President Obama may have been speaking metaphorically when he promised, during his inaugural address, that his administration would "restore science to its rightful place." But he was also speaking literally. And as a number of Administration initiatives have since made clear, one of the most rightful places for science today is the classroom.
The Obama administration has pursued with real zeal an array of approaches to bolstering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education (also known as "STEM ed"). These have ranged from formal federal grant programs such as Race to the Top, which is providing competitive grants to states that pump up the innovation in their academic programs, to events such as Astronomy Night on the White House lawn—the historic educational fest earlier this month that brought 150 local middle schoolers onto the South Lawn after sunset, where NASA astronomers and others pointed dozens of telescopes at the Moon, Saturn and its moons, and the furthest reaches of the universe.
The emphasis makes sense. Science and technology are responsible for a very large portion of this nation’s economic growth over the past 50 years. And scientists and engineers today are in the best position to solve many of the most pressing challenges facing the nation and the world, including energy shortages, climate change, inadequate healthcare, and poor nutrition.
It’s wonderful that this country was home to so many Nobel Prize winners this year. But STEM education is increasingly being appreciated as the key to assuring that America cultivates a new generation of experts as well, with the skills to create the new green technologies we need to strengthen our economy in the 21st Century.
STEM education will be a major topic at this week’s meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which will feature a STEM presentation by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. You can watch the livestream on Friday, Oct. 23, at 10:45 a.m., at www.whitehouse.gov or at www.OSTP.gov.