With greater rigor comes a greater education. This has been the mantra and formula used by reformists and political pundits for almost two decades. Through it all, America’s youth have been pushed, pulled, prodded, and cajoled through dizzying levels of sleep deprivation and stress, often leading to depression, angst, and academic burnout.
Since 2010, schools across this country have turned to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) based curricula in hopes of feeding the frenzy of helicopter parents who crave competition and rigor. Needing proof that their children are prepared for college and a global marketplace, schools are being forced to drive curricula towards technical skills that have an ever decreasing shelf life of relevance and usability.
Are we pushing kids too far too fast? Is it possible that in an effort to do good, we are actually doing long-term damage? Where will it stop? When will it end? How long before preschool becomes pre-med?
Gone are teaching and training of soft skills. Gone are the days of teaching of requisite and important social skills. Gone are the days of exploration and discovery.
Through it all, there is some evidence that STEM is not driving innovation but is in fact inhibiting it.
As a part of a major initiative to analyze its workforce, Google undertook a comprehensive and long ranging study of its employees and what makes them successful or not. What they found shook not just Google but the entirety of Silicon Valley, akin to the earthquakes they have become accustomed to.
Project Oxygen concluded that, "among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise came in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others, valuing different points of view; having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas."
Those traits sound more like what one gains as an English or music major than as a computer programmer. Could it be that top Google employees were succeeding despitetheir technical training, not because of it?
After bringing in anthropologists and ethnographers to dive even deeper into the data, the company enlarged its previous hiring practices to include humanities majors, musicians, artists, and even the MBAs and company founders once viewed with disdain.
Yes, science, technology, and math are important. We need engineers to understand schematics. We need architects to understand blueprints. We need programmers to understand code. But, we also need humans who understand humans.
And the arts, music in particular, makes people more human and help us to understand what it is to be human.
Have a great week!
p.s. This weekend, my very intelligent middle school son proclaimed that one of our household lights was broken and needed to be replaced. When I informed him that it was just a burnt out light bulb, he exclaimed, “What’s that? You mean lights don’t last forever or at least 40 years?” So yeah, maybe the Lang household could use a little more STEM.