Posted by on Apr 28, 2014 in Education issues | 0 comments

A puzzling course/workshop/research list from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD): The Art and Science of Ecocentric Practices; Evolutionary Network Analyses & Visualization; Experimental Data Visualization; Diffusion Limited Aggregation in G-Speak.

Not so puzzling if you understand that STEM + ART = STEAM.

STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, Math—is on the lips of many CEO’s, K-12 educators, college presidents, funders, and policymakers.  STEAM asserts that Art and Design should be at the STEM table, shaping education, workforce development and STEM practice.  STEAM specifically refers to a RISD initiative (http://stemtosteam.org) that is spreading its influence around the country, leading to many experiments in integrating art and design across the STEM curriculum as an effective learning tool.  Google “STEAM education partners” for a host of examples.

RISD’s  STEAM extends beyond education: “The goal is to foster the true innovation that comes with combining the mind of a scientist or technologist with that of an artist or designer…. [RISD] art and design education teaches the flexible thinking, risk-taking and creative problem solving needed to solve today’s most complex and pressing challenges – from healthcare to urban revitalization to global warming.”  RISD’s students are being trained not to be passive observers of society, but rather to understand their responsibility and have the skills to engage constructively with vastly divergent sectors of endeavor.

The arts community has believed in and asserted the essential nature of the arts for many years without making much of a dent in thinking, practice, policy or funding among the corporations, schools and school districts, legislative bodies, funders, and policy makers who control the money, and therefore the agendas of those sectors. That’s changing.    (See http://www.risd.edu/about/news/2013/the-disruptive-power-of-steam/?dept=4294968230.)

A recent article from the Miami Herald described four new STEAM magnet schools, noting, “Teaching creativity, at its root, is about teaching the ability to think divergently: to not only know your facts but to find new approaches and solutions to existing situations.”  An obvious point? Maybe, but a growing number of power and funding brokers in the public and private sectors are newly interested in and talking about it.  There’s even a STEAM Caucus in Congress, chaired by a Republican from Illinois.

Unlikely allies (“divergent” artists and Republican congressmen!) see the growing mismatch in workforce resources and industry/public sector needs; the failure of the NCLB’s standardized test model of education, which stifles creativity and does little to truly prepare students for the world of post-secondary study and technical careers; and the potential of art to turn the ship around.

The STEAM movement heralds a fundamental change in the perception of art and its role in society. STEAM advocates, educators, and practitioners—and increasingly, thought leaders and policy makers— are recognizing that art is, in fact, a “public good” available and beneficial to all.  We cannot compete globally, we cannot advance society without it.  Let us know: Is STEAM rising in your community?