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The University of the Street

December 8, 2016
Education Creativity

Did I mention that our new houseguest is a high-school student in Portland, Maine’s new magnet  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) school? Because we signed on as his legal guardians for the duration of his stay, we are privy to the email barrage that emanates from the school. When I read that he has an assignment to begin to imagine the applicability of his “pathway” to problem solving, I was alerted that someone had pre-determined what those problems might be, and, in his case, that he was to consider the problems of the ZIKA virus and coastal flooding.

The very day this assignment was delivered the news was full of the mistake that scientists made by inadvertently killing millions of bees in a broad scale eradication chemical flyover.

When “Zac” (not his real name) got home, I asked him what his goals might be, and how he might envision the applicability of his education for the future.


He knew he was a good coder, loved the engineering of programming, and was acquiring the skills he needed to move on when the time came. OK. But—and here is the fun part—does he believe that there really is a tech fix for the problems of the world? And, how might he order his ideas for what those problems might be?

I have never been able to corroborate the citation that I read years ago, published by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (read: “lobby group”), that 95 percent of Ph.D. graduates in the hard sciences wind up in defense department activity.

The suggestion was then, and is still argued today, that the Humanities are given short shrift and the war machine plows forward, sucking up the best and the brightest. When I mentioned this to “Zac,” and placed it within the context of the global competition that is always used as the incentive for developing more and better STEM programs, it gave him pause. We pondered how many of the world’s problems might be social, moral, and ethical as opposed to hard wired, or fixable by technical applications. There may not be an app for that!