Sep 30, 2013
Less than a year after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the United States government, alarmed that the country was falling so far behind in the Space Race, passed the National Defense Education Act; providing billions of dollars to U.S. universities and colleges for math and technology studies to produce skilled workers. Ever since, there has been a constant push towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. Every few years, the idea that the reason that the United States is not as good as it should be seems to be a result of not having enough people in the workforce trained and/or educated in STEM fields pops up. In his 2010 State of the Union, President Obama said, ‘In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program is a world-class education . . . that inspires students to excel in math and science.’ I don’t feel this is entirely correct, though.
Yes, I know I’m biased. I’m a Social Studies teacher. One that is fascinated by STE-related topics (Math is the bane of my existence), but still a Social Studies teacher.
I’m sure most people by now have seen the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers article regarding the supposed critical demand for STEM employees which among other things, points out that there are roughly 277,000 STEM jobs in the U.S. that open and 11.4 million STEM degree holders working outside the field. Therefore I won’t go to deep into that angle except to point it out. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
I believe that we spend way too little on Humanities education in proportion to STEM education. President Obama tells us that STEM education is in dire need of funding and that we need to ‘lift up these subjects for the respect they deserve.’ In the President’s 2014 budget, however, the Federal government is providing another $3.1 Billion in funding to STEM education. On the other hand, the proposed 2014 endowments of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities are $145.5 million.
Now, I’m not against STEM. We do need STEM. STEM is awesome. STEM is just a part of a balanced Educational Breakfast, though.
If we’re spending $3.1 Billion on teaching STEM, spending a fraction of that on a Humanities education which provides training in at least three critical areas - communications skills, critical thinking skills, and cultural awareness - seems like a negligent use of funding and a poor direction to take.
As our economy increasingly becomes a global economy, these skills (communications, critical thinking, and cultural awareness) only grow more important. In a world where late-secondary school students provide test answers such as ‘President Johnson sent troops into Vietnam because they sent planes to blow up the World Trade Center.’ And ‘Women’s Suffrage had few consequences – good and evil.’ I’d really like to know how educational policy makers believe we’re going to have a functional, let alone productive society with such a low emphasis on the Humanities.
Earlier this past Summer, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences published a report, ‘The Heart of the Matter.’ The report's conclusions show how much we need a real balance between the Humanities and STEM.
Humanities teachers, particularly in K-12 History, are generally less well trained than teachers of STEM subjects, it states. And funding to support international education has been cut by over 40% over the past four years.
The CHSS report points out: ‘Each of these pieces of evidence suggests a problem; together, they suggest a pattern that will have grave, long-term consequences for the nation.'
The CHSS presents three goals:
‘These goals cannot be achieved by science alone," the report states. It also advocates for full literacy, expanded education in history, civics and social studies, a Humanities Master Teacher Corps and the promotion of language learning and international relations, among other programs.’
I cannot stress how much I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve mentioned in ‘The Premise of Citizen Scholars’ about the difference between Citizens and citizens. If we don’t strive to hit at least those three goals, if we don’t start giving legitimate Humanities education a stronger push, I shudder to think what kind of a future we will be building.
Resources for Social Studies Students & Teachers