Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Full STEAM ahead

President Obama’s State of the Union address yielded one sound bite that has been replayed and re-examined a great deal. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he said, arguing for a concerted effort to reinvest in the foundations of the American economy.

Some commentators have interpreted that invocation of the 50-year-old Soviet satellite’s launch as a call for renewed investments in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To be sure, these are worthy areas on which to focus. However, scientific innovation will require educators and policy makers to think more broadly and boldly.

Over the past six months, I have been reading about a movement among educators and scientists to integrate the arts into STEM education initiatives. (Wheaton Professor of Education Vicki Bartolini is engaged in a planning effort aimed at early childhood classrooms.) The resulting new acronym, STEAM, has provided a rallying point for some academics to assert the value of the arts in education. Personally, I was already convinced. Based on my own experience, I have always believed that there is a relationship between proficiency and natural ability in the arts and a proclivity toward math and science. A number of research studies seem to support this idea, particularly the link between math and music. Nonetheless, this emerging point of view underscores just how prescient the Wheaton faculty were when they developed the “Connections Curriculum” almost 10 years ago.

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