Editorials, Opinion

Can STEM school make space for arts?

On April 25, the Monongalia County Board of Education hopes to award a contract to build the highly anticipated new STEM school.  

The Renaissance Academy, as it will be called, will focus on science, technology, engineering and math for high schoolers while MTEC will be retooled for middle schoolers. The new STEM-focused school will offer a more hands-on education that should be beneficial for both students looking to directly enter the workforce and students who want to go on to study science, math, and engineering and technology-related fields in college. The proliferation of STEM schools across the country is a paradigm shift that seeks to prepare young people — particularly women and minorities — for careers in these growing industries.  

We think the Renaissance Academy will be a boon for Mon County’s education system and look forward to learning more about plans for the school. We hope that whatever design the BOE chooses, it creates space for the arts as well, perhaps even going as far as making the academy a STEAM school, not just a STEM school. 

“STEAM” adds arts into the science, technology, engineering and math equation. After all, the Renaissance wasn’t just a time of great scientific and technological advancement — it was also a period of revitalization for the arts and humanities. It was the era of such well-known artists as Raphael, Michaelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci (for whom art and science were interconnected).  

For those who may wonder if adding an emphasis on (or at least incorporating) art will make this STEM school just like a regular school: That does not necessarily have to be the case. STEM schools tend to be more hands-on rather than lecture-based and tend to deal in real-world application over straight book learning.  

While arts are often considered ancillary to a standard education, multiple studies going back to the 1980s recognize a correlation between arts education and overall academic achievement. One study published in 2000 found that students who took four or more years of arts-related classes (ranging from music to visual art to dance to arts history/appreciation) scored higher in both the math and verbal portions of the SAT compared to students who took no arts classes. (Arts education was associated with a higher boost in the verbal scores than the math scores.) 

Granted, correlation is not causation. The closest we found to a causal relationship was a trial study focused on K-12 schools in Houston, Texas, from 2019. Some schools received a large influx of funding to restore and improve previously cut arts programs while others initially did not. After two years, the researchers compared the two groups and found that students with more arts opportunities had fewer disciplinary issues, better writing scores and greater compassion for others (measured as being “more interested in how other people feel and more likely to want to help people who are treated badly”).  

A separate 2014 study published in the Journal of Civil Society found “[b]oth audience-based participation in the arts and personal participation in creating art are linked to higher levels of civic engagement, higher levels of social tolerance on some dimensions of the measure and higher levels of other-regarding behaviour.” 

In other words, the arts make students into better people. Focusing solely on STEM may make students more logical thinkers and better problem solvers, but what good are those skills when the emphasis becomes efficiency and profit rather than making the world a better place?  

The role of education is not to make ready-to-go workers, but to help form children into adults who can function in a society. And for that, students need the arts.