In some quarters Art has rather begrudgingly been added to STEM, and although some definitions include the Humanities, Art is normally conceptualized as the creative arts, visual art, design and possibly music – a catchall for being creative. This leaves disciplines such as History, Philosophy, Language Arts or Literature out in the cold. Again, this depends on those doing the defining, but I would argue that we need to conceptualize STEAM as SHTEAM to make sure that the Humanities are included all the time! I believe this is vital because many begrudge adding even Arts to the equation! Yes, I am being somewhat facetious, because this suggestion, in fact, returns us to where we were before the STEM movement raised its head. SHTEAM is of course nothing but a well-rounded education! And that’s my point!
On my local University campus, you can see the consequences of neglectful thinking. Crossing campus from the sparkling and obviously well-funded Sciences block towards the Arts and Humanities buildings; run-down, in need of structural repair as much as just a lick of paint, the years of neglect are visible. The Performing Arts building looks positively dangerous to navigate with unprotected stairwells and industrial looking holes in the wall! Now I know there will be some who argue that this is not that problematic. The idea behind STEM Education was to prioritize STEM subjects as they carry key weight in promoting entrepreneurial growth for any country. Science, Engineering, and Technology are vital and fill a skills gap in the economy. I agree, but surely the Arts and Humanities are as vital to our economy? I can almost hear some shaking their heads and saying sure, they are important, but not key imperatives and arguing for a well-rounded Renaissance education dilutes the emphasis on the Sciences.
I kind of get that on a logical level, but it offends my soul! In a world where Artificial Intelligence is likely to make STEM pretty redundant, perhaps we should be cultivating the Arts and Humanities more – they might be all the robots leave for us! The likely effect of Artificial Intelligence is to reduce the number of jobs across all industries, diluting the imperative for Science majors in any case. I realize that current job needs also need to be factored in, but we are educating kids now who will be reaching current retirement age only in the 2060s!
So why do we need the Humanities as opposed to the Creative Arts and Design? History, Philosophy, and Literature give us a sense of our place in the human scheme of things, of our story and our worth as a species. I want you to imagine a world, maybe only a decade hence when Artificial Intelligence has led to the shedding of a vast number of jobs across a wide swath of industries and professions. Universal Basic Income is the norm and employment for life is abnormal. This is not too far-fetched. There are only a certain number of possibilities if this is our future, and most of them look pretty bleak for humanity. Humanity will either exist as a vast underclass kept under control merely to consume the products of robotic armies and keep a small uber class in power, or humanity could assert itself and insist on its worth and value, free from the curse of manual labour, free to explore our creative sides and flourish. The second outcome is highly unlikely, to be honest, but downright impossible unless we start to gain a sense of our worth now and assert our rights! A thorough grounding in the Humanities is, to my mind, essential to this project.