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Physics Website Posts a Pitch for Arts Education

The next big thing in technology probably won't happen without the arts, according to an article published recently on, of all places, a physics website.

The site Phys.org posted the story this week promoting arts education. It referenced a quote by Thomas Friedman, the author of the bestselling book The World is Flat, about the importance of integrating arts with the "hard sciences."

"It's not that I don't think math and science are important. They still are," he said. "But more than ever, our secret sauce comes from our ability to integrate art, science, music, and literature with the hard sciences. That's what produces an iPod revolution or a Google."

We've reported on the "STEM-to-STEAM" movement—the call to embed arts into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.

Phys.org isn't the only science-driven organization—or scientist for that matter—that supports the STEAM concept. The inaugural edition of Diversity in STEAM magazine will feature Bill Nye, the Science Guy, talking about the importance of art in STEM occupations.

Another example is Scientific American, a blog network on science issues, which lauded the benefits of STEAM in a 2012 post. The writer pointed out how arts inspired many science- or health-related inventions. The pacemaker was based on a musical metronome. Origami inspired medical stents and airbag-technology improvements. Even camouflage for soldiers was invented by a painter, according to the site.

The STEAM movement is rooted in studies and data showing students who are involved in the arts academically outperform their peers, and the notion that arts education is essential to fields like engineering and architecture.

The movement is also fueled by concern that arts education is being left behind because the nation has tied funding, policies, and high-stakes tests to some STEM subjects, but not art.

But the point the Phys.org article makes is that arts programs make for a better education, period. It's not necessarily about learning how to paint the perfect watercolor. It's about inspiring learning and encouraging imagination and creativity. In the story, Penn State art professor Christine Marme Thompson, who is also a 2015 National Art Education Association Distinguished Fellow, said schools without arts education programs "will narrow students' education and potential contributions to society."

To be clear, there are arguments on both sides of the STEM vs STEAM debate. There's also the argument that debating it at all is missing the point.

Maybe we'll just have to wait for that next greatest thing in technology and ask the inventor where his or her inspiration came from.

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