Let’s Talk STEM


As I near the end of my college career (in fact as of last Monday, May 11th, I am now officially an alumni of Arizona State University) I like to think I’ve learned more than just how to study for exams, how to buy expensive textbooks in the cheapest way possible (chegg.com, for reals), and how to always check ratemyprofessor.com before registering for a class because the one time you don’t you’ll end up with a bad teacher and wish you had checked out their ratings first. Yes, bad teachers exist but more on that another time, to be sure.

I’ve gotten a pretty well-rounded education as a liberal arts major. A little math, a little science, a little psychology, some statistics, and more foreign language than I would have preferred but you’ve got to fulfill those elective credits somehow, right? By the middle of my sophomore year I was taking strictly humanities classes: psychology, history, literature and that was it. The required amount of math and science courses for my degree included only two lab sciences and one college math course, and nothing else. I knocked those out within my first year and that was that.

I was glad because I was pursuing a degree in creative writing, and the less math and science I had to take the better. I had friends majoring in engineering and chemistry who were thrilled when they completed their required introductory English courses because it meant they didn’t have to take any more for the rest of their college careers. TBH they really missed out #jussayin.

The only thing (and it’s a big one, mind you) is that after a certain point, the humanities kids are only taking humanities classes and the math and science kids are only taking the math and science classes. Believe it or not, this is problematic. It is problematic for me and it is problematic for them, and it is problematic for America.

“This country is a lot better at teaching self-esteem than it is at teaching math.”

-William Bennett, former secretary education


 STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

You may have heard the acronym already now that the American government has been funding STEM courses immensely over the past few years in hopes of increasing the repeatedly low math and science test scores of our nation’s students. As Fareed Zakaria explains it here, “the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success.” STEM education “deemphasizes the humanities” and looks to “expand STEM courses” such that students are given educations focused on technical training in order to catch up with other countries whose national testing score statistics the United States invariably continues to compare itself to.  (Check out paragraphs ten and eleven of his article for a prime explanation of this).

The takeaway from Zakaria’s article is that “technical chops are just one ingredient needed for innovation and economic success. America overcomes its disadvantage – a less technically-trained workforce – with other advantages such as creativity, critical thinking and an optimistic outlook.”

One ingredient. Which means that technical training, math and science and humanities all go hand in hand to produce one education. This ideology needs to be implemented in schools now.

Do I feel like I would have gotten a more well-rounded education had I been required to take more math or science classes? In hindsight, the answer would be yes. Do I think that the kids majoring in STEM fields should be required to take more humanities classes? Absolutely yes.

“No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write” Zakaria pointed out in his article.

How weird to think that these two fields have become so completely separated over the years. “As we work with computers (which is really the future of all work), the most valuable skills will be the ones that are uniquely human, that computers cannot quite figure out – yet” and that means creativity, social skills, and problem-solving skills.

Over the past few years I’ve been asked many (many, many *eyeroll*) times what on earth I am going to do with an English degree. My answer is always the same: I’m going to do anything that I want. I may not have been trained in one field explicitly but I have been trained in other ways. I’ve been trained in how to read, and write critically. I’ve been trained in how to think creatively and I’ve gained strong problem solving and social skills. These are invaluable. Now that I have completed my college degree I know I have the skills to learn anything, which means that I can apply myself to work at any job that I please.

No one education is better than another. We need to recognize the benefits of humanities degrees, which in turn complement STEM degrees, so that we can create a more cohesive educational standard that honors the value of both, rather than pitting one against the other.

*All photos via Google or Pinterest. If you know the original owner, let me know! I would be more than happy to add photo credits.


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