STEAM – Not STEM Whitepaper

An agreement on what drives the US economy in the future

Even in today’s very politically partisan time there is one point of agreement between most of the political leaders when it comes to the future of our economy – it is

The strength of the US economy in the future will be determined by our success in innovation versus the existing developed nations and their economies and, probably more importantly, the emerging nations and their rapidly developing economies.

Clinton’s former Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, summed up this need for innovation to drive our future when he predicted,

“The jobs in the greatest demand in the future don’t yet exist and will require workers to use technologies that have not yet been invented to solve problems that we don’t yet even know are problems.”

What he predicted is already occurring.

The US economy in the future will not be based on replacing the existing industrial jobs that have been lost, as technology has moved forward.

So, given this unique agreement on national policy, the question isn’t what is necessary for our economic future – it is being the, or at least “a”, leader in innovation.  Rather it is how do we best prepare our businesses, our leaders and our nation to make this happen?

What is the current US position in ranking of nations for innovation?

Until 2008 the US was routinely ranked 1st as the most innovative economy in the world by various surveys.  That is no longer true.  A recent study of 58 countries published in the World Competitiveness Yearbook showed that the US is no longer 1st and has slipped to 3rd behind Singapore and Hong Kong with Switzerland 4th.  The most recent World Economic Forum rankings placed the US 4th behind Switzerland, Sweden and Singapore.  A Boston Consulting Group poll put the US 8th..  The recent Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) ranked the US 6th.

These data based studies and surveys may differ on who is 1st – but they do agree  – it is not the US!

Also disturbing, is the outlook that the US ranking will slip further. For example, the ITIF report showed that in recent years the US has made the least progress of 39 countries studied in improving it innovation capacity and internal competitiveness.

However the report noted, that while the US had slipped, that decision makers, when asked, continue to rank the US first by a wide margin.  So public perception has not have caught up with reality.

A historic view of the US economy and innovation

The US was first primarily because it graduated more PhD’s and other highly trained scientists and engineers than any other country.  This almost assuredly will no longer be the case in the future.

The emerging nations have a 3 or more times population advantage over the US.  They are investing heavily in improving the quality of their universities and are graduating more and more locally trained scientists and engineers.  Soon they will graduate at least as many, if not more, PhDs and other highly educated scientists and engineers than the US will.

In addition to the progress by the emerging nations, the other more developed Asian and European countries are also investing heavily in both graduating and attracting top technical talent.   All are assisted by the US policy in areas such as stem cell research, which encourages the best and brightest of our technologists to go where government policy does not hinder innovation and discovery.

The US leadership in establishing new businesses based on technologies and innovation is also seeing pressure for several reasons, which will probably accelerate.

Our universities are the best in the world and in addition to graduating the finest US scientists and engineers; they attract and graduate many of the best foreign students as well. Historically many of these graduates joined their US counterparts in establishing new businesses and industries in the US.  Some VC’s say that over 70% of all start-ups in the Silicon Valley have at least one Asian as a founder.

The current, somewhat unfathomable, US immigration policy still allows top US universities to train foreign students but on graduation almost forces them to return to their native land where they now will start new businesses to compete with us.   Coupled with this unfortunate immigration policy, the booming economy in emerging nations lures these graduates to return to their native land because of the increased number of exciting and interesting opportunities that are now available there.

In summary, we will be out numbered, faced with new competitors and hindered by US government policies that makes innovation and growth harder to achieve.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education is necessary – but not sufficient

Recently major steps have been taken to improve the US’s competitive position through greater emphasis on the need for improved STEM education at all levels of our schools and universities.  The country and its people have become aware of, and support, this need to bolster STEM education.

Well-trained STEM graduates are an essential component of the nation’s ability to develop new products and businesses for the US economy of the future. STEM has become understood to be so important to the US economic future that there have been federal and other funds dedicated to this effort.   In fact, adding funds for STEM has actually become politically acceptable, even in this era of budget restraint.

Our success requires graduating very competent people whose training combines the best STEM based education with the best education designed to support creativity and innovation skills. Therefore, it is imperative that our education system focus on an overall curricula that includes, uses and develops, all the tools and skills that are available to support creativity and innovation.

The so-called “left” side of our brain is the logical side. It supports the of learning facts and deducing logical answers.  The “right” side deals with perceptual thinking and supports creative and instinctive thinking.  Both are needed – if one (typically the right side in today’s curricula) is not or is only slightly used it can atrophy just like an unused muscle will.  Dr. Alan Brinkley, the Nevins professor and former Provost of Columbia University headlined his recent article in Newsweek as follows:

“Half a Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

And sub titled it -   “The idea that we must choose between science and humanities is false”.

Dr. Brinkley supports excellence in technical education but points out the dual need

“Scientific and technology aspire to clean, clear answers to problems (as elusive as those answers might be).  The humanities address ambiguity, doubt and skepticism – essential underpinnings in a complex and diverse and turbulent world.”

Robert Root-Bernstein, a biochemist and MacArthur prizewinner did a study of 150 biographies of eminent scientists, from Pasteur to Einstein, in the early 1990’s.  It dealt with this relationship between the two sides of the brain.

