College students are flocking to finance, engineering, computer science, and other “practical” majors, leaving humanities classrooms with empty seats. Kindergartners are being equipped with iPads to promote their technology literacy. Even President Obama has used his State of the Union Address to highlight the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.
And while solid college majors, technological know-how, and strong STEM classes are indeed vital in the new global economy, it’s silly to forget about the arts or to think we can only have biology labs at the expense of theater workshops. We need both. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges once said, “Art is fire plus algebra.” I would argue that we could reverse his statement: math is also fire and art.
After all, what is engineering without creativity and problem solving? What is science without an appreciation for wonder and the depths of the imagination? What is math without the ability to think in the abstract or technology and engineering without an understanding of intricacy and balance?
STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education emphasizes the importance of incorporating the arts with the sciences. Luckily, for SLJ readers, we covered STEAM in our October 2013 magazine (pp. 22-5), and Series Made Simple readers will note that this issue highlights some excellent new fall sets that are Common Core ready and could fuel art-centered lessons. Titles from Grace Oliff’s article on new arts and activities titles, “DIY Bonanza,” are obvious choices. Series from John Peters’s “Frontier of Discovery,” a collection of reviews about new science titles, are full of experiments and opportunities to inspire students’ cleverness. And books from Mary Mueller’s world history article, “Culture Accomplishments,” might inspire dramatic play and art projects.
Our back page article, “Dancing About Geometry,” contains some fantastic insight from Akua Kouyate, the senior director of education at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and a leader in the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts. She explains why creativity is crucial to young learners and our larger communities. “The arts are a reflection of who we are as a society and as a people,” she says. “We need to have that as a part of our life.” Kouyate offers advice on how educators can use nonfiction to incorporate dance, drama, and the visual arts into lessons for the youngest of learners—creating lifelong STEAM enthusiasts in the process.
So bring on the physics experiments, geometry, and video games. But don’t forget the humanities, the arts, and all those other wonderful “impractical” things that make dreamers and creators as well as botanists and mathematicians.
Editor, Series Made Simple