Thursday, March 5, 2015

Jerry Newton - How are the Humanities integral to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)?

Jerry Newton is a Veteran who served our country as Command Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army and was one of ten recipients of the Veterans’ Voices Award—Legacy category . Jerry is a community leader who served a total of 14 years on the Coon Rapids City Council and the Anoka-Hennepin District 11 School Board before being elected to the Minnesota State Legislature where he now serves. He was the Vice Chair of the State Government and Veterans Affairs Finance Committee and Chaired the Select Committee on Veteran’s Housing. Jerry co-authored the Veterans’ Voices Month legislation, which became law in 2014. He initiated STEM, AVID, and International Baccalaureate programs in District 11 schools and was the 2010 Minnesota School Board Legislator of the Year. As a long-term member of the Anoka County Affordable Housing Coalition, Jerry worked to find housing solutions for homeless Veterans and unaccompanied youth.

Years ago, while assigned to the Joint Military Mission for Aid to Turkey, I became friends with a young man who was studying architecture at the University of Ankara. I remember his excitement as he was certain he would finally master his professor’s rigorous final exam, one that he had failed on four prior attempts.

Unfortunately, he did not pass the test. As he explained it, the examination consisted of climbing a ladder to the third floor of a four story apartment building that was in the final stages of construction and examining all aspects of the architectural design of the building with particular attention to the third floor to determine where the building did not meet code or was otherwise faulty. He and his ten fellow graduate student colleagues were to apply all they had learned in class about architecture and construction. Using the best mathematics, physics, and dynamics of architecture principals, each wrote what they considered to be a brilliant paper based on their careful observations.

The entire class failed because they all focused too much on technical details and not one of them mentioned that the main problem with the building was the architect had failed to include a stairwell or elevator – hence the need to climb a ladder to the third floor.

The point being made here is we all too often devote too much attention to detail and miss the big picture, sometimes with potentially disastrous consequences. The scientists and technicians of the world have the ability to design and create weapons of mass destruction terrible beyond imagination. They view this as a challenge to be met and overcome – witness the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. It is up to the social scientists, the philosophers, and the humanitarians of the world to insist that we think about where their creations will lead us and to make the public aware that there are better alternatives.

So, where does the current push for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (“STEM”) programs come in? Although it is recognized that we have a shortage of individuals in these fields, all too often we will deemphasize the equally important need for individuals schooled in the social sciences and the humanities. The relatively recent push for STEM education in the K-12 system has led to deemphasizing the humanities and resulted in teachers of music, art, languages, and the social sciences being laid off. Only recently has the education community realized that the arts are equally important to a well-rounded education. Hence, we now see “STEAM” programs, that is STEM programs that incorporate the ‘A’ (arts) as an integral part of the curriculum. It is by combining the social sciences, arts, and humanities with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that we will be able avoid the potentially missing stairwell of full human knowledge.

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