In the past fifteen years or so, there has been a huge push to get school-aged kids interested in STEM. The United States has a real issue with coming in second place for anything, so when it was reported that US kids were lagging behind students from over 30 other industrialized countries in the fields of science, math, and technology, there were grants, funds, and initiatives put in place to help them catch up.
STEM is not an easy field, and more and more innovators will be necessary to adjust to our changing world. At the same time, “fifty percent of unemployed Americans between the ages of 16 and 21 cannot read well enough to be considered functionally literate, and 20 percent of Americans read below the level needed to earn a living wage.” STEM is heavily prioritized over subjects in the humanities, English especially, and placing these subjects on separate pedestals is silently harming students.
Literacy, especially in early childhood, should be prioritized in the same way that STEM education is. I think there is a general idea among many people (parents in particular) that reading and literacy are “organic” skills that can’t really be taught: children will just pick them up naturally by going to school and moving through the world, and that STEM is a difficult (and most importantly for parents, competitive and marketable) field that must be taught at the expense of other subjects.
While some children are gifted when it comes to reading and literacy, the majority of children need a solid foundation in literacy and regular reading practice in order to hone their skills, just like they need regular practice with math, science, and technology. STEM and literacy need to be extensions of each other--particularly because reading success ensures that students can understand and solve the problems that STEM subjects present them with.
Whether by chance, fate, or the natural progression of history, there is a reason why most of our communication is done through reading, and a reason why the printing press was invented before the DVD player. Reading is an incredibly valuable skill that makes us happier, more functional and more successful people. Parents who prioritize STEM education over all other subjects put their children at a huge disadvantage, possibly setting them up for future hardship when it comes to their education. We need to prioritize our student’s literacy skills just as much as their math skills, in order for students to master them as easily as possible.