Reading Time: 5 minutes

From Socrates to Shelley: STEM To STEAM, and everything in between.

I’ve never done things the easy way and it’s too late to start now. But, the path to now has been an adventure of epic proportions — both in physical and armchair travel. A few weeks back, I posted something about challenging myself to work through my school’s summer reading list. And this summer has been no different — but my reading habits have kept up with my wide and ever broadening interests.

From my work ghost blogging in the tech space to reading Shane Snow’s Dream Teams and Brigette Hyacinth’s the Future of Leadership, I’ve come to learn and understand a few things.

I understand technology can improve our lives. But, I also fear it can take over them, and to some extent has. I understand wanting to keep up with the Joneses, or rather — the Chinese, Japanese, Russians, and other tech giants around the world — I’m not discounting the US, just making a point. In keeping up with these “Joneses,” we raced to answer a question we hadn’t asked yet. Which is, of course, what do Socrates and Shelley have to do with STEM and STEAM?

STEM to STEAM education debate fast lane digital

Wisdom begins in wonder. — Socrates, the Teacher

When I was a child, I thought as a child, then when I was grown…I wanted to understand why and employ what if? So, instead of playing with my toys, I took them apart, studied them, and put them back together. I understood the workings and the why, but now wanted to know what if?

Born to a sculptor father and midwife mother, Socrates learned to question everything and became anti-establishment in his thinking. His method of asking critical questions and inviting his students to do the same set the foundation for debate, discussion, and the birth of new ideas. Creativity. Invention.

He wanted people to look at things differently. Be open to new ideas. Collaborate.

A foe of the sophists, professional teachers who lectured old established ideas and opinions, Socrates’ unorthodox views and his popularity, set the stage for his downfall. And theirs. Interestingly, after the 27-year Peloponnesian War, the old democracy was replaced and controlled by tyrannical Neo-conservatives and religious Fundamentalists. Sound familiar?

But, I promise. This isn’t about politics. It’s about thinking. Strategic, scientific, and creative.

Shelley, Marriage of Science and Creation

“Everything must have a beginning… and that beginning must be linked to something that went before…Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void, but out of chaos.” – Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, on creativity

Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Though some may have a “eureka” moment, others must incubate — years of both conscious and unconscious preparation and training. #StemvsSteam

Creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Though some may have a “eureka” moment, others must incubate — years of both conscious and unconscious preparation and training. Creativity is an innate skill. Every child is born with it. It is play, listening to music, reading, feeling, observing. In other words, it is Socrates’ wisdom in wonder.

And where wisdom in wonder lies, so too, is imagination, a way for all of us to address, accept, understand, or ultimately question, the world around us. Following in the footsteps of Einstein, Sacks, and Socrates, Mary Shelley sought the answer in her story, The Modern Prometheus, or under its more well-known title, Frankenstein.

Read in today’s light, with the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other STEM traits, Frankenstein, some 180 years later, offers a timeless look at science, creativity, and social responsibility.

A STEM without a Flower is a Stick

Physical sciences teach us how things grow, but in our hearts, we see the beauty to behold. We wonder why, we ask what if, and when we see, we appreciate — sometimes stopping to smell the roses. And sometimes we look to the neighbor’s yard and see our grass grown too high against their perfectly manicured lawn — the grass is (always) greener (somewhere else).

Ironically, the STEM education movement’s intent was the use of technology to connect subjects and relate it to the outside world. The idea was a 21st century tech skill set coupled with proficiency in collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and questioning. The Socrates method come full circle.

And with the Socratic method — often found in law schools — came the sophist way of teaching. We’ve been doing this for X number of years, why change what’s working? Force fed STEM studies to pass national tests rather than to learn. Rigorous structure in math and science without interest or engagement. Something like the Austrian woman I observed one year while living in Salzburg, who swept the snow from her front porch while it was snowing. It seemed futile to me, but it looked as though she took comfort in it.

Hailed in 2011 as “our generation’s Sputnik moment”, President Obama saw STEM education as an opportunity to further expand technological innovation, spur economic growth, stay competitive with other nations, preserve national security, and propel ingenuity.

Ingenuity and innovation equals creation. How does water change states from liquid to gas? STEAM.

Full STEAM Ahead for a Renaissance Experience

Coming into the Age of Enlightenment as the Middle Ages came to a close, art, music, and other creative endeavors came to fruition and are sometimes lauded today as example of a Renaissance man or woman. The starkness of the Middle Ages evolved to one of beauty and form — ancient design thinking.

But, before we get to Design Thinking, let’s consider the debate between STEM and STEAM.

Full disclosure: I’m in the STEAM camp on this debate and this is why.

The original impetus of STEM was to bridge learning with technology in skills largely underrepresented in American education. But, the singular focus on science, technology, and math took from or made art programs seem irrelevant and obsolete. Somewhere along the line, we forgot balance.

Remember Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein? Science creates not a man, but a monster. What is missing? Empathy? Humanity? Free will? Who is responsible for the creature now created? Who will teach it? How will it be taught? Can it be taught? What bias will we inadvertently transfer?

These are just a few of the questions asked and addressed in Brigette Hyacinth’s the Future of Leadership, Rise of Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Automation. In Shane Snow’s Dream Teams, the empathy we feel in stories helps to drive our acceptance or denial of others not like us.

We Are Not Robots

stem steam debate not robots

Humans are a collaborative species. We bounce ideas off each other. We storyboard, have meetings, even a random word or sentence can spark an idea. And much like Socrates’ method, we seek a solution-based approach to solving problems. Design Thinking.

In order for it to work, we must step into another’s shoes — figure out and understand what someone needs by re-phrasing or re-framing a problem. The idea is to bring ideas to life based on how humans think, feel, and behave. There are usually between five to seven stages of Design Thinking — empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

In recent days and weeks, I’ve been heartened to see the rise of demand for once marginalized majors such as acting, music, and of course, creative writing. There is a call for all our talents to be used. It takes all manner of individuals to come together to create, innovate, and invent the next thing that will bring us closer together or make our lives easier. But, like Socrates and Shelley and everyone in between, I challenge you to question, think critically, and find the balance between your own STEM to STEAM projects.

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