STEM into STEAM? Who knew? And: really? Or just rent-seeking?

STEM into STEAM? Who knew? And: really? Or just rent-seeking? May 27, 2015

Over the weekend, the newspaper featured, in its “family activity” listings, a set of activities at the Chicago library around the idea of “turning STEM into STEAM” — by adding an A for Art.

Have you seen this before?

Apparently, it’s a thing:

The website says,

What is STEAM?
In this climate of economic uncertainty, America is once again turning to innovation as the way to ensure a prosperous future.
Yet innovation remains tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – the STEM subjects. Art + Design are poised to transform our economy in the 21st century just as science and technology did in the last century.
We need to add Art + Design to the equation — to transform STEM into STEAM.
STEAM is a movement championed by Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and widely adopted by institutions, corporations and individuals.
The objectives of the STEAM movement are to:

  • transform research policy to place Art + Design at the center of STEM
  • encourage integration of Art + Design in K–20 education
  • influence employers to hire artists and designers to drive innovation.

A similar site,, says,

Our mission is to have business leaders, arts professionals, educators and others work together to educate governments, the public and the media to the need for returning Arts to the national curricula. China and others have determined, as we must, that STEAM education is a national priority issue.

Now, this site seems to be a single individual’s project.  Wikipedia says this is a Thing, though with a fairly small article.  And here’s a November 2014 article from Education Week with more context, and a New York Times article, which says,

The Rhode Island School of Design thinks so much of the need to collaborate that it is spearheading a national initiative to incorporate art and design in STEM education — what it calls STEM to STEAM (as in science, technology, engineering, art and math). Art education, they argue, teaches the kind of risk-taking and creative problem-solving that can be applied to, say, health care and climate change.

So, what do you think?  I admit to being skeptical.  Yes, there are certain design-type skills that are relevant for certain “stem” fields — e.g., product design and computer-aided or manual drafting, as well as knowledge of “technical” concepts of art, such as perspective.  But — unless my kids’ art experience is significantly lacking by the reduced resources of parochial schools — art education for the younger set is more about exposure and activity and self-expression, rather than skill development.  And given the fight for dollars — from the feds, from charitable foundations, and so on — let’s face it:  it seems far more probable that this is a means of hiving off “STEM” cash for pet causes.

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