What the Simple Addition of an A to STEM Really Means

The tendency to attribute symbolic meaning to acronyms we use in our daily life made me think about the meaning behind the educational philosophy of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and the recent capitulation to add the letter A, for Art, thus turning STEM into STEAM. While a minor change in terms, the meaning could be profound.

A stem, according to the dictionary is “ the ascending axis of a plant,” or the origin or cause of a thing. At least physically, a stem is always grounded in the earth. Whether a flower or tree, the stem reaches for the sun and roots itself in the soil. It is the support system and backbone, carrying the weight of branches, leaves and flowers. But it is immobile.

Steam, on the other hand, is an “invisible vapor into which water is converted when heated to the boiling point.” Steam is water which has become free of the earth, air born, an ethereal mist, shape-shifting and mysterious. Steam, though immaterial, is also powerful! The industrial age was born of it.

So, the simple addition of an A to an educational acronym, as well as the simple act of adding Art to the Science/Tech mix, if treated seriously, has the power to catapult the education system, and society at large into a new and powerful way of thinking about our future.

To rise above the already astonishing landscape we have built, to add other dimensions, depth and character, we need the wings of creativity and imagination. To grow beyond the industrial age that has grounded us in materialist opportunity, but also greed and waste, we need the wholeness and harmony that the arts contribute.

A balance of nature and culture, science and art, brawn and beauty is what allows us to be bold, build amazing things, yet also be introspective, and to add meaning, fun and beauty to the things we make.

As the White House education plan describes the purpose of the program, “Maintaining America’s historical preeminence in the STEM fields will require a concerted and inclusive effort to ensure that the STEM workforce is equipped with the skills and training needed to excel in these fields.”
“Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.”
photo credit: jemolesky http://mrg.bz/UlpRtS