The tendency to attribute symbolic meaning to acronyms we use in our daily life, made me think about the meaning behind the educational philosophy of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and the recent capitulation to add the letter A, for Arts, thus turning the STEM teaching system into STEAM. While a minor change in terms, the meaning could be profound.
A stem, according to the dictionary is “the ascending axis of a plant,” or the origin or cause of a thing. At least physically, a stem is always grounded in the earth. Whether a flower or tree, the stem reaches for the sun, while it roots itself in the soil. It is the support system and backbone, carrying the weight of branches, leaves and flowers. But it is immobile, it is stuck in place.
Steam, on the other hand, is an “invisible vapor into which water is converted when heated to the boiling point.” Steam is water which has become air born, free of the earth, it’s an ethereal mist, shape-shifting and mysterious. Steam, though immaterial, is also quite powerful! The industrial age was born of it.
So, the simple addition of an A to an educational acronym, as well as the simple act of adding Arts to the Science/Tech mix in teaching, if treated seriously, has the power to catapult the education system, and society at large into a new and powerful way of thinking about our future.
To rise above the already astonishing landscape we have built, to add other dimensions of depth and character, we need the wings of creativity and imagination. To grow beyond the industrial age that has grounded us in materiality, but also greed and waste, we need the wholeness and harmony that the arts contribute.
A balance of nature and culture, science and art, brawn and beauty is what allows us to be bold, build amazing things, yet also be introspective, and to add meaning, fun and beauty to the things we make.
“To grow beyond the industrial age that has grounded us in materiality…”