STEM Education - A different track and a solid foundation

In 1994 my oldest son entered high school. Our township high school was one of four designated by the Clinton administration for a pilot program in science and technology. Not your run of the mill advanced education programs, this was as the head of the department explained “a program that my colleagues argue makes the name of shop classes to long to fit on report cards”. It was quite simply modern STEM training for people who would in the past have been poor candidates for college, but too bright to go into pure shop classes.

The traditional courses were not offered, but rather the focus was on math, engineering and practical applications

For example, the Auto shop curriculum was taught as part of physics. It wasn’t enough to understand how to fix a set of brakes. You needed to know the math and science behind it. To receive a diploma you would be expected to pass Applied Trigonmetry, Applied physics, Applied fluidics and the project you worked on in your shop class were planned so as to reinforce subjects in math and science you were taking.

My guys, I had two go through this program, focused on electronics and audio-visual technology. In the first two years the focus was on Algebra, Geometry, and general sciences, The math and science was coordinated with labs in metal shop and wood shop where the purpose was to use equipment to demonstrate proficiency with the math and science. Learning to use machine tools was secondary. Their junior and senior year class included trigonometry, electronics, advanced electronics and schematics, physics chemistry, audio-visual technology and advanced audio visual technology. Like wise, understanding the math and science behind the technology is what the grade was on. The electronics labs reinforced the science, plus the practical skills of layout, planning and testing. They were expected to understanding advanced electronic devices down to the component level including the chemistry involved to create capacitors and resistors. The audio-visual labs included maintence, repair and operation of state of the art studio equipment, and included production of high school, township and professional broadcasts and recordings. It was so successful that Brown offered two teaching assistant positions to graduates, as freshmen.

But did it succeed? My two guys scored 113 and 114 out of a possible 119 on the ASVAB test. All three branches recruited them as “officer candidates” assuming incorrectly that the were college graduates with advanced degrees. According to the recruiting officers they rarely see scores above 100 from Electronic Engineers. They challenged tested my oldest son for appointment to the Naval Academy, but lets be realistic, he was not prepared for that. What he was prepared for was training in Nuclear Electronics and work in the Navy. my other son, who graduated a year later was prepared for a career in the Air Force in Advanced Electronic equipment maintence and was offered his choice of any job he wanted. He took the hardest, longest training course and successfully completed his training and enlistment.

I understand how important training people to go on to advanced degrees in science and math is. But unless there are people that know how to manufacture, maintain and install devices build right here in this country, those bright PHDs are going to have to leave the country to find work.

STEM education begins with the people that will operate and fill the factories, service the clients and maintain the devices. That means we to remove the road blocks so we can build factories. You can’t build a tower of achievement on a weak foundation. And an emphasis on opening manufacturing facilities here in this country, and teaching advanced skills for the average person is the foundation on which the graduate school employment depends.

One third of all high school age children do not continue on to college. You can’t build a strong economy by letting one third rot in ignorance.