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Is the focus on STEM education the best thing for our students?

Yesterday, I read the following article in the Washington Post, titled "Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous"  

I encourage you to read it, and consider the author's arguments.  Here are a few of the highlights that stuck out to me as worthy of consideration.

"The most recent international test, conducted in 2012, found that among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th in math, 20th in science and 17th in reading. If rankings across the three subjects are averaged, the United States comes in 21st..."

"Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math."

Sweden and Israel performed even worse than the United States on the 2012 assessment, landing overall at 28th and 29th, respectively, among the 34 most-developed economies.

"... [O]ther than bad test-takers, (the U.S. and others') economies have a few important traits in common: They are flexible. Their work cultures are non-hierarchical and merit-based. All operate like young countries, with energy and dynamism. All three are open societies, happy to let in the world’s ideas, goods and services. And people in all three nations are confident — a characteristic that can be measured. Despite ranking 27th and 30th in math, respectively, American and Israeli students came out at the top in their belief in their math abilities, if one tallies up their responses to survey questions about their skills. Sweden came in seventh, even though its math ranking was 28th."

"Thirty years ago, William Bennett, the Reagan-era secretary of education, noticed this disparity between achievement and confidence and quipped, “This country is a lot better at teaching self-esteem than it is at teaching math.” It’s a funny line, but there is actually something powerful in the plucky confidence of American, Swedish and Israeli students. It allows them to challenge their elders, start companies, persist when others think they are wrong and pick themselves up when they fail. Too much confidence runs the risk of self-delusion, but the trait is an essential ingredient for entrepreneurship."

What are your thoughts on the idea that as a country, we may not perform well on standardized tests of math and science, but we teach our students to be self-confident learners?  What about William Bennett's comment on teaching self-esteem - does it have a place in our conversation on STEM-education?  How do STEM programs in your area reflect - or not - the idea that we are teaching not just proficiency and skill, but confidence and belief in our abilities?

Mike

 

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