Would Steve Jobs have thought STEM dangerous?

stem-sj-fzIf you care about American education, our kids and our future, you should take a few minutes to read one of the best defenses of a liberal education I’ve read in a long while.

The article by Fareed Zakaria in his Washington Post column, Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous, argues that a liberal arts education

Mr. Zakaria starts of with an understanding that most of us agree that the current state of education in the United States is flawed. That education is a critical precursor driving our ability to compete in the world, and that America’s seeming defocus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is at the root of our nation’s perceived competitive decline in the world.

What does this have to do with Steve Jobs?

Jobs is arguably the poster-boy for creativity and innovation with his rescue, and building of, Apple in to the most valuable company in the world. Everyone seems to be in awe of what he did (rightly so, in my opinion) and at the heart of the man was his incredible design and aesthetic sensibilities.

Zakaria says:

The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”

He goes on to say, “Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.”

I take all of this personally. If it hadn’t been for the Macintosh, Aldus Pagemaker and the LaserWriter printer—all with typography and graphics at their core—my business wouldn’t have started. Thank God Steve Jobs decided to take a calligraphy class at Reed College and had the aesthetic sense to build typography in to the Macintosh operating system right from the beginning. It is what kickstarted the desktop publishing revolution and we rode that major trend for two decades.

zakaria-coverWith his new book coming out called “In Defense of a Liberal Education,” Zakaria is obviously in promotion-mode to get his arguments out there for the world to see and debate on. (his book is out on March 30th and he has these links to pre-order on his website: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, or Google).

Though his column post motivation is clear, it is his core message that I believe is spot-on: We cannot focus education in only STEM areas. If we think only about technological innovation, how can one invent or predict the future if you do not understand human behavior, culture and societies? How can one create films, video games, communicate with video ( be a smart media consumer and a producer) without knowing music and sound? How can one create their stories (or any story) without knowing literature? Most importantly, how can one develop context if there isn’t learning about history?

Zakaria is absolutely spot-on with his belief in an holistic, liberal education and its necessity for world competitiveness and yes, I think Steve Jobs would have thought a sole focus on STEM to be wrong.

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About Steve Borsch

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