Science, technology, engineering and math.
The importance of these subjects has been evident in the rapid growth and development of new industries — particularly computer-related ones — since the 1970s. However, that importance has only been codified for schools under the acronym STEM since 2001.
That was when the National Science Foundation put a new emphasis on how critical education in those fields was. It has led to a hard push for schools to up the opportunities for kids to explore, learn and grow both exposure to and foundational knowledge of these areas.
Almost every school looks to wedge STEM into a lesson any way possible, in addition to extracurricular activities that shore up how fun science and invention can be.
So it’s a little weird to see a debate arise about whether or not a science class is too much for a kid to handle.
Greensburg Salem school board member Emily Miller recently raised questions about a science class for seventh graders.
The class in question is not about your typical subjects that bring up problems at school board meetings. It isn’t about sex education or politics. It’s not about race or history or banned books. It’s “Computer Science 2: Artificial Intelligence in Our World.”
“While it’s probably very interesting, it’s not appropriate for 12-year-olds,” Miller said.
But why not? What makes this sliver of science less appropriate than anything else? It isn’t teaching kids to program self-aware military drones. It’s teaching kids about the way the technology is already in use around them.
Artificial intelligence in our lives is not a science fiction story about Arnold Schwarzenegger-shaped androids bent on destruction. It’s about the Alexa-enabled Echo device on the kitchen counter and the Siri voice on an iPhone. How many of those seventh graders are coming to school with an
iPhone in their pockets already? A fair number.
Not teaching kids about the pros and cons of a technology that is already in their lives seems like taking a strong stance against teaching kids how to cross the street safely. Miller’s concerns are based in part on funding coming from tech-related groups that might create bias, but with a flesh-and-blood teacher steering the class, that seems like an overblown worry that can be easily addressed.
Computers and technology and all their good and bad points are a reality in our world that kids — and adults — need to understand. You don’t do that by being afraid to talk about it.