In the state of Georgia, discrimination is alive and well and driving our school systems. And it’s not what you think. Schools don’t discriminate against students based upon race, creed, color, economic status, or national origin. But they do, however, quite openly discriminate based upon course load.
You see, Friday afternoon, I opened an email from the State Department of Education and what I read blew my mind and hurt my Humanities heart. I am outraged and appalled.
The email states, and I quote, “In the past, funding has been provided by the legislature Tfor one AP exam for all low-income students enrolled in Georgia public schools. Recent legislation redirected this funding to support only STEM related AP exams for all students regardless of economic status. Hopefully, this notice will provide time for you and your administrators to explore other funding sources to support your non-STEM, low-income AP student exams.”
Wait, what? “Recent legislation redirected […] funding to support only STEM related AP exams[…] regardless of economic status?” Excuse me?
I had to read the email twice. And then I had to seek confirmation from my principal to make sure I was indeed seeing what I was pretty damn certain I was seeing? Because it seemed impossible. Impossible to believe that our state would take away funding from our worthiest and neediest students. Students who have been diligently bettering themselves, year after year, through education. Students who have been climbing their way out of the darkness of poverty by taking challenging AP classes (and yes, many of these students take STEM classes, but not all) just to have the final rung on their ladder toward success removed: the ability to test, receive college credit, and get out of the vicious cycle.
And just what is so special about STEM anyway, that it supersedes all other course work? STEM — that educational juggernaut that harnesses the four horsemen of accomplishment: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. Those subject areas that in recent years equate to the Holy Grail of education, warranting such teacher and student incentives as signing bonuses, higher salaries, excess funding, partnerships, scholarships and now, apparently, AP exam exemption status.
Believe it or not, high levels of rigor exist outside STEM classrooms, ladies and gentlemen: critical thinking skills, advanced problem solving, the ability to gather and evaluate evidence, interpret and apply that evidence. These skills occur in other subject areas, too.
Yes, STEM is vital. I get it. It drives innovation and industry and helps keep the United States at the top of the global leaders. But STEM is not the only thing that keeps us there.
The Humanities and the Arts teach us what it means to be global citizens. Courses in history, literature, music, philosophy, language, rhetoric, and art provide instruction in civility, altruism, ethics, reflection, adaptability, etc. They strengthen our ability to communicate – with ourselves and with other nations. They keep us balanced. Without these valuable tools, we quite likely would become a nation fueled by xenophobia and driven entirely by rationality.
And what could possibly be wrong with a nation that looks out for its own best interest, driven entirely by the bottom line, you ask? A lot.
Read Jonathan Swift and you’ll find some answers. He warned us over and over of the harm that can befall mankind if we only use the rational parts of our brains. Read “A Modest Proposal,” where he pens a brilliant, satiric remedy for an over-populated Ireland by suggesting the Irish Catholics breed children (something they are already so naturally good at) for the soup pot and barbecue joint and monetary gain. Completely rational and cost-effective, mind you.
Read Gulliver’s Travels. Within its pages, there are multiple accounts of societies driven by — and completely destroyed by – the pursuit of science and technology and ice-cold rationality.
Read: it’s fundamental — and as a humanities course, it’s a dying skill.
Not all of us are STEM people, nor should we be.
And I’m not a STEM hater. Far from it. Some of my best friends are STEM people. So is my daddy. Hell, so is my daughter. But I’m here to tell you we need balance. Humanities and the Arts deserve a place at the table too, folks.
And, to bring it all back to Advanced Placement, where my argument began, our state legislature and DOE have taken Humanities and the Arts off the table for our economically disadvantaged students. They will be force-fed STEM or they will not eat. And that is wrong.
These exams are not cheap ($93 each), and while there are reduced costs in place for students who qualify through the Free and Reduced Lunch program, the biggest incentive – one free exam for each economically disadvantaged student testing – is no longer available thanks to our state’s new STEM reallocation.
I’m sorry, but STEM is not the Be-All and End-All of education. It should not be funded at the expense of other disciplines. Nor at the expense of our economically disadvantaged students.