Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Charlotte Mason & STEM

Hello CM friends!
I am sure you are all aware of the push toward the STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering studies, Math) these days... If you have older students, you are probably feeling some stress regarding academic choices.  I have had many conversations lately about this with teachers who follow the educational philosophy and methodology of Charlotte Mason - lots more on CM education here if you are wondering what that looks like  ;-). 

I have asked my colleague and experienced CM educator, Vanessa, to share about CM and STEM...

Am I setting my children up for failure by choosing a liberal arts education in 2015 and not STEM? 
This question has been raised lately among many parents – even some who follow Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy because we are raising our kids in 2015 and we are told that STEM is it.   We have been inundated with information all around us from ‘news’ articles, well-meaning friends and family members, and even some Government officials telling us that a STEM education is necessary for success; my local library has STEM activities geared towards first graders.   STEM is important and has its place but it needs to stay there (in its place) and allow for balance in our children’s lives. 
Why don’t I have my children focusing on STEM classes in preparation for career?  In Volume 6, A Philosophy of Education, page 235 Mason writes, “I don't need to convince my readers that a generous, liberal education is the natural birthright of every child, like justice, freedom of religion, liberty, or fresh air.”  That sounds good but do we believe it?  Vol 6 page 3: As a matter of fact, it is the man who has read and thought on many subjects who is, with the necessary training, the most capable whether in handling tools, drawing plans or keeping books.  Following Mason’s method I am providing my children “unequalled mental training…for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” Vol. 1, p. 61.  Mason believed, and there are those today who believe, that a person could be trained for any career – even a STEM career and would succeed because of (not in spite of) the liberal arts background.
I do not believe a STEM focus is necessary for success, especially not in high school.  It appears as though I am not alone.    Forbes Magazine Online John Ebersole writes, “What is clear, however, is that a STEM degree is not necessarily a requirement to work in these fields and that having a technical degree isn’t a predictor of lifetime employment in engineering and scientific positions.” A recent survey conducted for Northeastern University showed that “despite the recent focus on STEM degrees, most Americans and particularly business leaders say it is more important for graduates to be well-rounded and possess broader capabilities such as problem solving and communication skills.”  Wesleyan University states on their website that “Medical schools welcome students with a liberal arts background. A liberal arts education does not exclude the scientific and quantitative knowledge required for medical school. Rather, it includes such courses within a larger intellectual context. Wesleyan graduates are able to analyze and integrate new material precisely because they are already familiar with more than one field of learning.”  The Association of American Medical Colleges has made a strong statement about the value of a liberal arts education:  "The medical profession needs individuals from diverse educational backgrounds who bring to the profession a variety of talents and interests...All [medical schools] recognize the desirability of a broad education: a strong foundation in the natural sciences, highly developed communication skills, and a solid background in the social sciences and humanities."    Steve Jobs said “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing”. Andrew Benett wrote that “what I have found is that people with degrees in subjects such as history and literature—and, yes, even philosophy—tend to possess many of the qualities, skill sets, and aptitudes that are in highest demand in my own industry (marketing communications) and in others that rely on creative thinking and foresight.  Do we need more convincing?

Stay tuned for Part II of CM & STEM by Vanessa...