STEM to STEAM: There’s More Than One Kind of Smart


Last week, my kids celebrated the last day of school. I vacillate between gratitude and sadness. I’m grateful we made it safely through another year, but sad it all goes so fast.

I regret I have to focus so much energy on making a living that I’m often not able to make the life for my kids I want them to have. At least once a day, I want to sell my house and buy a place where the Cimarron River meets the Lawrie Stretch. I want to tell the people shoving STEM down my kids’ throats to stick it wear the sun doesn’t shine.

What is STEM?

For those of you who don’t know what STEM is, it’s an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. It pops up in political and policy debates. Everyone’s worried the Chinese are going to surpass us. Maybe they’ll even own us.

The notion of STEM is OK I guess. It’s good to expand the reach of so-called gifted and talented programs. But, just like those programs, STEM advocates have gone too far. They’ve undermined the value of pursuing other disciplines within the arts. They’ve contributed to a bias that says the only serious student is the one who can counts things.

Bite me STEM people and anyone else who thinks creative types don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming anything special. I was terrible at math and I’ve had a great career and made a lot of money. When I was 25, I became the only writer on a team of engineers trying to figure out how to tell a story so we could save a military base and 26,000 jobs from Cold War-inspired extinction. My reports made their way to Air Force Times, to Congress. As history recorded, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission spared that installation.

There is more than one kind of smart.

Click to enlarge chart.

Howard Gardner 9 types of intelligence
Howard Gardner 9 types of intelligence


At least once a week I want to home-school my kids. Abandon rote memorization and ridiculous paperwork. An open field will be our laboratory. We’ll hunt for bugs all day long and sketch the landscape at sunset.

I wish they could learn through failure instead of being diminished by it.

According to blogger Penelope Trunk, there is so much evidence that schools don’t meet the educational needs of kids. (This is why I spend the money I should be saving for retirement on parochial school tuition for all my kids. Thank God I have it now, but my retirement will be lean!) Unstructured play for young children is sorely undervalued. The ACT is a patently unfair way of selecting students for the best colleges.

And, how can a teacher sustain passion-based learning with nearly three-dozen students in her class?

How long will it be until we figure out that science and math can’t STEM the tide of our failures?


Stem to Steam
Stem to Steam

In 2007, the Rhode Island School of Design began leading the STEM to STEAM effort. They suggested we add an A between the E and M. Cute. A is for ART. The movement honors different kinds of intelligence. Like logic smart and word smart. Nature smart and picture smart. Music smart and body smart and thank God people smart.

And just so you know – if you are really smart, then you didn’t need me to tell you any of this.

Multiple Chart of different kinds of intelligence
Nine Kinds of Intelligence

What kind of smart are you? Do you support the STEM to STEAM movement?

This blog post originally aired as a commentary on KOSU Radio.

University of Florida’s Online Master of Arts in Art Education

STEAM is a movement to include Art and Design in the STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - movement. By adding it, STEM become STEAM. Both STEMA and Art and Design will transform the 21st century.
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  1. says

    I love STEM to STEAM! Beginning now, that you have told me about it. The problem with STEM is that they have taken the wonder out of science and math. Maybe STEAM is a way of putting the wonder back into education.

    • says

      Thanks, Alan. I’ve written plenty of commentaries about how much I love engineers. I hope they understand this was a long time coming. =) You’re awesome and I love the post in the link above. Your wife, your family is beautiful.

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