The U.S. is about to spend a small fortune on teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The White House has promised $200 million a year to expand K-12 computer-science education. Several large tech firms have pledged another $300 million to the effort. That’s a good investment in theory, but the American education system is in no position to make the most of it.
Instead of prioritizing technology first, we need to teach students how to think and adapt, how to communicate and ask questions. Childhood is a cherished, sacred time — one for sparking imagination. Indeed, the purpose of K-12 education has expanded beyond offering just content and now entails equipping students with life skills.
I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with less human interaction. This tendency is, I suspect, not a bug--it’s a feature. We might think Amazon was about making books available to us that we couldn’t find locally--and it was, and what a brilliant idea--but maybe it was also just as much about eliminating human contact.
Every patent holder is proud of their patent. As they should be. Obtaining a patent is expensive, time-consuming, and there is an adversarial process with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that you must overcome to establish that your invention is valid. But the business of patents has changed. It used to be a system that rewarded an inventor for a genuine innovation, one that the patent clearly described, and entitled that inventor to prevent anyone else from making that invention.
The liberal arts and humanities curricula of our state’s universities need to be adjusted. More than these students simply and deeply immersing themselves in literature and theory and commentary, they need some introduction or background in STEM to contextualize the kind of issues they’ll be asked to face -- in not just the coming job market, but in all our future society’s framework.
As any business leader can attest, the world has become increasingly complex. To navigate in that world, they need all of the help they can get -- and one powerful tool is a grounding in STEM. Technology and science are not only central to today’s business landscape, but they’re often the keys to progress.
But even with schools’ boosted interest in engineering and math, students often find themselves at a loss as they think about college and careers. Interaction with real-world engineers in actual work situations -- especially in the students’ local areas -- may help as they make crucial decisions about their college years and beyond.
This destruction of old value with the adoption of innovation is not hard to see. Electronic media are displacing printed media. Wireless technologies are replacing most wired communications. Travelers are staying in other people’s homes rather than hotel rooms. People are riding in other people’s cars instead of calling a taxi - and I could go on and on. Most innovation is simultaneously constructive and destructive, and who can say how we calculate the net effect.