Is STEM education the destroyer of creativity?

July 29, 2014

Sure, STEAM allows for students to be creative, but without the ‘A’ will STEM learners and workers lose their creative side?

As was mentioned in a previous post on Plant Services’ STEM blog by Kali, a very real and important issue that needs to be thought about in the STEM community is what creativity means to those who are studying or pursuing a career in STEM. While music, literature, and other art and creativity-based subjects are built on the idea of fresh and new thoughts, it could be argued that STEM doesn’t follow that path.

Kali makes an interesting point about creativity in the STEM workforce when she writes, “Creativity is part of what makes us human and separate from robots and animals. We have the ability to appreciate beauty and create some for ourselves. Without that aspect, we are dull, lifeless and colorless. By destroying our drive to do it ourselves and taking away our motivation, technology can makes us lazy, thus breaking us down into something less than human.”

Essentially, what she is saying could be taken as the idea that technology and other STEM fields are not encouragers of creativity, but destroyers of it. After all, STEM differs from English, Art, and Music in that it isn’t creating beautiful, interesting ideas just to be looked at, read, or heard and that’s it. The innovations that come out of STEM are meant to be life-changing. They are meant to change how we live our lives on a day to day basis, making some parts of our lives more convenient and easy to maneuver. The more technology, science, and engineering we learn, the more it will take over the normal parts of people’s lives that would have otherwise boosted creative ideas. Kali expresses another interesting argument that supports this theory when she writes about how robots are becoming increasingly present in our world.

“Whatever happened to reading the newspaper and walking outside to test the weather? With all of these conveniences, we are becoming lackadaisical and less inventive. Through the development of these impressive technologies, everyday people like us are left wondering why we need to be innovative if all of it is done for us,” Kali writes.

This is a good point. STEM can be seen as a stifler of creativity, because it allows people “better” and faster ways to “be creative.”

But after all this bashing of STEM for being anti-creative, I still think there is some validity in what STEM education has to offer for our society. Not only does STEM encourage some potentially anti-creative ideas, but it also encourages a different kind of creativity. A kind of creativity that the stereotypically creative people tend to lack. And that is scientific, basic needs creativity.

While artists, musicians and writers all seek a personal kind of creativity that may not necessarily better the people around them, scientists are creative for the greater good of humankind. They are creative when it comes to the important basic needs that people have.

Scientists have discovered foods that can be given to starving children that won’t kill them from overnourishment and have made life-changing medical discoveries that have saved people’s lives. Engineers are in the process of creating tiny houses that are much more affordable for people who are homeless. Computer Technicians make it easier for regular people to access information online. The list goes on.

The reality is that the very same innovations made by STEM workers that encourage laziness may inspire a member of the younger generation to be creative and think even farther out of the box.

The most important thing to keep in mind throughout all of this, though, is to not judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t think STEM isn’t creative. It’s okay to be skeptical, but be slow to make snap judgements. STEM has a lot to offer our society, whether that means hindering creativity or boosting it. Either way, let’s get creative.

To read Kali's blog post on Plant Services, click here.

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