He found that nearly all of the great inventors and scientists were also musicians, artists, writers or poets. Galileo, was a poet and literary critic; Einstein was a passionate student of the violin; Samuel Morse, was a portrait painter, etc.  He and his wife, Michele, co-authors of Sparks of Genius, conducted extensive research into the minds of inventive people and showed that creativity can be encouraged and enhanced through the exercise of thinking tools -  i.e., the right side of our brains.

The Nueroeducation Study done in 2009 led by John Hopkins and the Dana Foundation, also showed clearly that Arts education improves student cognition, memory and attention skills in the classroom as well as a range of life and academic skills.

A recent report on the non-profit Arts and Culture industry puts the annual economic activity it generates at more than $165 billion; it is responsible for some 5 million full time jobs, and generates $30 billion in revenue to local, state and federal governments each year.  (The for-profits arts industry’s economic impact dwarfs this impact.)  But in return, those governments spend less than $4 billion funding and supporting Arts, including using funding for Arts as the basis for rebuilding local (often blighted) neighborhoods in Miami, Detroit, Baltimore and elsewhere.

In spite of these educational and economic studies, Arts have been systematically stripped from all levels of school systems in the name of budget constraints as non-essential to a necessary education.

Arts will not be reinstated as a needed component in the national curricula based on parents addressing PTA or school board meetings; or by Arts professionals asserting, correctly, that it will make students more rounded and will foster support for Arts institutions in the future when they grow up; or that Arts contribute at a 7:1 ratio to the economy versus governmental support.

None, or all, of these arguments, factual as they are, have been, nor will be, a sufficient basis to sell the need for Art as a component of a national imperative in today’s budget strained environment.

The country and the school funders (local, state and national) need to understand Arts are not just a “nicety” but rather are a national economic priority.  Therefore we need to adjust our national educational priorities to include putting Arts back into the curricula of all schools, colleges and universities as a required element of the education we provide to those who will soon be the leaders of our nation and the creators and implementers of its economic development.

Including Art with STEM to create a national priority for a STEAM based education system is a necessity for an economic future that will give future generations the same life style we enjoy today.

STEAM around the world

One could argue that if we maintain parity with the current developed and the emerging nations by virtue of an increased number of US highly trained STEM graduates, and that those other nations did no more than we do to include Arts in their schools, we could be all right – even if out numbered.

Even if that were true it would still be very important to have the creative and innovative advantage of a STEAM based educational system to help offset the numeric disadvantage.  But it is not true.

NFER (the National Foundation for Education Research) reported on a study of the educational systems of 19 countries titled The Arts, Creativity and Cultural Education: An International Perspective in 2000.  It showed a significant emphasis on Arts in the required curricula in many of the countries studied.   Arts education is both a scholastic requirement and a valued and important part of the cultural way of life in many of the countries we do, and will, compete with.

For example, a recent report by CERNET (the China Education and Research Network) discusses the Chinese government’s requirement to include Art in its curricula and its support to extracurricular Arts activities in its nationwide school system.  The report starts with this sentence.

“Art education constitutes an important component of teaching in primary and secondary schools.”

The report covers the requirement for at leas 2 courses a week in music, both singing and appreciation coupled with arts and crafts and painting starting with the first grade and augmented by adding art appreciation to the middle and high school curricula.  National textbooks, and 70 sets of teaching materials that also include local teaching materials for their diverse population, support these required courses.  Extra curricula art activities play an important part in the majority of schools and include many interest groups and societies who present school art festivals.

A featured companion article to Dr. Brinkley’s in Newsweek entitled “The Creativity Crisis” includes a number of graphs and data comparing the US with counties like China, India, Germany, Japan and others.  The set of graphs below are very enlightening in that they show how significantly American and Chinese parents disagree about what skills their children will need to drive innovation.

It seems reasonable to believe this difference in what is needed for innovation, coupled with the CERNET data, drives the government’s education policy.  China is also heavily investing in STEM education and is said to be recruiting professors from around the world to help this effort.    The Chinese have STEAM.

The absence of Art in our education system is not the norm and we will continue to face competition from the emerging and developed nations who actively prepare their students to be creative and innovative in addition to an ever improving technical education.  If the economic future of the countries of the world is, as we believe, based on innovation then we must include Arts in our education in order to be competitive with China and others.

Connect the Dots

The understanding that creativity is a key element of innovation has been around for decades.  As Carl Sagan said –

“It is the tension between creativity and skepticism that has produced the stunning    unexpected findings of science.”

However the linking of innovation to our economic future has not been nearly as sharply a focus as it needs to be.

Historically the need for re-instating Arts into the national education system has been largely driven by organizations such as Americans for the Arts, NEA, and HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Collaborative) and academia based on the need for well-rounded students.  Now, even in those circles, the dialog is also starting to include the economic impact when discussing this need to integrate Arts and Science to provide the best, and necessary, overall education of our future generations.  A recent blog by Cathy Davidson, HASTAC co-founder included this comment –

“What we really need is STEAM – Science, Technology, ARTS, and Math.  We need to inspire    kids with the scientific method, which happens not to be scientific exclusively but, basically, learning where any form of discovery is rewarded and encouraged.”

