Picture this. You are in the 5th grade again and as you sit in art class, fidgeting with your pencil, your teacher hands out a packet reading “S.T.E.M” at the top. You’ve seen this word before, as it plagued the vibrant posters found across your various classrooms. “Who knows what STEM stands for?” your teacher asks. The student next to you answers proudly: “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics!” Those four words would continue to veil your academic career as prestigious STEM programs, science fairs, coding camps or more begin to supersede in the world of academics. All of this is meant to to meet the demands of our rapidly changing world and more presently the demands of a STEM-oriented workforce.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment in occupations related to STEM..is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022.” And as always, as employee factories, schools are expected to cultivate students who can meet these demands. This poses a problem for the population of students who have no particular interest in STEM education, but are pressured to engage in it because their options seem narrowed. As children we were told “As long as you try hard enough, you can be whatever you want to be.” Now this saying has become nothing more than a flimsy attempt at assurance for those who are old enough to understand that STEM may be their only secure path. As for Arts and Humanities? Solid and successful careers in those fields are now being portrayed as nothing more than a pipe dream. According to the Atlantic, the number of language, philosophy, and English majors tumbled at least 30 percent since their peaks in the 2000s. While Humanities has suffered, STEM has been on the rise at its expense, and students who have little to no passion or vigor for the field are being swept in.
I spoke with Divya Chappa, a student at Eleanor Roosevelt about her thoughts and experiences with STEM and the ST program. Although she plans to pursue a career in STEM, the pressure her peers felt did not go unnoticed by her. “As far as I can remember, students have always been told that the best career path is STEM, not the humanities,” as she goes on she acknowledges that the unbending focus on STEM “crushes their (her peers’) creativity and passion.” Non ST students Nsimokim Obibia and Feyisayo Ashipa noticed that the same appreciation and resources given to STEM students are not directed towards students pursuing other fields of study. According to Obibia, students uninterested in STEM “feel unappreciated or like they’re not as smart.” We know this is not the case, but we cannot act as if that stigma is absent.
Guiding students to chase after a career they have no interest in certainly will not benefit the workforce, neither will it keep the country at the forefront of STEM on a global scale. It is better to give students a choice rather than pressure them in any given direction. This way, the workforce will more likely be filled with adults who have the passion and drive necessary to keep up in our rapidly changing world.