Brian Crosby is an inspiring elementary school teacher. He has been teaching in upper elementary grades for 30 years. He is a STEM teacher in Nevada. After he read Sharon Higgins’ post, he chided me for seeming to diminish the importance of STEM subjects. I assured him that this was not my purpose, and I am sure it was not Sharon Higgins’ either. Her point was that the “crisis” has been vastly oversold, and that many young people with STEM backgrounds are not finding the jobs they trained for. If this is true, I suspect it is because our major corporations are quick to outsource STEM jobs to countries with wages far lower than ours.

I want to assure Brian and everyone else who is teaching STEM subjects that I believe they are a deeply important and valuable part of a liberal education. I don’t think anyone should be ignorant of mathematics, science, engineering, and technology. These are hugely important skills, tools, and knowledge in our society–not only for careers but for general civic understanding and personal survival. For daily life, everyone needs enough mathematics to function in the world, as a consumer and as a citizen. We are constantly debating issues of science–whether it has to do with the environment, or space, or global warming, or evolution, or the effects of tobacco on our health, or the causes of obesity, or a million other topics.

STEM may or may not be necessary for the careers of the future–in my view, we have no idea what the careers of the future will be, say in ten years. But the STEM components are valuable. They comprise necessary skills.

But I insist that STEM subjects must co-exist with other important subjects, subjects that are also important for citizenship and the development of each of us as thinking persons. I insist on the importance and value of the arts, literature, history, civics, government, economics, geography, foreign languages, and physical education.

I believe in a full education for all students. They need to know about the world they live in and they need to know how it came to be. They need to learn about their society and other societies. They need the insight and inspiration that can be gained by reading literature, and they need the understanding that comes from the study of history.

So, Brian, this is meant to assure you and others who are teaching STEM that I support what you are doing. And I hope that you find time to listen to music, to see a play, to read a novel, to read a history, to learn a foreign language, and to get outside and play. All these things matter. We go to school not to become global competitors, not to prepare for a job (because we have no idea what jobs will exist in the future), but to explore all kinds of possibilities, to try out and develop new talents, to learn and discover new ideas. Education is a beginning. The hard thing is to learn how to learn, and to continue doing it long after you graduate from high school or college.