't mean being able to get a job isn't important. In our high-tech world students need to learn how to code as much as they need to learn how to read, but there are too many policy makers out there who believe we need to run schools like their main purpose is to churn out workers for Google—or whatever the dominant tech company of the moment happens to be. We already have the kind of factory model and students like high school senior and education activist Nikhil Goyal are clamoring for a revolution. Goyal's called for transforming schools into places that cultivate "curiosity, grit, passion, and drive" and are true incubators "of innovation and a bridge between the community and the world."

We need our schools to widen our lens, nurture every child's potential, and provide a well-rounded education. Our students need to be educated so that they acquire the knowledge, skills, and mindset—including empathy and other so-called "soft skills"—to solve the myriad challenges facing our society.

Why don't we focus the nation's public schools on creativity, which is the skill that's most prized by the nation's CEOs—and which can't be outsourced? It's possible if we connect the arts and design thinking to education—and there's plenty of evidence that we should do so. Research shows that students who are exposed to visual and performing arts are more civically engaged, tolerant, and altruistic. Students who get vocal and instrument instruction also score higher on standardized tests. Indeed, speaking at a conference last year, education expert Sir Ken Robinson said that without the arts, what schools are doing is not even education. "We may be providing something else," said Robinson, "but it's not what we want to think of as education."

It bears mentioning that President Obama is sending his own children to a school that provides a well-rounded educational experience. Indeed, the 'academics' section of the Upper School at Sidwell Friends states that the campus "offers an intellectually challenging program which encourages students to strive for personal growth and to use their education for the betterment of the community at large." The school's "curriculum provides a broad foundation in the humanities and sciences, develops critical and creative thinking, stresses competence in oral and written communication as well as quantitative operations, and is designed to stimulate intellectual curiosity."

Lee Palmer, the head of the Upper School writes in her welcome message that the school's "rigorous academic program combined with the many opportunities to learn outside the classroom is designed to instill a sense of social responsibility and to generate resiliency in the face of adversity." Palmer goes on to say that Sidwell's "teachers understand a student is a whole human being whose value is not tied to the grade on a report card."

That certainly doesn't sound like a school that's primarily driven by the tech economy or the standardized demands of corporations. America's other prep schools aren't on board with the narrow vision of education that Obama espoused in the State of the Union, either, so why is this being suggested for everyone else's kids?

As education expert Richard Gerver recommends, students would be better off if the adults in charge spent some time examining our "deepest beliefs about the purpose of education and the value of the experiences schools can provide." We must "imagine a world in which anything is possible—in which every school could design and support programs, activities, and experiences that honor these hopes and beliefs, and provide for children what you value about all else." That is a far more inspiring call to action than transforming schools so kids can get a job in the tech economy—and it's what our children deserve.

Tired student in math class image via Shutterstock

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics