Friday, May 8, 2015

Charlotte Mason & STEM continued...

CM & STEM - Part II by Vanessa
{CM & STEM - Part I}

A couple of days ago I published a guest post where Vanessa began the discussion about the place of STEM in our current educational culture.  She shared just a few comments from some recognizable names and institutions to help us see that even in the academic realm as well as some professionals in the STEM fields support a broader approach to education - a liberal arts approach.  It isn't new and it is very much a part of a Charlotte Mason philosophy.  Vanessa continues today with some thoughts on unintended consequences...

What are some unintended consequences I see with a STEM focus in high school?  It has the potential to damage the atmosphere of our homes and it robs our children of the joy of learning for the sake of knowledge and puts the emphasis on results.  Volume 6 page 98 paraphrase: But a school may be working hard, not for love of knowledge, but for love of marks, our old enemy; and then young faces are not serene and joyous but eager, restless, apt to look anxious and worried. The children do not sleep well and are cross; are sullen or in tears if anything goes wrong, and are, generally, difficult to manage.  Charlotte Mason wrote that over 100 years ago but yet she is describing so many children today – yes children, not just teenagers.  I worry that we will end up with a generation that doesn’t know what they like, they don’t have hobbies because they weren’t given the time to pursue them. We don’t want our children to become like Darwin, do we?  Charles Darwin, as brilliant as he was, ending up losing “himself in science until he could not read poetry, find pleasure in pictures, think upon things divine; he was unable to turn his mind out of the course in which it had run for most of his life.”  Charlotte Mason made that observation in her sixth volume page 54.    How sad.  This extraordinary man became obsessed with one part of his life, science, and ‘forgot’ how to enjoy anything else.  I wonder what else could he have accomplished if he would have been able to stay balanced in all aspects of his life?   Why does Chevrolet have an online post that encourages people to become Renaissance Men? Is it because so many of us in society have forgotten how, or never taken the time, to have interests outside of work?  Have we forgotten how to relax and enjoy something for the sake of enjoyment?  If we give our children a liberal arts education that is a part of them.   Nevertheless, the only valid education is education that focuses on the mind. The main challenge is the huge amount of subjects to introduce children to. They have a right to them as human beings, and they need to find out about the things that they're drawn to as people and that they'll spend the rest of their lives pursuing further.” Vol 6 paraphrase pg 254.  A person that has had a liberal arts education already has wide interests, he doesn’t have to be told or taught how to do it or that it’s okay to have other interests. 
Don’t misunderstand, I am not saying to ignore the STEM subjects.  They are very important parts of an education are important but they are just parts – not all encompassing.  My children study all the STEM subjects but it is not their focus.  Science and math can be so much fun and are so beautiful once you see the ‘big picture’ but that’s a story for another day.  A liberal arts education is a very broad and encompassing education. 
I believe that all students can and should study science, technology, engineering, and math, they are very important but they should not be the focus of a high school education.  Education needs balance. No single subject should assume greatest importance at the expense of other subjects that a child needs to know about. Math is easy to test, and as long as education is ruled by test scores, we'll have teaching focused on training exactness and solving problems efficiently, instead of teaching to awaken a sense of awe in contemplating a field of knowledge where perfection lives with or without us.” Vol 6 page 231 paraphrase.
If we believe, as Charlotte said, that knowledge is ideas clothed upon with facts, and is the proper food for the mind then we need a liberal arts education; “a wide syllabus…intended in every point to meet some particular demand of the mind”.  “Education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects which a child's mind should deal with” Vol 6 page 232.  The forces that work continuously in a liberal arts education are: attention, assimilation, narration (composition/communication), retention, and reproduction” Vol 6 page 259.  That is what is needed in today’s world.  
So, in actuality, I believe a CM education prepares our children for any and all career paths.  They have a broad base of knowledge in several things, they have the powers of observation, attention to detail, and the ability to question and use critical thinking which are very important for today’s careers – both STEM and non-STEM.

Thanks for your insight and sharing some current support for a more balanced life & liberal arts approach to education!

I think it is an important topic to discuss and consider.  We need to have real information and real discussions to help correct the misconception that a CM approach isn't strong in STEM subjects.  Just because there isn't a specialization focus doesn't mean it isn't included.  In fact, a liberal arts education means all students cover all subjects.  Students who love history also study chemistry and fine arts and maths; students who excel at maths cover literature, biology, and Shakespeare.  The wide and broad curriculum is for all students to see the beauty and breadth of all God has made and all Truth is God's Truth and in neglecting any of these, we neglect the character and beauty of our God...