Can "STEM to STEAM" catch on in Washington?

RISD President John Maeda has been the chief evangelist, for the past couple of years, for an idea known as "STEM to STEAM."

STEM, for the uninitiated, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. And it is shorthand, in education reform and public policy circles, for an argument that the country needs to build its capacity in these areas if it's to keep its edge in the global economy.

Maeda wants to add an "A" for "Art." And he's got a pretty compelling argument: the iPod, as he told me in an interview a couple of years ago, is a triumph not just of technology, but of design.

This afternoon Maeda - a digital media pioneer, himself - will join other STEM to STEAM advocates in Washington for the official launch of the bipartisan STEAM Caucus, led by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) and Congressman Aaron Schock (R-Illinois). The group, according to a statement, will host briefings and push for the inclusion of arts in STEM curricula.

It will also, presumably, support a resolution introduced by Congressman James Langevin (D-Rhode Island) and co-sponsored by Congressman David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), expressing the "sense of the House" that art and design should be incorporated "into federal programs that target Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields."

But STEM to STEAM advocates have a long way to go to shift the conversation - never mind public policy. President Obama, in his State of the Union address this week, did not include the arts in his call for a STEM Master Teacher Corps, enlisting 10,000 of the country's best science and math teachers to improve STEM education.

No art in this proposal from the president, either:

Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.

We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

The STEAM caucus, alone, won't change the debate. But it's a step.


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