US Congress integrates the arts into science education

US Congress integrates the arts into science education


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2015

Americans for the Arts Action Fund has won what it claims to be a major concession on the school syllabus.

In the midst of the biggest shakeup of federal education law in over a decade, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) successfully added an amendment today to the rewrite of the nation’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) legislation that will integrate the arts into STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math).

The precise wording of the amendment is:  integrating other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM programs to increase participation in STEM, improve attainment of STEM-related skills, and promote well-rounded education.

That seems to mean the arts are still optional, and certainly inferior, to science teaching.

Or does this have an upside?




Full report here.


  • John Borstlap says:

    At least the arts get into the system. A first step maybe towards full recognition?

    Next question will be: WHICH arts? Warhol, Mapplethorpe, John Cage, Xenakis?

  • V.Lind says:

    Not American so not aware of this STEM thing. Is this all they get in these schools? Where are the humanities? Is this why all these tech-savvy bloggers, contributors, etc. on the internet can’t spell word like “Your” and “its” correctly?

    • Ravi Narasimhan says:

      There’s been a steady push in the U.S. to teach only things which can be measured through standardized testing. A lot of it has been done under the guise of improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math performance. The arts get short shrift. This is very unfortunate for many reasons. As a scientist/engineer, the education I received in the arts is as important as anything I have ever studied in my field. Most colleagues of my vintage and previous eras have had similar experiences but the programs that nurtured us have been gutted.

      Not everything measurable is worth measuring or meaningful but statistics mania is currently the rage. I am hopeful that this is at least a first step towards reversing an almost criminally misguided trend.

  • Holger H. says:

    This “STEM” sounds like a convoluted nonsense approach.

    Science… yes of course. Science and art are the two pillars of human civilization.

    Technology… well, the use of technology is a vocational skill, not a fundamental skill like science. It has no place in this program of fundamental skills.

    Engineering… well it is part of science, applied science to be precise. No need to give it its own subprogram.

    Math… Sure, fundamental.

    So a program of true humanistic education would make sense to teach based on these pillars:

    Science and Math



    The STEM approach is not about educating humans, but about educating work slaves.

    • Alvaro says:

      Technology VOCATIONAL? Technology not a fundamental skill, when the CEO’s of the top firms in the world agreed in a Forbes conference that EVERY INDUSTRY IS A TECHNOLOGY INDUSTRY NOW.

      You clearly live in the last century. Go back to your coffin.

      • Holger H. says:

        Nice try, but you don’t get it. Technology is a tool. It’s circumstantial. It’s not the same as science or arts.

        Did Plato, Kant or Einstein visit paper making classes? Or Pencil sharpener workshops?

  • Greg Hlatky says:

    While knowledge and appreciation of the arts and humanities are important for any well-educated person, our current-day humanities departments have destroyed themselves with their race/gender/class obsessions, while STEM is the last remaining place in the academy with intellectual rigor.

    So I don’t think I’m paranoid is seeing this as a kind of entryism, where the STEM departments are infected with joint-appointment PC zampolits put there to enforce their neo-Stalinist orthodoxies. When that happens, we won’t have courses in Thermodynamics, we’ll have courses in Thermodynamics Studies.

    • christy says:

      Kindergartens, middle schools and high schools do not have courses in Thermodynamics. I think you are misunderstanding the programs and guidelines. They do not have anything to do with universities.

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Quite so. No excuse for getting this wrong. Annoyed with myself for not being more careful.

      • Holger H. says:

        US high schools don’t teach thermodynamics? AFAIK in the EU that’s standard, but then in the EU we do not rely on the military to control the world, so we actually need knowledge.

  • christy says:

    This is something the Obama Administration has been working on for more than a year. Slow going in this Congress, but major progress for sure. Kudos also to the Turnaround Arts Artists (program created by Obama) and other Governors and Mayors and arts heads who have lobbied on this.

  • V.Lind says:

    And where is history? Today’s youth have no backward reference, whether it be Napoleon (???????) or the Beatles (????????????). No wonder there is no taste in the music market for all those dead Europeans.

