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Balance between MAD and STEM

MachineryI’m speaking at the Pennsylvania Music Educators’ Association annual conference today.  Actually, I’m at the front table now, waiting for people to start filing in.  The high point, though, will be Jim Frankel, of SoundTree, who will show some really cool music tech.  He just showed me a Korg Kaossilator.  Basically, its a flat surface, where you set the scale you want and then just start touching and dragging your finger across the surface to make tones and rythms.  You can even record parts, and then play on top of those, record, and keep playing.  An orchestra at your finger tips, and you can do it on the plane.  I gotta get me one of those.

As you can imagine, I’ve been struggling with this presentation.  They want literacy and today’s kids, but I want to take another stab at describing a balance between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the creative arts.  I’ve beat this drum before here, but I think that the language for describing this compellingly is still out there.

I finished up the presentation yesterday, all except for the final slide.  I tried making STEM AND MAD (music, art, & drama) into a meaningful anogram, but the best I could come up with was DAMNED ANT.  No good!

Finally, this morning, I settled on:

STEM without the creative arts, is just machinery!

..because the creative arts are the language of the 21st Century.

How would you close it?  Where is the balance?

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  • http://www.stager.org Gary S. Stager


    I’ve been speaking and writing about science, mathematics and engineering as performing arts for my entire career. In high school, I enjoyed the very same intellectual processes and creative experiences programming computers, composing music and improvising over Horace Silver changes. This is why I object so strenuously to the giant tankerload of BS being dumped by a charlatan like Daniel Pink.

    There are undoubtedly cool new instruments being invented all the time. Te question is whether MUSIC will emerge from them that contributes to the continuum of culture or they are just cool technology.

    There’s just no substitute for every child experiencing world-class performing arts opportunities (I might go as far as to suggest requirements) in every school.

    I’m just old enough to have been at the end of teacher education programs that required preservice teachers to learn a bit about playing the piano, reading music and singing with children. It’s a great loss tour profession.

    A few weeks ago I saw Stevie Wonder give a glorious concert at the Hollywood Bowl. After Stevie Wonder sang “If It’s Magic” as a duet with harp OUTDOORS, he was compelled to chastise the audience for talking during the song. I suspect that the idiots talking never performed in front of an audience or had a good music teachers. Otherwise, they would have known better!

  • http://www.stager.org Gary S. Stager

    PS: My event next week, http://constructingmodernknowledge.com will approach number theory, programming, animation, robotics, astronomy, music composition and much more in the grand tradition of the liberal arts.

    That’s why I’m so proud to feature a faculty composed of a children’s book author, inventor of MBL (probeware) and online science collaborations, one of Logo’s 3 creators and a great education thinker like Alfie Kohn in a minds-on immersive “technology” institute.

  • http://jasonpriem.com Jason Priem

    This is an interesting post on a great topic, for the same reason why so many discussions in education are great: it makes us think about exactly what we think people should be. Because when you get down to it, of course, we don’t educate a society or a nation or or whatever, but individual people. Like good literature, the discussion of education lays bare our philosophies.

    Or, rather, it should. It seems to me that too often, folks seem to want to apply psychology or literary theory or economics or whatever to areas that are properly the domain of philosophy. (And speaking of cutting curricula, how sad that, as I read “properly the domain of philosophy” I hear a fusty, tweed-clad elitist; shame on schools for abandoning such an exhilarating and relevant discipline to those elites.) I think we see a perfect example of that here; I’d argue that this not (or not so much) a matter of economics, but of philosophy. An argument that situates MAD within a modal for true education could be convincing, while I think that your argument emphasizing economic utility (at least, that’s how I interpret “language of the 21st century”) is not.

    After all, what exactly does this “language” mean? That people of the future will be part of the new Creative Class? What about the huge proportion of students that will make up the explosively-growing service class? And even for the (relatively privalaged) students who will find a place in the creativity economy: to what extent to oboe-playing skills transfer to, say, product design? The research on this sort of creativity transfer is certainly unimpressive at best. See, for instance, the huge Harvard Project Zero study that found pretty much no academic gains from art classes.

    Now, I certainly agree that MAD (to which I’d add, predictably, philosophy) is of great import in the curriculum. I wonder, though, if we don’t weaken our case when we resort to relatively flimsy economic (creativity is the future!) or psychological (remember the vastly oversold Mozart effect?) arguments, instead of the issue’s real center of gravity: should an educated person’s expertise end with STEM? Stanley Fish, in an provocative and highly-cited opinion piece in the New York Times earlier makes just this point: “The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said…diminishes the object of its supposed praise.”

    I wonder if folks might respond better to this more direct tack than to the variety of economic or psych arguments supporting MAD. It doesn’t have to be an elitist thing–just an acknowledgment that lots of Americans see humanities and arts as important, just ’cause they’re part of what we want our people to be.

  • http://jasonpriem.com Jason Priem

    Oh, and I forgot to mention: DAMNED ANT = completely awesome. If you make this t-shirt, I will so totally buy it.

  • Eileen Wolpert

    I was in attendance at that PMEA Conference in Penn State. Mr. Warlick, your presentation was phenomenal. I think you truly see the benefits of an art education. Advances in science and technology have added so much to our lives. But HOW we use those advances are more important than the advances alone. I believe that the arts can make you look at things differently and be able to think outside the box. They help to develop both sides of the brain. The arts make us more complete human beings. The arts teach us that dedication, working hard and success are valuable. But accomplishing those things because we worked together – as in a musical ensemble, theater group, dance troupe, art project, etc – is so much more satisfying. The arts put us on common ground. We all respond to music, sculpture and art. There is a common thread in the arts that pulls people together and makes it easier for people of differing cultures, backgrounds, economic classes to see each other as equal. We need the sciences to keep us moving towards the future. We need the arts to help us make sure that the future will be better for everyone.

  • http://www.stager.org Gary Stager

    Interesting arguments Jason.

    I completely agree with your Stanley Fish citation. The arts are their own good and make us more human.

    You won’t find me descending into pronouncements about economic competitiveness.

    Art and music educators make a HUGE mistake if they think arguing for more testing in their disciplines will give what they teach the caché of the 3Rs. The result will just be the destruction of what they and many students love.

  • Eileen Wolpert

    The arts do not want testing like that used conventionally. Most music and art tests are performance based. Pen and paper, standardized tests do not give a true picture of what a student does or does not know. The arts are about creating and doing. That’s what students love.

  • Pingback: On Our Minds @ Scholastic » On the need for STEM and Art

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