Why is American education constantly redefining itself?
Primarily because modern education practices have problems that the educrats can’t or won’t fix. Despite appearances to the contrary, schools know how to raise academic standards, enforce student discipline and prepare students for future challenges. They just don’t want to do those things.
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Instead, they try to resolve educational issues with marketing techniques. Like a company that renames slow-selling products, the education system throws pithy phrases and acronyms around instead of dealing with real problems.
The Educational Universe of STEM
About the turn of the millennium, the educrats crafted the term STEM—short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. They assured the public that children who mastered these four disciplines would be successful in the land of tomorrow.
Almost immediately, the art and music teachers went into panic mode. They saw their fields threatened since they are expensive to teach and limited in career openings. Seeing a dark future, the teachers complained bitterly.
“No problem,” said the educrats, “we will add an ‘A’ for Arts, making STEM into STEAM. All aboard!” The locomotive whistle blew, and school systems quickly threw their bags onto the overhead racks and chose their seats. Whether under STEAM or STEM, the four disciplines stole the limelight.
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Many Catholic schools have signed on to the STEM approach in recent years. This move is a mistake. There are at least seven problems with STEM.
- 1. STEM Deemphasizes Moral Considerations.
Science and technology have become substitutes for religion. Many aspects of the STEM world appear to exist outside of the sphere of morality. Indeed, scientists often (and erroneously) present themselves as opponents of morality.
They argue that whether a building stands or falls does not depend on the ethics of the architect or engineer who designed it. Medicines are effective regardless of the moral state of the technicians who developed them.
Such considerations do not mean that schools should not teach STEM subjects. It does mean that they should not form the core of the curriculum.
- 2. STEM Contributes to an Atmosphere of Scientism.
During the COVID crisis, an oft-heard refrain was “follow the science.” For many, that reliance on science assumes a pseudo-religious meaning. It is almost as though science is an animate being whose dictates must be obeyed. Linguists coined a word to describe that sentiment, scientism, which means an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of scientific methods.
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Of course, many scientists disdain scientism. One does not always follow the other. However, in the minds of those avoiding God, scientism offers a seemingly easy path away from the supernatural and religious realities of life.
- 3. STEM Consigns Religion, Literature and History to Second-Class Status.
Since the hours of a day are limited, an overemphasis on STEM displaces other vital subjects.
That displacement happens in two ways. In its most elementary form, an hour spent on STEM is not spent on other subjects. Moreover, STEM subjects travel well together, providing many opportunities to seamlessly shift from one STEM field to another. However, there are few apparent connections between biology and theology or mathematics and history.
The second displacement is less obvious. All teachers tend, often unconsciously, to favor some subjects over others. Those subjects correspond to a more comprehensive intellectual understanding that allows them to teach them better than others. For example, a teacher who loves literature will teach reading more effectively. Likewise, a school and faculty focused on STEM will be less effective in the humanities.
- 4. STEM Disrespects Individual Talents.
One reason that schools promote STEM is that women are “underrepresented” in those fields. Therefore, STEM presumably creates greater equality between the two sexes.
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While the left presents this as a laudable goal, emphasis on STEM creates limits for those with talents outside the STEM spectrum.
Each person has God-given talents and interests. Those talents are not randomly distributed. They contain much of God’s intentions for that unique human life. Shunting students onto a particular path—STEM or any other—includes the risk that some children will see their talents as useless and pursue an unhappy life in a field for which they are not suited.
- 5. STEM Disregards Liberal Arts Traditions.
Educators during the Middle Ages codified classical ideas into two classifications—the Trivium and the Quadrivium. Together, they make up the liberal arts.
Much of the Quadrivium—arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy—can be made to fit into a STEM concentration. On the other hand, the Trivium—logic, grammar and rhetoric—lies far outside of it.
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Despite frequent lip service praising “critical thinking,” the modern school has long disdained the Trivium. Subsequently, millions of students have communication and reasoning skills that extend no further than the bounds of social media.
- 6. STEM Spurs Technocracy.
The twentieth century saw the rise of technocracy—rule by technical experts. The COVID crisis prominently exposed the limitations of the technocrats, who made policy without regard for those things outside their fields. Thus, they ordered stores and hospitals, which remained open, yet closed churches and parks.
By placing disproportional importance on a narrow band of human knowledge, STEM promises more generations of technocrats.
- 7. STEM Lays the Way for “Woke” Social Theories.
Many “woke” positions defy logic. Separating the races, even if the goal is to help minorities, is racism. Not punishing the guilty promotes crime. Impugning and disregarding historical facts and the wisdom of previous generations leads to skewed conclusions and disastrous policies.
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Removing—or at least deemphasizing—logic, grammar and rhetoric leave students unequipped to deal with “woke” assertions dressed as “scientific” facts or theories.
* * *
As many Catholic schools are climbing aboard the STEM train, they need to rethink their plans seriously.
For too many years, Catholic educators have nourished a kind of inferiority complex. Lacking the financial resources of public schools, they have talked themselves into the idea that the only way to compete is to bring themselves up to the standard of public education. This is a recipe for disaster.
Catholic schools have a crucial advantage over public schools. Catholic schools can (or at least should) proclaim the truths of the Faith. Those truths are worth far more than a false emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Valuable as those subjects may be, they are not the foundation stones of charity toward others in this world or happiness with God in the next.
Even adding “the arts” will not put the STEM train on the right track.
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