Lawmakers Seek to Add Arts to STEM

By Gina Curreri
BU News Service

Lawmakers are looking to add arts education to the state’s STEM curriculum, arguing that artistic values and creativity also are required to excel in the innovation economy.

“I think many times art teachers feel sort of pushed aside,” said Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who is co-sponsoring a bill with Rep. Kay Khan, D-Newton, to add an “A” for arts to STEM — the acronym for the national imperative to prepare students with a curriculum stressing science, technology, engineering and math education.

“If art becomes part of the STEM framework, a greater priority and focus has to be put on all the creative arts across the board, whether it’s painting, theater or creative writing,” she said.

The bill would create a commission to study the possible curriculum change.

The Joint Committee on Education is reviewing Peake’s bill.

Dan Springer, the visual arts department chairman at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School, supports the STEM to STEAM movement. He said Dennis-Yarmouth administrators already have begun to create a curriculum where course material would be taught across disciplines.

“We’re actively trying to find a way to do it and obviously having the support of the Legislature would make this a lot easier,” Springer said. “We’re hoping to sit down and really work on some links with initially math and science and eventually history and English.”

A science lecture on balance and fulcrums could be taught alongside an art course where students build their own sculptures that balance on a fulcrum, Springer said.

“Because we’re a very interdisciplinary school in general with a big art and especially music program, I don’t anticipate a lot of protest. It’s really just about coordinating,” he said.

Jody Craven, who teaches jewelry and metals classes at Nauset Regional High School in North Eastham, said his students have crafted perfume bottles, necklaces, hammers, pins and key rings, learning to cast, weld, solder and oxidize metals — techniques that require linking their math and science knowledge to art.

“Some people might say jewelry making is not relevant to a student’s education, but what they get is problem-solving skills they couldn’t learn in a math course alone. It teaches them how to make a transfer from theoretical problems to actual real-world problems,” Craven said.

Arts education isn’t required of students at Barnstable High School, but Carl Lopes, the school’s visual arts director, said a STEM-to-STEAM program would require adjustments to the curriculum but would be financially feasible.

“I don’t see much of an added cost because all of the schools on the Cape already incorporate art into the curriculum in some way and know that’s important,” said Lopes, a member of the Cape Cod and Islands Art Educators Association. “We have some great programs. It’s just a mecca for the arts out here, and our schools back that Cape arts and tourism culture.”

In 2001, Barnstable laid off 52 school employees, Lopes said Barnstable is lucky the cuts are always across the board, and not only in the arts department, “which happens, unfortunately, a lot of other places.”

Lopes said a majority of the public educational system is stuck in a mind-set that shuns the arts despite the influx of image-driven media, innovation and design jobs that are available today.

“We don’t know what jobs students in kindergarten now will have years from now, but once you learn to think creatively, you can apply that to any subject matter,” he said.
(A version of this story ran in the Cape Cod Times.)

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