    Most of us have, if we are truthful, occasional areas in conversation where we have to admit “I don’t know anything about that.” Sometimes it is well beyond our natural ken; other times we are a little sheepish about an area of self-professed ignorance. But the young seem to have the attitude “why on earth would you expect ME to have any idea about THAT? Or to care about it, or to care about the fact that you do care about it?” This attitude is worse than the ignorance, and I begin to understand it — if they have never been introduced to the concept of history, they cannot grasp the cumulative achievement of mankind. They are evolution in reverse. They have the same instincts as animals — only the here and now, and the immediate future — their own. What chance does Beethoven have?

  • Robert Levine says:

    It is unlikely in the extreme that Americans for the Arts was the only advocacy group working on this issue.

  • Alvaro says:

    The fact that so many of the usual ‘commentators’ of this blog cannot do a 3 minute Google search and assume that STEM is what constitutes the entire curriculum of schools in the USA demonstrates perfectly the inability of the arts, and namely classical music , of promoting:

    – critical thinking
    – innovation
    – flexibility
    – adaptability
    – proactiveness
    and a long ETC.

    After all, these commentators are supposedly well versed in all what Beethoven has to offer. Either classical music is coincidentally unable to affect this individuals, or all the benfits of “culture” these individuals claim as essential are pure, 100% grassfed, non GMO, bulls@#$.

    I am leaning for the latter.

    • William Safford says:

      I read a lot of messages on this blog by people who demonstrate a paucity of critical thinking — or sometimes mere trolling. Note that the two are not mutually exclusive.

  • David says:

    As a former composition major at the Manhattan School of Music and a current mathematics and physics double-major elsewhere, I must express my full support for this legislation. It is obvious that a certain number of the commentators here are quick to jump on the bandwagon of blaming STEM for the ails of classical music education and the industry itself; this kind of regressive and ultimately unproductive thinking only gives even more reason for those in the quantitative fields to look down on the arts. Clearly, STEM is here to stay and bring about economic progress and technological innovation whether people like it or not.

    That being said, I do believe that any well-developed mind arises through the integration of numerous disciplines, and the earlier this takes place, the better. I may not be in formal music courses anymore, but it is still fascinating to me to see how my knowledge of the workings of music grows even more with my STEM studies. Everything from using integral calculus with polar curves to optimize recording quality or using Fourier analysis to study the physical properties of sound and wave motion, I believe, has deepened my appreciation for music by creating an entirely new scientific component for me to explore. My fascination for classical music is not simply emotional or analytical in nature; there is also the aspect of physical phenomena that intrigues me.

    Furthermore, I also feel like my STEM education would not have progressed the way it has had I not received certain methods of thinking during my musical training. I was fortunate to have a particularly amazing theory teacher at Manhattan who was revelatory in the way he taught scale theory and how the major and minor modes were derived. Such methodology has been extremely useful in my mathematical studies that require formal proofs or derivations of a theorem.

    I generally believe that this kind of bellicose attitude – that is, pitting the sciences and humanities against one another – is ultimately degrading to the intellectual value of both disciplines which are beautiful and expansive in their own respects. I do not see anything detrimental that could happen to arts education by implementing components of STEM education. If anything, those who wish to pursue careers in the arts after K-12 schooling, now fully equipped with STEM-based knowledge, can go off to innovate in the arts field and align it with everything else going on in this fast-paced world. It is much better to think about how the arts and STEM can complement each other instead of accusing STEM of “overpowering” the arts. At least Congress voted in favor of some form of integration instead of cutting from the budget.

    • Camille O'Grady says:

      Could not agree with you more! As a multimedium creative professional, I have included learning as much as I can about many far flung disciplines. In my youth in NYC, I was involved in Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Kluver’s EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology) …pre PC. Digital everything…and that mind set made me hyper aware of the possibilities when the early iterations began; I learned and owned a computer early on, used electronics and synthesizers in my music, and video and digital manipulation of my original traditionally generated images in visual arts, all fueled by studies outside the formal arts disciplines of the time.
      STEM plus arts is me in reverse; I think the arts are integral to clarity of vision and communication every individual requires to express themselves, no matter whether they choose a ‘creative’ field or not; in our quantitative society, it is a must to keep the humanities in the educational picture.