We’ve all heard the phrase: “It’s more art than science.” This characterization implies that art and science exist in separate realms, that to excel in one means to neglect the other. That perception could not be further from the truth. If we look at the world around us, there are countless examples of how art and science intersect. The most successful innovations of the last two decades have incorporated impressive technology with accessible design: think the iPod. Everything from cars and airplanes to cell phones and appliances are created at the nexus of art and science.
Unfortunately, the place in which the intersection of the arts and sciences seems to be least prevalent is in our classrooms. The decades-long focus on STEM education has rightly identified science, technology, engineering and math as important areas of proficiency for American students. There is no doubt that these fields are vital to future economic development and will drive the careers of tomorrow. However, with the U.S. still falling behind in global student achievement rankings in these subjects, the question must be asked: what’s missing?
The answer can, at least in part, be found in the results of a 2010 survey conducted by IBM. Of the more than 1,500 CEOs from 33 industries worldwide surveyed, the vast majority identified creativity and ability to “think outside the box” as the most vital tools for successfully navigating an increasingly complex world. If America is to stay competitive in a rapidly expanding global economy, we must not only outdo the rest of the world in business and technology, we must also outdo them in innovation and creativity.
How do we get to an education system that instills these vital skills while not sacrificing rigorous education standards? For several years, a movement has been quietly building to achieve those goals through STEAM, the integration of the arts, broadly defined, into STEM education. The goal of STEAM is to synergize these elements and allow them to enrich a student’s experience of the world through education. Collaboration, trial and error, divergent thinking skills, dynamic problem solving, and perseverance are all among the skills fostered by the arts and can be brought to bear to improve STEM learning.
More and more, educators across the country are utilizing STEAM principles, and the positive results have been undeniable. In a study conducted by Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education over a four-year period, the achievement gap in ISAT test scores between low- and high-performing students narrowed 22 percent in schools where arts integration was implemented, as compared with only a 14-percent narrowing in control schools. Other studies have shown that students who participate in the arts outperform their non-arts-participating peers in math, have higher SAT and standardized test scores, and have more consistent attendance at school.
Study after study has shown that the arts are more than just an add-on benefit in education. Music, visual, performing and digital arts must be welcomed into the classroom and integrated with STEM so our students can draw from both and receive a truly comprehensive education that will prepare them for jobs in industries not yet imagined.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, I cofounded the Congressional STEAM Caucus, along with my Democratic colleague from Oregon, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, to highlight the importance of arts integration in the halls of Congress. A stunningly diverse array of stakeholders, from educators and researchers to scientists, artists, businesses and government agencies have been eager to share their ideas for advancing STEAM, and the momentum behind their efforts is showing results in schools across the country.
Building an economy fueled by innovative and creative thinkers requires more than just art or science by itself. It requires a concerted effort that focuses on the intersection of the arts and STEM, and values each for the benefits it brings. I’m looking forward to continuing to work to advance that vision, and to change the phrase to: “It’s both art and science.” iBi