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STEM Or STEAM? Jacksonville Teacher Says Best Left Up To Students


WJCT’s quarterly programCommunity Thread started a conversation about the politics of arts education this month.

The program reflected a national debate over whether science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, programs should include the arts, or what’s called a “STEAM” approach.

One Duval County teacher is taking the STEM vs. STEAM question directly to his students.

Stanton College Preparatory High School teacher Steve Ingram attended the live taping of

Community Thread and asked the panel of experts this question:

“How can the student groups who are currently proactive get involved in the community discussion?” he asked.

He said the debate about art education’s relationship with subjects like science and math is one that’s usually argued over by adult academics.

But his Socratic seminar club is taking it up in their after-school meetings.

He said the completely voluntary club is more than just a way for kids to kill time before their parents pick them up.

“Asking them to question each other, we accentuate critical thinking, critical listening skills and collaboration skills,” he said.

Ingram poses questions on a variety of controversial subjects. Nothing is off limits. So when he brings up the STEAM vs STEM question, he’s a bit surprised by the passion on both sides.

Some students, like senior Alex Toney, think public schools should spend shrinking budgets teaching more practical skills, while sophomore Aastha Sinha argued science and math aren’t inherently more useful than art.

“Today I did a science experiment with a group, we were assigned a task and we had to figure out how to solve it and then we did — together,” Toney said.

“Okay that works for you, right? Yeah. I know it’s surprising to you but not everybody in this world thinks like you. Not everybody in the world can learn things the way you do,” Sinha said.

“That was not civil, Mr. Ingram,” Toney retorted.

But Toney wants to be a lawyer, a career that requires a lot of so-called “soft” skills, like communication, logic and ethics. Sinha said his choice of study proves her point. Toney disagreed.

“You can apply logical principles, which you learn in math and science to laws, right?,” Toney said.

“Do you not think you can learn those things in art classes, in writing classes, in things like that? Do you not think you need a strong creative background, a strong ability to write and to express things and communicate? That’s not always something you can learn in sciences,” Sinha said.

In the end, the students agreed on one point: Artistic creativity can enhance science, just as a strong sense of math can help in the creation of art.

Where that balance lies is still up for debate and their teacher, Mr. Ingram, said he’ll continue the conversation.

Hopefully, he said, the students will also widen their after-school circle.

"We also seek out opportunities in community outreach to go and visit or to invite other schools to come here and bring in other communities of students to talk with us so we expand the base,” Ingram said.

Ingram, who has both an art history degree and law degree, said he hasn't come out firmly on one side of the debate or the other. But, he’s learned just as much as he’s taught by bringing the question out of the political realm and into the classroom.

Listen to this story on Redux:

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter@RyanMichaelBenk

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.