<< The Body Politic

STEM subjects aren’t all students need to succeed

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Norm Augustine–retired CEO of Lockheed Martin–argues that the emphasis on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) will not provide students all the necessary skills to succeed in today’s work environment. History (the subject in which students perform the most poorly) is also needed. He writes:

“[W]hy should a C grade in history matter to the C-suite? After all, if a leader can make the numbers, does it really matter if he or she can recite the birthdates of all the presidents?

Well, it’s not primarily the memorized facts that have current and former CEOs like me concerned. It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today’s economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level. A failing grade in history suggests that students are not only failing to comprehend our nation’s story and that of our world, but also failing to develop skills that are crucial to employment across sectors. […]

In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers—but the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.

Now is a time to re-establish history’s importance in American education. We need to take this opportunity to ensure that today’s history teachers are teaching in a more enlightened fashion, going beyond rote memorization and requiring students to conduct original research, develop a viewpoint and defend it.”

The importance of subjects like history, civics, and social studies is indeed too often overlooked, and Augustine’s recent article is a good reminder of this. Read the whole thing.