Thursday, October 3, 2013

A Flaw in STEM??

Here's a recent article concerning the flaw in all the schools trying to improve the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skill sets of their graduates.

Good Read

What's missing from the data is comparison of employment, or rather unemployment figures.  While a chemist BS earns about 40k leaving undergrad, they are rapidly employed compared to other majors.  Similarly with physics and engineers.  Sadly, their are too many biology majors in the world due to two misconceptions concerning the field of biology:

  1. Biology is the simplest of the sciences
  2. Biology is the best major to get to medical/dental/vet school
As for point 1, biology is actually the most complex of the sciences, as it deals with very, very large systems made of unreal numbers of particles that are governed by a mysterious aspect called life.  Chemistry and physics, while more mathematically challenging (in most instances) deal with small, simple models that are solvable using math.  The reason for less math in biology?  Because there are too many variables and the equations are not only unsolvable but unknown.  That is, life is not something I can write as an equation.  Decisions are not part of an equation.

Point 2 is amazingly false, yet even universities send any pre-health student to biology as a first stop for advising.  In the USA, to get to medical school you only need these courses:  CHEM 1 and 2, PHYS 1 and 2, BIOL 1 and 2, and Organic Chemistry 1 and 2.  If you look closely, each of those courses is required in a chemistry degree.  However, physics majors do not take biology or organic chemistry.  And, biologists do not have to take physics or organic 2.

While I've moved from the initial sentiment about STEM teaching and what it's worth, the point still stands that there is a problem with forcing and expecting every school to become a STEM school  To do so, wouldn't you actually need to employ science minded teachers from the beginning?

Well, those who are entering the education programs out there are not that into science.  As someone who teaches early childhood education majors about physics and chemistry fundamentals (in a very poorly contrived class mandated by the state BOE), I can tell you that these students are excellent people who are readying themselves to help raise our children and educate them.  But, they are not science minded, they are not given enough training, the training they get is at too low a level, and when they get to their schools they are not given the equipment to really make something happen.

STEM is great...I love the sciences.  Thus, I am scientist.  But no amount of forcing classes on my sister would have made her a scientist.  She had other loves.  In addition, the goal of learning science is less about becoming a scientist but to appreciate the logic and (attempted) truth of real science.  Having that background will allow every citizen to make better decisions about their life.  Yet, I don't think everyone is a STEM person.  And why would they?  Writers, business people, actors and historians all help make the human race what it is.  Should we not also expect some students to explore and excel at those fields?

In summary, STEM is great.  But so are the other academic disciplines.  While a restructured attack on how science is learned and how science instructors are created is necessary and compelling, the overwhelming STEM-ing of everything is not the answer.  As usual, I see the money that could do good going to the wrong places to create no real results...the same old, same old.

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