Apr 22, 2013
THEME: Learning

STEM vs. STEAM: A Case for Integrated Arts Education + A Call to Action




We encounter these buzzwords everywhere these days.  Design publications and Twitter feeds go on and on about the “most creative people of the year” and innovations in design.  Countless times during the most recent presidential campaign candidates and commentators brought up the importance of creative sector jobs and American innovation, only to somehow conclude that this means the need for more math and science teachers.  Don’t get me wrong, math and science are indispensable, but all too often these subjects center on narrowed and test-focused curricula.  That focus allows teachers to forget that creativity is needed. 

Art and design classrooms are places where students have access to project-based learning that fosters critical thinking and open-ended problem solving. Art and design education has been proven time and time again to improve scores in math, science, and reading.  Unfortunately, an alarming number of public school art and design programs across the country have been cut and the time art educators get to spend with students continues to dwindle.  I think it is important that people in the Architecture & Design community are aware of this, and when possible, do something about it. 

Our industry thrives on new ideas, collaboration, and efficient problem-solving.  The most successful designers are those that use these skills, but also possess a deep appreciation for visual aesthetics.  Many of our best and brightest received fantastic art and design training in college and grad school.  But the groundwork for this training can and should start before college.  It’s exciting to imagine what types of projects could be realized when designers, architects, and engineers are given a solid foundation of visual creative skills from the time they begin learning their 123s and ABCs, right?

 An organization was started by John Maeda at the Rhode Island School of Design called STEM to STEAM.  Its aim is to include art among the core subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math.  They have been pushing for federal backing for art as well as the other core subjects, claiming that it will advance our country’s innovation and economic growth.  This claim has been backed by scholars like Daniel Pink and Richard Florida (two education researchers who are worth looking into), who have found creative sector industries to be more resilient in the face of the recent recession.  STEM to STEAM has some great information on their website about how to reach out to your legislators and stress the importance of art and design education if you want to check it out.

Art and design education is also beginning to cause a stir in Congress.  Aaron Schock, Illinois Congressman and Co-Chair of the STEAM Caucus said, “Studies have shown that students who participate in the arts are more likely to engage in creative thinking as they get older.  In our increasingly global economy, it is imperative that we give our students the tools to succeed worldwide.”  

What would happen if more members of this industry actively promoted movements like this.  For a short time STEM to STEAM was featured on Maharam’s homepage—why not increase its visibility in some of our professional publications?  Perkins+Will does through programs like ACE Mentoring, becoming voluntary mentors and adding to the experiences of students.  Programs like this are wonderful supplements to core learning, but are not substitutes for actual art and design classes. 

The real power in keeping art and design in schools may rest with parents who insist on it being part of their children’s curriculum.  If you are a parent, push your local school administrations to include solid art education.  It worked in Chicago—parents overwhelmingly asked for art, music, theatre, and dance programs in their schools and a system-wide program has been implemented to bring these programs to all kids who attend schools in the city.  Awesome, right?  As design professionals, we also have a responsibility to make some noise and tout the benefits of art and design education on lucrative, fulfilling, life-long careers.  

 This post was originally authored by Laura Grodoski.

  1. Chika Sekiguchi Chika Sekiguchi
    9:33 am on May 6, 2013 | Reply

    Well put. I signed the petition and will advocate at my local school!!!

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