A new, timely extension to STEM or STEAM curriculum, this ideology brings necessary real-world skills perfect for helping students navigate in today’s ever-changing world.
Educational trends come and go as academic executives and professors’ banter about ideologies and acronyms. Some gain traction and some fade away only to be replaced by the newest rising concept in pedagogy.
For many years now, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) has been the golden child of educational innovation. To keep the United States competitive in the global marketplace and to fill the needs of big business, educators have focused their instruction on standards-based methodologies. They have also worked to make STEM-related careers more attractive and accessible to females and to BIPOC populations. As a result, students have gravitated toward computers and coding, science and robotics, and math-based careers.
Despite all of its positives, though, some believed there were deficits to STEM, especially in the area of creative thought and expression. To amend this, they chose to broaden STEM to STEAM with the addition of Arts. The driving idea was to bring a balance to education by adding play-based learning to the project-based learning of STEM. Students were able to engage their creativity with Lego-building challenges, 3-D printing projects, and other hands-on learning and collaboration opportunities in Makerspaces.
Next came SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) to address teaching the whole child. With emphases in STEM and STEAM, students were encouraged to meet and exceed measurable benchmarks. However, some believed a deficit to exist in the social and emotional development of children. With the adoption of SEL, educators could cultivate caring and equitable learning environments, and the students could grow in areas of self- and social-awareness and responsible decision making.
Now, it appears education is about to embark on another transformation. Get ready to make room for MESH.
Tim Wise, an anti-racism educator, activist, and author, introduced the concept of and need for MESH in his September 17, 2019, article on Medium.com, “Forget STEM, We Need MESH.” Representing Media literacy, Ethics, Sociology, and History education, MESH brings a knowledge and understanding of democratic citizenship to the educational table. Wise believes the current STEM focus is very successful at creating technologically proficient people, but he sees a severe lack of knowledge and understanding of “issues of inequality, wealth, poverty, group conflict, and how they shape the world.” He believes students need more than technical and artistic skills.
According to his article, Wise sees a deep need for a comprehensive civics education that addresses “relationships between people, government, the economy, and media.” He goes on to suggest that any technical knowledge will be ultimately worthless without an understanding of these relationships. Without MESH, “we could end up with incredibly bright and technically proficient people who lack all capacity for democratic citizenship.”
MESH provides opportunities for students to learn how to sort through propaganda to find truth, how to balance current personal and societal needs with long-term responsibility, how to understand power dynamics, and how to review and apply the lessons taught by past struggles and successes.
“So many of the issues that currently roil the nation,” writes Wise in his article,” from immigration to the conflict between law enforcement and communities of color to how we (mis)remember the Civil War and the Confederacy are rooted in inadequate history education.”
As our American society in 2020 is rocked by an overabundance of information and misinformation, political tensions, a pandemic, and a revolution in racial awareness, one must wonder if STEM, STEAM, or SEL is actually enough. Yes, STEM is important; even Wise admits that. But is more required to create functional adults who can navigate global crises and create societal change? Is there a place for MESH? Maybe now is the right time for that conversation.