On being a STEAMinist by Myrdin Thompson
On Being a STEAMinist
*Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics*
by Myrdin Thompson
I am a STEMinist. I absolutely believe that we need to re-emphasize the sciences in education today, especially in regards to how we seem to have “gendered” learning in our culture (ie, the prevailing idea that girls are “better” at the humanities and boys are “better” in the sciences) and because we are well into the 21st century where technology is triumphant and apps are applied to all areas of our lives.
But I am also a technophobe in many ways, and really in my heart believe I am a STEAMpunk. As the daughter of two visual artists (a painter and ceramicist) and the mother to three children who have filled more composition notebooks with doodles, illustrations, drawings, and design, I want there to be more of an emphasis on how the Arts can enhance scientific learning. Rather than being seen as separate or competitive fields of study, they should be taught as complimentary.
We certainly don’t need Presidential emphasis to tell us how critical science is to future economic growth and stability. Many new initiatives being presented to educators as ways to engage students (and by proxy their families) in the sciences are doing just that. We have role playing games such as SIMS and Minecraft being used as tools to help students create, build, and navigate a virtual community. Children in kindergarten are being told to “code” because they need to be 21st century learners. But what we have forgotten is that coding or virtual game play cannot replace the importance of interpersonal relationships and real community, which relies on different forms of communication, not all of which is technology based.
Communication in the form of a hand-written letter, for example. Yes, perhaps terribly old-fashioned for a generation that relies on visual communication through Instagram or a communique in the form of a “ttyl” text, but one which is still being used by many…and illegible to most. For example, my mother will write a small, but heartfelt, note in the birthday cards she sends to my children…which they promptly hand to me to translate. Why? Because instead of being taught to master penmanship and cursive they are being taught to wiki, Google, Skype, text, and FaceTime. Or to create an app or code. As early as kindergarten, before they master the alphabet they are plugged in and tuning out to the world around them.
I’m saddened that my children cannot read what my mother writes to them. I’m frustrated that I must write messages to them in block letters so they can read my note. I’m disappointed that they will stop reading a book they are actively and excitedly engaged with because the author might use a more complicated font or illustrate a point with “handwriting” and if I’m not available to “translate” they will walk away rather than “figure it out.”
Why has education sacrificed one for the other? Why isn’t there room for both the creative and the factual? Why must we all be right or left brain, but not both?
Why are we coding rather than helping to craft character?
I certainly hope that as we continue to dialogue about how education should “look” for the next generation of learners, we work towards educating the whole child, helping create citizens of the world who can confidently engage, collaborate, and communicate with those around them, and not just a generation that constantly asks “do you have an app for that?”
As Jean Cocteau said “Poets don’t draw. They unravel their handwriting and then tie it up again, but differently.” Unless we re-emphasize the arts, through STEAM initiatives, I fear the poem may remain a Gordian knot, impossible to untie and useless to all.
And there is no app for that.
ABOUT MYRDIN: Myrdin Thompson has been a Louisville public school parent, volunteer & advocate since 2002. She currently works at RESULTS as a Regional Poverty Awareness Expansion Associate and is also the Editor-in-Chief, as well as a contributing writer, to MOMentumNation and volunteers as an advocate for the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life program. In addition she writes for her own blog Roots and Wings, and contributes articles to Parent Involvement Matters (about education policy and parent engagement) as well as Armchair Advocates (about Social Good).
Recognized in April 2011 by the White House as a “Champion of Change,” Ms. Thompson has also been the 2010 Kentucky Delegate for Parenting magazine’s Mom Congress (now in it’s fourth year). She has a MA in Renaissance Drama from California State University, Fullerton, and has taught college English Composition courses.