STEM education advocate Norman Augustine calls for emphasis on history study
Op-ed in Wall Street Journal predicts direct and indirect benefits, including for science and technology
September 23, 2011Published: September 23, 2011
By Steven T. Corneliussen
Nature, expressing a common sentiment, has called the 2005 report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” and its subsequent updates “a stirring call for US investment in science, technology and education.” So it’s notable that the lead author of those reports, Norman Augustine, has published a Wall Street Journal op-ed under the headline “The Education Our Economy Needs: We lag in science, but students' historical illiteracy hurts our politics and our businesses.”
Wait—history class? What about the STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, math—that the “Gathering Storm” reports emphasized?
Augustine says that American 12th-graders do worse in history than in science, economics or math, and that this “puts American employers and America's freedoms in a worrisome spot,” not only because “critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently” matter greatly, but because of “the importance of knowing a country's history and politics.”
Furthermore, Augustine writes, “students who are exposed to more modern methods of history education—where critical thinking and research are emphasized—tend to perform better in math and science.” He reports that from his experience “as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers,” he “can testify that most were excellent engineers—but the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.” He asserts, “Now is a time to re-establish history’s importance in American education.”
Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. His reports to AIP are published in "Science and the media." He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.