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John Livingston

STREAM not STEM

This week I was privileged to be part of an impromptu discussion over morning coffee that included two legislators and several educators. I opined that the educational hierarchy and establishment have lost their perspective regarding the purpose, focus, and breadth of what education should be all about. I believe that people like Danial Webster, William and Alexander McGuffey, or Booker T. Washington understood that making people into well-informed citizens and providing them the skills to earn a living were what education should be about. I am a strong supporter of STEM (Science—Technology—Engineering—and Math).

When I look at my own educational journey that started over 60 years ago—it was very different than what happens today when we educate students who will be going into the basic sciences or engineering. Today students start taking advance placement (AP) courses in the early high school years. They start on a fast track toward reaching their professional goals before ever being grounded in The Classics or Western Civilization. The lessons of history and the legacy of sacrifice that should be understood by anybody who wants to be a citizen and participate in our Republican form of government are lost in the very process of education. I once sat on a panel with a young surgeon from Salt Lake who told me that he last took a history course in the 9th grade! His educational focus since that time had been centered on one goal—his profession and job. He learned life skills that could be leveraged with a good job. He knew little about being a good citizen.

Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver developed the “Hampton” model for education that today continues to be followed by many of the Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)—Work/Study. Students are required to work during their college years with the idea that the value of work would be well understood and appreciated by students who otherwise would not have been exposed to real life situations. We have many people in the establishment ruling classes (government, media, finance) who have never worked in a field or been a waitress or jostled a heavy box for a living. The connection between work and wealth is a mystery.

We never know how cross pollination between educational disciplines can better inform us in the future. In an article in The Wall Street Journal Eugenia Cheng a scientific journalist demonstrates in one specific instance—and there are many, how basic science and math can help inform the humanities:

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“Trigonometry used to be much more important than it is now, for example for navigation. Before the days of GPS, sextants were used by sailors to measure the angle of the sun or stars relative to the horizon, and trigonometry could then be used to calculate the ship’s position. Nowadays most of us navigate using a map on our phone rather than a sextant. Trig persists as an important area of study in math class, though the occasions for it—like when you need to find the angles in a triangle based on its sides—are rather limited in daily life. (I sure hope my orthopedic surgeon is facile in trig when he does my total hip surgery and figures out lengths and angles as he lines up a titanium rod in my femur to my acetabulum jml)

At a deeper level, the value of trig is not so much about solving those specific problems as about the principle of translating concepts from one point of view to another. Angles are proportions of a circle, while lengths and distances are about straight lines. Trig translates between a straight-line point of view and a circular point of view. That’s where its importance lies. The skill of being able to understand the relationship between different points of view applies much more widely.”

I was introduced during that morning coffee conversation to a new term by a Catholic Educator—STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion (and faith), Engineering, Athletics and Art, and Math. It’s all connected and most of us don’t understand that it is all connected. The march of civilization from Athens and Jerusalem, through 500 years of Roman Empire, Magna Carta, The Renaissance, The Enlightenment, and our own Founding and Civil War through two World Wars was based on a belief that there is a moral, philosophical, and scientific order to the universe. Early philosopher-scientists believed in a God who was the “orderer of the order”. The laws of the spiritual and physical universe were put in place by the same mysterious “I AM”. The march of science began and continues with “steps of faith”.

The connection between faith, the humanities and science has been purposefully severed, mostly by people in the educational establishment who themselves have never taken the time or had the inclination to be informed of this reality Humanistic gnostic relativism that places individuals at the center of their own moral universes instead of God at the center, creates a pridefulness of soul that is uncapable of humility and gratitude. The purpose of education should be to inform us of that connection. Only then can we become better workers, citizens, and scientists.

Happy Thanksgiving to All

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