STEM Vs. Arts: a Battle That Leaves Liberal Arts Behind

Op-ed

An evolving education system overpowered by science, technology, engineering, and math—or STEM—is evident in virtually all aspects of learning from the time that is slotted to these subjects to the opportunities available to students. The race to a more educated population in the future is well underway, but the unfair head-starts STEM subjects are given are not often discussed. STEM may be getting its well-deserved spot in the limelight, but it’s also diminishing the importance of liberal arts.

It’s hard not to notice the favoritism: college brochures boast their high percentage of STEM majors, high-school internships prioritize math and engineering opportunities while completely excluding the arts, and several schools face cuts in education that target arts and humanities and deprive students of an essential outlet. When funding is lacking, liberal arts are the first to go.

Indeed, students who pursue STEM careers are often more financially successful than those with liberal arts and humanities degrees; a recent Pew Research Study found that college graduates with STEM degrees make an average of $18,000 more compared to their counterparts. But to force students into a specific subject simply for the money is to admit that learning is merely a system of getting students to financial independence as quickly as possible. It is to admit that education does not value exploration or passion and that society does not recognize liberal arts and humanities as viable career options. It is teaching students that the arts don’t matter.

And it’s not just schools or the education system. The government, specifically the Department of Education, has been trying to mold students into a one-size-fits-all system for years. Using common core standards and curriculums that cater to STEM, they are leaving liberal arts in the dust. This coursework prioritizes STEM in order to foster critical thinking skills and science literacy in the next generation of tech-savvy innovators. The DoE claims that is where the money’s at and this is where the future of the workforce lies.

But by limiting the opportunities in the field of liberal arts, we are doing students a huge disservice. When students’ interests in non-STEM pathways are dismissed, they feel as though their talents are invalid. They are forced to surrender their curiosity to a mainstream expectation that restricts them later in life.

In a country that treats the education system as an economic endeavor, it’s no surprise that the goal is to take students and manufacture them into acceptable contributors to society in the shortest amount of time possible. And it’s no surprise that STEM, which has been seen as a fast-track to future success, has dominated the steps towards achieving this goal. However, liberal arts are just as important as STEM.

STEM may reign over technological powerhouses like Silicon Valley, but it is communication, research, and language that is the true backbone of society. These things also have an undeniable connection to democracy: liberal arts will forever be indispensable to politics, especially in regard to journalism and the media.

The role liberal arts play in encouraging students to be lifelong thinkers and learners cannot be overlooked. Take, for instance, journalism. The world of print media may be dying, but the demand for reporters, broadcasters, and correspondents certainly isn’t. Instead of pushing students towards jobs in ultra-specific fields, schools should be encouraging them to work for a spot in the competition in journalism and other liberal arts careers, and they should be supporting these students along the way.

As an aspiring journalist myself, I continue to be disappointed by the lack of opportunities presented by my school. Electives are centered around STEM studies and scholarships and internships for journalism and other arts are practically non-existent. It makes me concerned for the future that will depend so heavily on connection, communication, and education, all of which are advanced by liberal arts.

Speeding into a sci-fi world dominated by math and technology is not the answer right now, nor will it ever be. Not only are liberal arts getting left behind, but the students not interested in STEM are too. Shaming these students for choosing non-STEM pathways is simply wrong and not beneficial.

It’s time we recognize the significance of liberal arts, especially as we enter a foreign age in terms of the media and communication. We must embrace the idea of science, technology, engineering, math, and arts (STEAM) all working together to ensure that students are given the best and most diverse education possible. Liberal arts can no longer be left behind if we want to guarantee that the very structure of our society and democracy remains intact for generations to come.

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Grace McClung
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Grace McClung is a junior at South High School in Denver, Colorado. Other than writing, she enjoys swimming, running, and spending time with friends and family.