Science, Technology, Engineering and Math -- and Kickball

Yesterday, a couple of us attended an event at the Reagan Building titled “Business in Education: Avoiding a Skills Gap.” The packed auditorium was filled with leaders in business and education who had gathered to discuss the steps we need to take to ensure our children are prepared to enter a globally competitive workforce.

This is a familiar concern. As our economy shifts from production-oriented to service-oriented, workforce demands change. The United States isn’t experiencing a labor shortage—we’re experiencing a skills shortage.
This sentiment was echoed by the event’s keynote speaker, Rick Stephens. Stephens is a senior vice president of human resources and administration at Boeing and a founding member of the Business Industry STEM Education Coalition. STEM, for those unfamiliar with education lingo, stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. (Hear a snippet of his talk here.)

What surprised me about Stephen’s speech was his focus on the importance of early childhood education and the learning that occurs outside of classrooms. (Hear him making that point here.) I walked in expecting to hear about the need for more math classes, better technology in the classroom or teachers with more STEM content knowledge. Stephen’s belief that today’s children aren’t doing enough playing outside, touching, seeing, relating to other human beings goes back to the root of the problem. For me, this was a new perspective from a STEM proponent.

Stephens was especially adamant about the negative effect technology has had on the development of children’s problem-solving skills. Electronics and video games teach children to be reactive, instead of proactive. Parents and communities need to do more to encourage children to play in the real world, not virtual ones. Today’s children will be expected to solve tomorrow’s challenges – challenges we haven’t even identified, with technology that doesn’t exist today. They won’t learn how to do that by staying in a bubble – or even necessarily in classrooms.

I wholeheartedly agree that preparing children to compete in a 21st century workforce starts with allowing children to use their imagination, and that accountability cannot be fully shouldered by schools alone. This was refreshing to hear from an employee at a company like Boeing who has the sway and the means to move forward with his initiative.