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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Science, Math & Delusion

           We’ve got to do something about education in this country. We hear this all around us, and we agree with it.
          We are desperately in need of a system that prepares us and those who depend upon us to succeed in life. We need to earn a living, we need to pay the bills, we must have a system we can depend upon, and we want to contribute as citizens to ensure that our society prospers.
              It’s an increasingly challenging world. We don’t think our current education system is doing what it will take to prepare us for such a place.
          In this dialogue, there is one real danger: We seem to be focusing on half the solution.

Americans are falling behind in the competition to prepare for the challenges of today and the world to come. Agreed. Look at the rankings of educational achievement around the world.
            Still, the accepted wisdom is misguided in its prescriptions about what to do. The broadly accepted mantra is “STEM” – Science, technology, engineering and math.  If only we align our schools to provide expertise in those areas, all will be well. That is what we hear.
            If engineering, technology, mathematics and scientific specialties were to become the defining drives in the American culture, would our economy and our way of life regain its strength and vitality?
            No.

             . . . Unless the curricula for education in those subjects were broadened to include adequate preparation in communication, collaboration and creativity. Human beings do not function as technocratic machines. You can’t load them up with information and expect a consistent high volume of quality output.
             Nor are people stand-alone entities. Can you think of any circumstance in which a person can function without input and output connections and support systems involving other people? Who can work without talking, listening, negotiating, exchanging?
             And it’s not simply “business” activity narrowly defined. We need other people socially and psychologically. We encourage and uplift each other, share and inspire on a far broader spectrum than the simple sharing of information, requests and responses.

That’s not all. Scientific education, essential as it is, depends heavily upon the other areas of knowledge. Why do people erupt with originality, engage with energy, join in collaborative effort, dream dreams, solve problems?
            Because they are exposed to ideas, and practiced in skills, that have nothing to do with science and technology. They might be inspired by history: Abraham Lincoln or Harry Truman; literature: Mark Twain or Leo Tolstoy; business: Peter Drucker or Tom Peters.

In short, the dynamic drive of human behavior includes the ability to understand, skills at talking and listening, the creative and logical power of problem-solving. We act on human emotion, and we respond extremely powerfully to our interactions with those around us.
             People who are good at describing, explaining, responding, convincing are those who – however they accomplish it – in the end are those who control the outcome.
             Importantly, all the specific and technical knowledge we are warning about is NOT to be dismissed. It is vital. The error is in identifying it as the ultimate essential ingredient in a comprehensive education.

So: What should we do about education in this country? How are we to assure ourselves of a secure future?
            We need to establish and carefully maintain a society in which adults and the young receive the information that equips them to function in society. That requires an educational system fully prepared to produce fully competent citizens.
             Learn. Apply. Collaborate. Empower. That creates the acronym LACE. A nice bloom on top of STEM.

         

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