Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM has become a popular term in the education reform world. It goes by other names such as 21st century skills or college and career readiness. This idea has been widely accepted that the world is becoming so technologically advanced that the only way to get ahead and ensure a successful career is to study one or more of the STEM areas. It is also seen as necessary for the economic advancement of the country. We are in short supply of workers that are skilled in these technical areas and cannot meet the demand in the workforce. Politically it is popular to talk about the unemployment rate and how many people are out of work. People understand and can relate to that figure. In reality, the underemployment rate is more important and more dire. There are jobs available. There may be more jobs available than people that are unemployed. However, these jobs require skills that are more advanced that the skills of those looking for work. That’s why we have this renewed emphasis on STEM education. One that hasn’t been seen since the time of the space race and cold war.
Critics of our new emphasis on STEM say that we are ignoring the arts and losing the creativity of our children. In a way they are right. But it’s not a matter of learning the piano, painting pictures, or performing ballet. Those things play an important part in our society and culture but no one is keeping Sally from learning to paint or stopping Johnny from learning the piano. The real threat to creativity is our neglect of the fifth member of the STEM family, design. Not only should we be teaching our children how to solve complex problems using mathematics and create powerful computer programs by learning to code, but we should also be teaching the importance design plays in the effectiveness of your idea.
Great design can come in many forms. If you consider Apple, arguably the most influential tech company (or any company) in the world, they put beautiful and functional design at the forefront of their business model and it sparked a revolution in more than one industry. But it also shows up in the smallest details. A well designed presentation to a client or a well-put-together report for your boss can make or break a career. In math a proof may be structured correctly but an elegant proof is much more powerful and insightful. This is one reason that standardized testing is destructive to the educational process. Nothing can be further from teaching design than answering questions on a bubble sheet.