Getting STEAMed about Education

In regularly promoting STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math), I experience some pushback from STEM supporters. “Don’t knock STEM!” they tell me. But I’m not. If supporting STEAM is “knocking” STEM, then we’re really just left with A.

Which is also an incomplete education. And no one in the music and arts advocacy community is promoting that.

We can all agree—we should all agree—we’re all advocating the same thing: a complete quality education for all students. We ultimately all want to prepare them for their own future, to become our nation’s next leaders, to equip them to be a healthy generation who can successfully raise up the generation to come after them.

The infighting comes from the “how”.

So why STEAM?

STEAM supporters recognize while it’s important to know how all those STEM components work, to master their respective principles so students can take their innate curiosity and discover new things, once those answers are found, we are left with: Now what? The “A” answers the “what”. The A shows them what to do with what they have discovered—that creativity and collaboration take the discovery and draw out innovation, leading students to develop something with the discovery.

The principles in STEM disciplines are critical for every student to know—tools to use to make discoveries. However, we need them to go further than discovery toward innovation. And that’s where STEAM drives them forward.

“A foundation in STEM education is exceptional at making us more efficient or increasing speed all within set processes,” writes Justin Brady, founder of the Iowa Creativity Summit, “but it’s not so good at growing our curiosity or imagination.” Brady continued, “Michigan State University observed a group of its honors college graduates from 1990 to 1995 who majored in the STEM fields. Their research uncovered that of those students, the ones who owned businesses or filed patents had eight times the exposure to the arts as children than the general public. …

“Just as Michigan State has demonstrated alongside countless studies, students involved in quality music programs have shown higher participation with lower drop out rates, higher scores on standardized testing, 22 percent better English scores, 20 percent better in math and have demonstrated better problem solving skills,” Brady noted.

But beyond the extrinsic benefits of music and arts education, Brady highlighted the intrinsic benefits (which we also promoted in our broader mindedTM campaign): STEM education’s “focus is poor at sparking our creativity. It doesn’t teach us empathy or what it means to relate to others on a deep emotional level. … knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math are certainly important, but [students’] imagination, creativity and how they interact with others is critical. Like any flower, the stem is valuable but the bloom on top inspires our imagination — and that’s what people connect to.”

All students have a niche to find, a passion to discover. And how can they know what that is if they do not have the opportunity to dig deep into all the disciplines of STEAM? We do them a disservice when we withhold a complete quality music and arts education.

Students don’t compartmentalize their education. They explore and experiment with everything—and often combine STEM and arts in ways we don’t expect, like this bright young woman.


So while we push for various educational programs and opportunities, we absolutely must include complete classroom music education and the rest of the arts in those proposals. Let’s not shortchange our students.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott told educators about how he’s seen a well-rounded education, combining STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the arts benefit students.

What Letter Should We Add to STEM?Atlantic, 8 October 2014.

80% of Longwood Symphony musicians are associated with the Boston medical community.

Nobel Winner says, ‘In the US, classical music is fundamentally a dying art’

Catherina Hurlburt, Special Assistant, October 3, 2014. © National Association for Music Education (