To the Editor:
A recent poll by the global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin reported that teachers say middle and high school students are not interested in science, math, and space (“Most Students Are Not Naturally Interested in STEM, Teachers Say,” June 8, 2017). Overworked teachers might not read further, but they miss the point.
STEM isn’t just about four-year degrees. Nor should it be defined by robots and space programs. The STEM learning students need is mostly about the four C’s for a 21st-century job market: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. Who knows what specific jobs will look like in 20 years? However, the complexity of our society is increasingly requiring the four C’s.
My message to Lockheed would be to stop talking about outer space and start talking about the four C’s. Most students associate space programs with science fiction. Because they are bright, they sense they won’t all be rocket scientists. When we do not convey a realistic picture of their futures, we turn them off to STEM completely. Understanding the big picture for STEM is a social-justice issue. Those who understand and aspire to STEM often have a socioeconomic advantage. Those who do not often set their bars low.
As teachers, we need to know what is at stake and help our students wrap their minds around the relevance of more practical STEM skills. We also need to structure our classwork in ways that develop those skills.
Educator Francis Howell High School
St. Charles, Mo.
A version of this article appeared in the August 23, 2017 edition of Education Week as Expand the Definition of STEM