Education: Saving and Improving Lives

Stephen DeAngelis

August 14, 2015

“One thing that I have learned from the heroes in education that I speak with here at Daily Edventures,” writes Anthony Salcito (@AnthonySalcito), “is that each individual path to the world of learning is unique and personal.” One such education hero is Pamela Livingston, Senior Product Manager at Schoolwires. Livingston told Salcito, “[Education is] not about hardware it’s about philosophy and the whole thinking of challenging students to solve today’s problems. If they can think well and synthesize effectively, we’ll succeed as a country. Not facts, not memorization, but thinking and being creative are the vital skills we need.” I agree with Livingston that providing students with problem-solving skills is one of the most important things our schools can do for them. That’s why I, along with a few colleagues, founded The Project for STEM Competitiveness — to help get a project-based, problem-solving approach into schools near where we live. We firmly believe that by showing students how STEM subjects can help them solve real-world problems they will begin to appreciate the opportunities that STEM skills open for them. We are not trying to turn every student into a scientist, technologist, engineer, or mathematician; but, we are trying to help them understand how science and engineering methodologies can help them cope with the challenges they face throughout their lives.

Even though my primary focus is on STEM education, I understand that every aspect of a student’s educational journey is important. Anya Kamenetz (@anya1anya) reports, “Getting a high school diploma is as good for health as quitting smoking.”[1] She continues, “That’s the finding from a study … by researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They found that if every adult high school dropout in the 2010 population had a GED or a regular diploma, 145,243 deaths could be averted. Similarly, 110,068 deaths could be avoided for that year if every adult who already had some college finished their bachelor’s degrees. And if everyone in the population got a bachelor’s degree, the total untimely deaths would be reduced by 554,525.” Of course, eliminating high school dropouts and getting everyone through college is an unrealistic expectation. Virginia Chang, an associate professor of public health and of population health at NYU and a co-author of the study, told Kamenetz, “We’re not going to make everyone have a BA all of a sudden.” But the larger point — the more education you get the healthier your life is going to be — is important. Kamenetz adds, “The connection between education levels and health has been well-documented, and, this study found, it’s growing in recent generations.” What Dr. Chang would like to see is a change in public health policy that includes support for education. She told Kameneta, “In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking and drinking. Education — which is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities — should also be a key element of U.S. health policy.”

Given the correlation between education and well-being, every parent should consider it an imperative to get involved in their child’s education. And, if they really want to help equip their children for the future, they should particularly stress the importance of learning STEM-related skills. Kimberly Leonard (@leonardkl) writes, “Though much of teaching around STEM occurs in the classroom, that isn’t where students spend most of their time. It is the time they spend outside of school that can be most valuable in helping them learn about STEM careers and how they can solve problems — and that’s where parents can help to inspire, support and develop their children’s learning.”[2] The thought of having to help their children learn science, technology, engineering, and/or math subjects strikes fear in the hearts of many parents. They don’t want their children to think they’re uneducated if they are not familiar with certain subjects. Leonard reports that Ellen Peneski (@epeneski), executive director of the San Diego Science Alliance, told participants at the 2015 U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference, “Don’t be afraid of saying, ‘I don’t know.’ Say, ‘Let’s go find out.'” That’s great advice. I believe that one of things that help keep you young and vigorous is a healthy curiosity. Putting that advice into action not only involves parents in their children’s education, it demonstrates how exciting a life-long commitment to learning can be.

Alan Neuhauser (@alneuhauser) asserts, “Parents play a pivotal role in helping build early interest in science, technology, engineering and math — a foundation crucial for keeping children, and especially girls, interested in pursuing education and work in STEM fields. … Corporations in the STEM fields, universities and advocacy groups have long lamented broad gaps in STEM interest between men and women.”[3] In previous articles, I’ve noted that females are significantly underrepresented in STEM fields and that’s not a good thing (read my article entitled “Getting Girls Involved in STEM Fields Will Improve All of Our Lives“). Neuhauser reports that New York Times’ bestselling author Andrea Beaty (@andreabeaty) told participants at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference, “It starts with parents, and it starts with them really modeling the behavior and embracing curiosity. We know readers become readers when they find it important, when they look at their parents and see they’re readers. It sends the message that this is important.” One book you might want to read to younger children (especially girls) is Beaty’s Rosie Revere, Engineer. Beaty went on to tell participants that they don’t need to force STEM subjects on their children but should look for natural teaching moments. She explains, “Point out science everywhere. If you have a can opener, talk to your kid: Look, it’s a can opener; who made that? An engineer probably made that. Grow plants with your kids, and call them a botanist when they do it. You are a zoologist, you are taking part of the dog or the cat or the fish. Make them feel important about what they do and make the conversation important, and they will follow your lead.”

Although parents and teachers are the two most important groups of motivators for most students, other stakeholders should look for ways to get involved as well. Leonard suggests that parents from minority groups might find support for their children through partnerships with community nonprofits, civil rights groups, churches, or schools. She adds, “Adults from low-income communities and underrepresented groups often do not understand how to help their children succeed in STEM learning.” Arva Rice (@arvarice), president and chief executive officer of the New York Urban League, like Beaty, believes that children should understand how much STEM is a part of their lives. “It’s an everyday interaction,” she told conference participants. “When you get up and look at the weather, that’s made possible because of STEM.” Companies are also important stakeholders that can help students understand how STEM skills can help them solve everyday challenges.

Kamenetz stresses that it’s time we start talking about education as a matter of life-and-death importance. We can help our children appreciate their educational opportunities by demonstrating a life-long interest in education, remaining naturally curious, and enthusiastically supporting their educational activities. You can literally become a life saver for your children.

Footnotes
[1] Anya Kamenetz, “How More Education Could Save A Half-Million American Lives,” NPR, 8 July 2015.
[2] Kimberly Leonard, “Engaging Parents in Kids’ STEM Education,” U.S. News & World Report, 29 June 2015.
[3] Alan Neuhauser, “Parents Key in Attracting Girls to STEM,” U.S. News & World Report, 29 June 2015.