STEMs need blooms

stems need blooms

Math, science, technology.

They keep chanting the same refrain I have been hearing since I was small. I can still remember my high school guidance counselor warning me to take more courses in science and math, when I had already registered for classes in theatre, creative writing, and art. My guidance counselor performed double duty as a baseball coach. With sweat rings radiating out from under his arms, he seemed to me at sixteen to be poorly equipped for the job of guidance counseling.

Math, science, technology.

Where does this chorus lead? If we look back even further in history, we observe that the last verse of technology is war, and art’s response to all the logic and “sense” of World War I was the non-sense of Dada. After all, how logical is it to march columns of men against machine guns?

Math, science, technology.

Of course we do not have to listen to history to hear the drumbeats of war.

Math, science, technology.

Now they have added engineering to the verse and refrain. If they’re going to provide me with such a cute little acronym, how could I resist playing?

Please don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

While spending over eight years of my life working for and around and with scientists, I developed a deep respect for their dedication to the oftentimes monotonous work of science. It is not all white lab coats and television cameras. Like art or design, a lot of the work is mundane, even boring. A laboratory functions not unlike a printshop, which can also involve working with hazardous materials, precision equipment, and in a collaborative group setting, to produce sometimes exciting results.

One of my proudest moments in science occurred when my boss took the entire lab out for cocktails in celebration of Secretary’s Day. The lab was abuzz with whatever latest results had been published in one of the big journals that week, and graduate students, technicians, and postdocs listened eagerly as our boss discussed the findings, and I tried to follow along with the conversation. During a pause, I can remember asking, “But how do you know when Drosophila feel pleasure? How do you know they’re not just sadomasochistic little flies?”

Another pause, a somewhat shocked silence, while the grad students leaned forward, waiting for the principal investigator’s answer.

“Now,” she replied, “You are thinking like a scientist!”

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

Is that scientific thinking? I call it critical thinking. We do the same thing in art. Only without the budget.

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

I love technology. I could not type these words without the help of little bits of plastics and electronics cheaply manufactured in the third world for consumption in the first. Technology, my Apple dictionary tells me, combines tekhne, the Greek for art or craft with -logy, denoting a subject of study, or remove the hyphen for dull and heavy in motion or thought, sluggish. I did not think I would ever give up my bound codex, but during my last move the dictionary got stuck in the very bottom box, the last to be unpacked, and in the meantime I could not give up my love of language. Now I have grown quite fond of my little type-and-click dictionary. According to Heidegger, technology includes the arts of the mind as well the fine arts, a bringing-forth, an opening up, a revealing.

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

I have also enjoyed the privilege of working with engineers. It might surprise you, but I found engineers to be like regular people. There are some engineers who roll up their sleeves and get to work, and there are other engineers who sit around in tidy white collars and skinny ties and complain about others not working.

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

I use math every day. When I was very small, I won awards for my math skills. Then I grew a little bigger, and learned – both directly and indirectly – that girls don’t do math, so I quit doing math. Or so I thought. Nowadays, most of my math involves using picas and points as a system of measure. Pixels too. I also use math with teaspoons and cup measures. More math again when I am knitting and purling, another system of ones and zeroes that far predates the system employed here. Occasionally I am even called upon to remember my high school lessons in algebra, although geometry was always my favorite.

“Race to the Top”? What top? Where is the top on a sphere?

Science, technology, engineering, mathematics.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t love STEMs. It’s just that STEMs need blooms. Who on earth would give a bunch of STEMs without blooms? Watch the graphics in motion here:

Dada da da daddada da da da…

Updated 08 June 2011: Show your support for blooms by hanging the free print poster version in your classroom, library or community center.


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