Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

Myths and Motives Behind STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education and the STEM-Worker Shortage Narrartive

Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

Myths and Motives Behind STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education and the STEM-Worker Shortage Narrartive

Article excerpt

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The Business Roundtable (2013) website presents a common narrative in regard to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education,

American students are falling behind in math and science. Fewer and fewer students are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and American students are performing at levels far below students in competitor nations on international standardized tests in these subjects. (para.3)

This message is echoed in numerous federal reports (e.g., NAP, 2005; 2010; PC AST, 2010:2012) and statements concerning STEM education from the United States' (U.S.) President Barack Obama. An example of such an announcement from Obama includes,

Reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century. That's why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM education over the next decade a national priority. (White House, 2009, para. 4)

In order to bolster the United States' performance in the global economy, and address the scarcity of U.S. STEM-qualified graduates, the business and nonprofit community have partnered to improve STEM education. To this end, they have formed at least three organizations: ( 1) STEMConnector provides profiles of more than 5000 stakeholders to map STEM education across states under categories such as business, government, associations diversity, and women and education ( STEMConnector, 2013), (2) TAP (Tapping America's Potential) consists of 15 major business associations such as the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce with a goal of increasing the annual number of STEM bachelor's-level graduates to 400,000 (Tapcoalition, 2013), and (3) lOOkinlO, includes over 26 funders pledging over $52 million toward their work with over 121 partners who make commitments to train 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021 (100kin10, 2013). lOOkinlO offers to raise funds and challenges the U.S. Congress "to fund the rest" ( lOOkinlO, 2013; The White House, 2009).

Obama supports such initiatives as evidenced by his 2013 State of the Union Address, which calls for the training of 100,000 STEM teachers (The White House, 2013). In addition, Obama recognizes the importance of training STEM workers by stating,

We'll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math-the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future. (para. 42)

The narrative posed by the Business Roundtable of a failing U.S. education system and STEM-worker shortage seems to be confirmed by businesses, nonprofits and the Obama administration, as they show their monetary and organizational support to remedy this purported STEM crisis. What if instead of a U.S. STEM-worker shortage, there is a STEM-worker surplus? Then the questions become: (1) What are the advantages of stating there is a STEM-worker shortage if there is none? and (2) Who benefits from perpetuating a manufactured STEM-worker shortage? Before critically analyzing answers to these questions, the STEM-worker shortage narrative will be put into context by exploring its development.

The History of the STEM-Worker Shortage Narrative

The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.

-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Gonzalez and Kunezi (2012) claim the significant impact of science on the prosperity of the United States was recognized as early as the first Congress. In the first State of the Union Address, George Washington ( 1790) promoted scientific knowledge for the wellbeing of the nation by pronouncing,

Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in opinion that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. …

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