A couple of people responded to my previous post about education and the need for three pillars: liberal arts + STEM + vocational training. They point out that a movement exists to expand STEM to STEAM—to integrate arts education into STEM education.

I disagree with this idea. I’m convinced that liberal arts and STEM education need to be allowed to flourish each on their own and to interact with each other as equals. I feel that STEAM initiatives intrinsically subordinate the arts aspect to the larger STEM aspect.

But my concern about STEAM speaks to something deeper. At their cores, both liberal arts and STEM educations seek to teach strong critical thinking skills. They use very different methodologies to do so, and are based on different structures of reasoning, logic, discourse, etc.

I know many people for whom STEM education doesn’t work. Their minds simply don’t respond to that teaching methodology, to those structures of knowledge. Likewise, I know many people for whom liberal arts education doesn’t work and for the same reasons.

If the goal is to promote critical thinking skills, it’s obvious to me that we need to maintain multiple avenues for people to get there.

Intentionally conflating different educational methodologies and pathways is a mistake. Cramming them together narrows the options available for people to learn the critical thinking skills they need in ways that are best suited to them.

I believe that this can only reduce the efficacy of education overall.

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