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Opinion: Modern Schools’ Unhealthy Obsession with STEM Programs

Fiona Shuldiner and Sienna Lipton, Grade 10, Staff Writers


The term STEM (an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) was first coined at the National Science Foundation in the early 2000s, but it has since snowballed into a global discussion, resulting in massive changes to the education system. As the name implies, the majority of the High School of American Studies’ student body is passionate about the humanities, which is reflected in the curriculum. However, high schools that focus on history—or anything besides STEM—are rare. The majority of high school options in New York City are STEM-focused, with HSAS being just one of two out of eight specialized high schools that do not focus on science, technology, engineering, or math. This is a growing pattern across the United States. But does the rise in STEM education come at the expense of other important fields?

STEM is certainly a growing field in both importance and numbers. There were 1.1 million STEM workers in 1960, and there are nearly 9 million today. More and more jobs are incorporating STEM, and school curriculums are adjusting to a changing world. In a 2011 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama compared the rise in STEM education to the Sputnik movement of the 1950s: just like it did with the space race with Russia, the United States has to ramp up STEM education “to stay competitive with other nations, spur economic growth, preserve national security, and propel ingenuity.”

There is no question that STEM education is crucial in today’s society. However, it is far from all that is necessary for one’s education. STEM jobs make up less than 20 percent of the American workforce. Even in jobs that require STEM education, other skills such as leadership, communication, and teamwork are necessary in conjunction with knowledge from math or science courses.

American students have also been scoring alarmingly low on tests that cover subjects other than STEM. According to Forbes, only a quarter of students are currently testing at a level deemed proficient in history and geography. Even more worrisome are recent surveys that have been done on the broader American public. Politech, a group of politically involved students at Texas Tech University, conducted spontaneous on-campus quizzes on their fellow students. When asked about who won the American Civil War, some students answered, “the South” and “Confederates.”

Furthermore, simple civics questions were asked in a 2017 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The results were highly illustrative of an American population with subpar knowledge of their government. Only 26 percent of the 1,013 Americans surveyed could name the three branches of government, and 37 percent could not name even one of the rights protected under the First Amendment.

There is clearly a large disparity between the subjects taught in American schools. STEM is being emphasized in schools due to its growing necessity in many careers. Government endorsed STEM programs can be found in nearly every school. Some schools are even entirely dedicated to these subjects. However, it has come at the expense of the humanities, the arts, and other important classes. Above all, the overwhelming increase in STEM education funding has come at the expense of students, who lack basic knowledge of other important subjects.

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