There Is No “L” in STEM:
How a Classical School Develops Leaders and Thinkers
As every parent knows, there is a great deal of buzz these days surrounding STEM education under the larger umbrella of “college and career readiness.” Why our schools have not been preparing students very well for either college or careers over the last several decades—despite “innovation” in the form of fad after fad (many of them relying heavily on technology)—is a subject not brought up in polite company. Nonetheless, we are assured that Every Child Left Behind a Screen is the new silver bullet for educational “excellence.”
There are many questionable assumptions built into this career-first approach to education. For starters, it is far from established that the best way to study either mathematics or science is with a job in mind or by introducing technology as soon as possible. How has giving calculators to students as early as the second and third grade honed the mental math skills of the nation’s youth? Consider the last time you relied a clerk in a fast-food restaurant or coffee shop to make change with real money.
The larger concern, though, is what becomes of our children and our society when we view students as merely cogs in a large impersonal wheel. The deliberate narrowing of our aims of education leads straight to a narrowing of human excellence. A career-driven education (or training, really) fails to develop educated leaders and thinkers, the kind our nation badly needs. Whatever modern innovations may strike our fancy, those in charge of schools should keep in mind certain permanent realities about the nature of human beings and their education.
The future of this state and this nation will be largely determined by the power and creativity of the human mind. Jobs do not make the human mind. The human mind makes jobs.
The human mind is largely the product of education. The education that trains the human mind first and foremost inevitably creates leaders and thinkers. The education that corrals young people into careers before their minds have been formed produces only technicians and job-fillers performing below their potential and little able to rise in the ranks of any career or profession.
The current chorus of “college and career readiness” is the siren calling youth to specific, predetermined careers but not to become leaders and thinkers. For example, some states require programs that compel high-school students to choose “pathways” in specific careers, such as engineering. Colorado is considering such programs. Where is the pathway that invites a young person to become a judge, a military officer, a professor of history, a writer, or an entrepreneur? Furthermore, does an entrepreneur, even one in the tech industry, not struggle as much with human problems as with technical problems in building an organization?
In whatever walk of life people choose, they must be guided by thought lest they act rashly. Their thought must be informed by action to gain insights into human nature and achievement. The best education in thought and action is the deliberate study of the greatest thinkers and actors of the past. The most original thinkers in history have been those who have mastered the thoughts of the past: who have admitted themselves to be dwarves standing atop the shoulders of giants. The greatest statesmen have been those who followed in the footsteps of previous heroes.
A traditional, liberal education—called these days a classical education—engages young minds with the greatest leaders and thinkers of the past. The curriculum immerses the student in the written word, logic, rhetoric, moral and political philosophy, and the histories of great leaders. Students must engage in Socratic discussion requiring them to formulate and express logical arguments in speech and in writing. Students in a classical school encounter arguments, documents, philosophical positions, and examples of leadership not normally explored until college, if even then.
A thorough study of the sciences teaches one to observe, to understand, to live and thrive in, and often to wonder at, the natural world. A thorough study of the human arts—of English and literature and history and government—teaches one to live and thrive in the human world and, when called upon, to lead. Both courses of study are essential to human flourishing and necessarily support each other. Both are taught well in any classical school worth its salt.
And, yes, the graduates of classical schools go on to get “good jobs” and often make their own jobs. The mind trained on the classics will prove to be an agent of clarity and conviction in a confusing world. The reader of Cicero will not fail to make his point in a modern business meeting. The student of political philosophy who has learned to reason from first principles will not falter in writing her organization’s compelling mission statement. The student of oratory who cut his rhetorical teeth on Patrick Henry will manage to make Power Point exciting—or even be so bold as to speak to, nay inspire, an audience without it.
– Dr Terrence O. Moore – Founding Principal of Ascent Classical Academy of Douglas County