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STEM to STEMM: It Will Take Musicians to Save the Internet

The internet is under all kinds of attacks from all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. It’s not just the internet’s infrastructure that is under attack, so too is the very concept of the internet as an open communications platform serving the commonweal. Constructing effective technical defenses of the internet will require that America’s students learn and develop the quantitative disciplines known as STEM; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Constructing effective, ethical defenses of the internet will require that students study art and philosophy. The two educational paths are symbiotic; increasing student participation in STEM education will require tearing down the thickening academic walls that separate the arts from the sciences.

Policymakers should build on Carnegie’s pedagogical model of combining STEM disciplines with the arts. Music has been understood since ancient times to be mathematical beauty made audible. The actress and singer-songwriter Minnie Driver explained in a White House blog post that “Without music in my curriculum, I never would have understood math. I am so grateful to the teacher who ... encouraged me to explore my love of music as a way to help unscramble my block with mathematics.”

A century ago, a notable academic institution set an example in how to develop STEM students. Long before it was a university, the Carnegie Institute of Technology included a drama department as part of its core educational mission. The US’s “oldest conservatory training, and the first degree-granting drama institution…” was established in 1914 by one of America’s greatest STEM educational institutions.

The National Science and Technology Council’s 2013 Five Year Strategic Plan for advancing STEM education had something in common with one of the council’s earlier reports and with STEM education reports from Congress. They fail to mention one word: Music.

How often is a young man pounding out complex polyrhythms profiled as a potential architect? How often is a young woman who slices and dices beats on her smartphone profiled as a cryptographer? How often are young coronet players profiled as the government’s next differential game theorists?

Why not? How does the government define the term “STEM”?

GAO compiled a list of 209 federal programs “designed to increase knowledge of STEM fields and attainment of STEM degrees.” In developing its survey methodology to identify the programs, GAO “determined that a STEM field should be considered any of the following” ten “broad disciplines” as well as certain health care programs. The ten broad disciplines include mathematics, engineering, and technology as well as basic and applied sciences including behavioral and cognitive sciences and other social sciences.

GAO used an inclusive approach to defining STEM fields and a painstaking survey methodology to identify specific programs. A review of the 209 STEM programs makes evident that, for purposes of identifying quantitatively gifted students, the federal government has divorced the arts from the sciences.

The Executive Branch’s centralized regulatory review process is capable of playing a lead role in ensuring that music education is recognized as a STEM program. National security statutes promoting STEM education don’t contain any statutory bars to the executive branch recognizing that music is part of mathematics. Thus, OMB should consider issuing guidance directing agencies to recognize music education as qualifying for STEM-related funding unless contrary to law. In short, STEM could and should become STEMM; Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Music.

America needs to move from STEM to STEMM: It will take musicians to save the internet.

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