The public education system in the United States has been focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering & math) for a number of years now, with humanities subjects like history and art taking a back seat or being cut altogether. Ostensibly, we are doing this because the STEM fields need employees.
While I’ve never agreed that our public education system is about serving as a training ground solely for the purpose of capitalistic endeavors, even employers are finding that people who don’t receive a well-rounded education that includes the humanities are lacking in some needed skills.
I’ve covered a number of skills that history teaches within previous posts, including critical thinking & context, resource location & preservation, and connection & empathy. However, history also directly assists STEM in that all of these fields tend to build steadily upon past breakthroughs, inventions, and studies.
Scientific and technological progress is made more steadily and quickly when people can see what has come before and improve upon it, as opposed to losing STEM knowledge from the past and having to randomly figure it all out again. (How many theories are there that surmise how the Egyptian pyramids were built? How many years has it taken for researchers to have an inkling of what the Inka khipus mean?) Losing this sort of knowledge is seriously inefficient.
It is oral, written and recorded history, along with inventions and artifacts themselves, that give STEM its continuity.
Rather than look at history as a throw-away subject, less worthy of teaching than STEM, why not see history for the foundation it provides to STEM?
Once again, I’m advocating for the intentional use of history for shaping the future, because we are already using history for STEM, whether or not we want to admit it.
Challenge – Conduct Historical Research on an Invention or Scientific Advancement
This is a simple challenge in terms of describing it, but it may not be quite as easy as it appears on the surface.
Pick an invention (telephone, paperclip, automobile) and research how that invention developed over time. What preceded that invention? What other inventions had to be in place for that one to arrive in the world? (For example, we needed to know how to create wire for telephones to operate.) How would you improve the invention you picked to study?
Or, select a scientific advancement (the polio vaccine, the discovery of Pluto, our knowledge of gravity, the theory of evolution) and study how it developed over the course of history to this day. How has that scientific advancement changed our understanding of the world? What might the next advancement be?
One fascinating resource you can check out online in relation to inventions is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which has an online search feature. Inventors are continually making changes to their inventions in order to extend their patents and continue making money from them.
And here is an interesting timeline of scientific advancements and inventions that will get you started on your investigations.
Let me know what you find!