A number of professors like Dr. Brinkley write on the subject.  Senior business executive turned academician John Eger, the Van Deerlin Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University, writes extensively on the role of Arts and creativity and how it can lead to an innovative community.  A recent commentary titled “Going from STEM to STEAM – The Arts Have a Role in America’s Future, Too” by Associate Professor Joseph Piro at C. W. Post included this statement – If creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking – all touted as the hallmark skills for 21st century success – are to be cultivated, we need to ensure that STEM subjects are drawn closer to the arts.

Also there is now some positive dialog and action starting to occur by senior governmental leaders and the business media in recognizing this need to include Arts as a key to economic growth.

For example Massachusetts, citing the need to boost the commonwealth’s financial health via the creative economy, has just passed legislation requiring public schools to be ranked on how students perform on standardized tests and also on how well the school’s curricula is designed to foster creativity in students.  Governor Patrick called for the formation of a creativity index for ranking the public schools statewide.

A special report in Business Week in 2007 observed:

“The game is changing. It isn’t just about math and science anymore. It’s about creativity,            imagination, and, above all, innovation.”

On April 9, 2010 at the Arts Education Partnership National Forum, Education Secretary Duncan said,

“The arts can no longer be treated as a frill,” … arts education is essential to stimulating the     creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global         economy….”

At the same event Chairman Landesman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) said,

“The arts provide us with new ways of thinking, new ways to draw connections…and they      help maintain our competitive edge by engendering innovation and creativity.”

US businesses need more innovative employees so their companies can compete and together these businesses can provide the innovation required for our future economy.  “Ready to Innovate”, a recent Conference Board report supported this need based on surveys of executives and school superintendents who agreed in the need for more innovative employees at all levels of the workforce and that education in Arts was a leading and reliable indicator of the creativity and innovation in applicants.

I, and my wife are ardent supporters of arts and education.  I spent my career working for technology and consumer goods companies. I had my own companies and I co-founded two successful multi-billion dollar public companies.  I know that we always sought, needed and nurtured innovative and creative employees.  And today, there is clearly an increasing need for such employees as new economies develop and the technological pace accelerates.

I have personally seen innovation be the difference maker in great technology companies as well as in marketing based concerns.  Innovation is not solely dependent on superior technology to be the differentiating factor – it is a universally needed skill and an essential one for our economic future.

So, why hasn’t Arts education been re-installed into our schools and universities nation-wide?

It increases current costs and budgets are tight and the national debt is rising.

In times like these it is hard to get governments and the public to spend money today even if there is compelling evidence that it will save many times the cost in the future.  This skepticism is easily understood given the failure of many politically promised future cost savings that turn out to be either not real, or the “savings” being splurged on unrelated, or not well conceived, programs.

The success of recognizing and promoting the need for STEM education demonstrates that if there is a clear connection between a program and the future of our economy then people will support (or demand) that it be undertaken even if there is additional funding required.

What is the solution?

With a strongly supported STEM program underway Art only needs to be added to form STEAM and this is, I believe, the most rational and probable road to a success in re-installing Arts as a necessary and important element of a great education system in a reasonable time frame.

Why is the adding of Arts to STEM the most rational and probable road to success?

The support for STEM shows if there is a connection between an educational need and the future US economy, there is willingness and freedom to consider funding such programs. Creating STEAM by including Arts with a STEM curriculum is such a program because it is critical to the overall educational preparation of our future leaders and will greatly help assure our future economy by providing the best possible education for innovation.  It clearly makes sense to do both Arts and STEM – i.e., STEAM.

This STEAM approach is also a cost effective way to create this innovation based education system we must have and should not require a significant funding change.  For example, a number of Arts programs, particularly visual arts, including graphic related design, courses can be added to curricula by applications that use existing computer and mobile resources which are available to most students, and in place in the majority of the schools and universities.  The job demand for graphic design graduates is very high.

It does not require building more labs or expensive technical facilities. Space in existing facilities can house many Arts programs though there will be the need for some funds for more instruments and support items.   STEAM will require more staff and as such will create job growth largely by returning laid-off teachers to the classroom from the unemployment centers, which appears to be generally supported by people.

To support this modification of STEM to STEAM, businesses and their leaders, arts professionals, educators and others working together can educate governments, the public and the media to the need for adding Arts to the national curricula and why this will help the STEM educated leaders be better innovators.  Together they can, by connecting the dots, demonstrate to the public, media and governments why Arts is a necessary adjunct to STEM.   The dots are:

• Arts education is a key to creativity, and

• Creativity is an essential component of, and spurs innovation, and

• Innovation is, agreed to be necessary to create new industries in the future, and

• New industries, with their jobs, are the basis of our future economic wellbeing.

A win-win situation – low cost – job growth and insuring the future

If we do not connect these dots Arts education will continue to be virtually extinct in our schools – and the US’s economic future will be damaged.

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