What Makes Us Human: Get Over Sputnik, America

“Getting a diploma at an American high school is a joke,” claims Clayton M. McCleskey from The Dallas Morning News. “American kids are falling behind their peers,” agrees former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (CBS News). “[Chinese] children are better educated than American children in the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math. High standards and high expectations are the norm in China, not the exception, as if often the case in the United States,” observes CNN contributor and former U.

S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, “American students must begin approaching their higher education just as smartly and seriously, or our academics will be filled with aspiring and inquiring minds from elsewhere” (Bennett). Just wait a second – are we still stuck in 1957? This isn’t another a Sputnik moment. Indubitably, the STEM subjects are important, but cramming more of it down our kids’ throats isn’t going to improve our education.

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Education, especially hard science majors like engineering, impacts America’s economy and national security. The lack of a sufficient workforce in these areas have prompted an “Educate to Innovate” campaign advocating creativity and research through an emphasis on the math and science. But if you want creativity to innovate and research, here’s the real wake up call: we cannot ignore the humanities. It is art that inspires passion, history that promises progress, and language that fosters communication – without the humanities, we are nothing more than robots dealing with numbers and data. Robots calculate.

Humans create. Real innovation comes from creativity. And creativity is not a sum of math and science, but a product of the humanities and the STEM subjects. Just take a look at the “failure” of the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB tried to force a “one-size-fits-all” mandate on every student, but that was about as effective as jamming a square peg into a circular hole (Shyan, Shah, Selangor). We are not products of an assembly line.

It’s the same with a narrow-sighted focus on STEM – what if not all of us think in terms of numbers and graphs? I am definitely not insinuating that the STEM areas are useless. As a student at Thomas Jefferson HS for Science and Tech, I love STEM. But it’s a mistake to forget about the humanities. If we want Americans to be smarter, we should focus more on learning for the sake of…*gasp* learning! Teach kids to think with their imagination. Then the formulas and laws they learn in STEM will mean something: The power to change the world.