Only the other day, I was telling a friend that we are now living in a STEM-gone-wild world. By this I refer to the current obsession, particularly in the field of education, with everything Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Additionally for most governments, the private sector and even the general public, STEM has become the cure for all that ails us. STEM is heralded as the bearer of innovative solutions for all our future concerns. More importantly, STEM is being presented as the corner stone of the knowledge economies we all crave so much. Basically, STEM now serves as the answer to all societal questions, even when none have been asked. And of course STEM recognizes its central place within capitalist progress, as we pit nation against nation in competition to be better and richer than each other.
Counter to this STEM avalanche, are the smaller-but-persistent voices of Arts educators, non-commercial artists and others, who argue for a more holistic education agenda that recognizes the importance of the Arts in the growth of any society. In their view, a STEM-based education would be greatly enriched by integrating the A of the artistic world, thus, gathering more STEAM for facing both current issues and the unknown challenges of the future. In their thinking, STEM-based learning cannot prepare us for the demands of the 21st Century if it does not include subjects such as the visual arts, literature, dance, theater, film, music and so on. Advocating for these inclusions, this counter movement has a lot of work to do as more and more countries strip their education systems of arts programs under the excuse of austerity measures, but more so to increase the scope of the STEM agenda.
There is a quieter voice still: that of educators who know that simply converting STEM-based education into STEAM is not enough to create a true understanding of ourselves as human beings and our purpose on this earth. They see education as having a key transformatory role in our development; however, with the goal to making us happier people in harmonious nations, existing as a global community connected by much more than material things. As one example of this quiet revolution, education professor Jing Lin proposes that we adopt a wisdom-based education agenda, which is one in which a student is nurtured to focus on what really matters in life through the cultivation of virtues such as compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, love, respect, and selflessness. These qualities are seen as a few of the fundamental values necessary for personal success and the general well-being of the world-at-large. In her view, a focus on wisdom-based education brings spiritual and moral obligations back into the core of what it means to be human versus our focus on competition in the realms of science and technology or, even for that matter, in the arenas of arts and culture.
In my mind, it is time for us to seriously start developing home-grown models of wisdom-based education that take us beyond STEM and STEAM. What we need for these turbulent times are learning practices that nurture the whole child by utilizing various subjects—including science, technology, the arts, culture, and spirituality—to better understand what it means to not only be human, but to also co-exist with other living things in cooperation, humility and dignity.