BETTY STEIN: STEM is important, but there is more to learning

I was looking through the latest USA Philatelic and saw the concentration on STEM education, and my warning molecules went into action. STEM is the latest fad in the huge world of education, as you know.

STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. That is what we need to concentrate on in the classroom to prepare our youngsters for the future … Gee, I’m so old I remember push/pulls. Those were strokes of the pen as we learned to write. A neat row of push/pulls and you could be rewarded with a writing certificate and be assured of a good future: Your writing was legible. Of course, with the advent of typewriters then word processors and eventually computers, those beautiful flourishes, which were once so desired, could be relegated to the “that was then, this is now” bin.

Over the years there have been plenty of “musts.” And each one was to prepare these students for a productive future (remember encyclopedias?) You were faced with a problem and needed an answer and the encyclopedia probably had the answer. If your parents were affluent there might be an encyclopedia there on a bookshelf. If not, there was always the library — go look it up. Now a quick trip to Google and the answer is there! Or tap a question on your hand-held phone, whisper your question in its eager ear and, lo and behold, a voice fills in that gap in your education. I think it’s called “Instant gratification.”

Remember when girls took cooking and boys took shop? Those junior high years helped ensure a happy future for us all. Girls would turn into wives who could set a fancy table and their husbands would be able to repair that bench or build a tree house, all a part of a full life.

We memorized, too. We memorized the Preamble of the Constitution and maybe even the Gettysburg Address and a line or two from Shakespeare. Of course, memorization was a part of learning anything, even 2 plus 2 equals 4. We learned about our history as a nation and our blessing, the Constitution . . . what it contains and what it means to us

And now it’s STEM. It has always been assumed we could learn, we were encouraged to think. We asked questions because we were thinking and putting that two and that two together. And fortunately somewhere along the line, some remembered that the workday held usually eight hours and that sleeping eight hours was healthy. Now that left eight hours to be filled with “free time.” Maybe time to enjoy a good book or listen to some music or go to theatre or see an art exhibit or take a hike to enjoy the exercise but also the world we live in — with all its beauty or read a poem or try writing a sonnet – or so many things that make those eight hours a good part of the joy of living.

Of course we want our kids “educated” and prepared for the workplace. Of course we want them to have the tools that equip them for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. This is a competitive world we live in. But let us never forget that the beauty of literature and the arts are essential. Maybe STEM could also mean S(hakespeare), T(heatre) M(usic) and E(verybody gets to learn and love beauty).

Betty Stein is a resident of Fort Wayne and a long-time contributor to The News-Sentinel