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“People are fulfilled to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world)…” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
Let’s take a quick tour of some articles about education and the “Maker Movement” shall we? Check out these titles: The Powerful Combination of Making & STEM, The Maker Movement: Inspiring Creativity in the STEM Classroom, White House Adviser Talks STEM and Maker Movement, Maker Movement: Bridging the Gap Between Girls and STEM, and Expanding the Maker Movement with STEM.
I might have cherry-picked a few titles there, but do you see a connection? We know STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a big deal. We are told STEM education is essential to the future health of the United States’ economy. Perhaps you’ve also heard that the United States is in big trouble. U.S. schools are failing to create an innovative work force, due in part to an inability to get kids interested in STEM. You know because international tests show U.S. students falling behind in the key subject areas of science and math. Watch out! Singapore is coming for us! What are we to do?
Enter the Maker Movement. For those of you who don’t get Make Magazine or have never been to a Maker Faire, the Maker Movement is “a subculture spurred by independent designers, creators and tinkerers focused on a DIY approach towards technology” (Teach.org). To overgeneralize, and to put it simply, “makers” are people who like 3D printing, circuits, cardboard, code, Rasberry Pi, LEDS, alligator clips and the like. At the heart of the Maker Movement is the joy of tinkering and building. It’s cool stuff and it makes STEM come alive for students. I’ve seen it. “Making” is experiential, hands-on, and creative. Check, check, and check for eduspeak buzz words. The Maker Movement fits nicely into our current STEM craze. After all, who doesn’t want to turn a banana into a keyboard?
So what’s my specific problem with STEM and the Maker Movement? I really don’t have one. I love the Makey-Makey. My students build websites. In the past, students have designed marble run courses. I am fascinated by, and believe in, a constructionist pedagogy.
I believe “making” should not be confined to the hallowed halls of STEM.
“Making” is more than programming apps or playing with cool technology. “Making” is an attitude of empowerment that can extend to all parts of the curriculum. Students need to learn how to “make” ideas, “make” art, “make” poetry, “make” arguments, “make” change. In short, STEM shouldn’t be the only place where students are encouraged to actually create. Yes, there is life beyond STEM, and the Maker Movement should venture outside.
Currently, we live in an era where all education must be of clear monetary value. Education must prove its worth, it must serve the market. If education is seen as a pure economic investment we must get a quantifiable return. So we set up a hierarchy of subjects. Why would you ever get a literature degree? You’ll never make any money. Best to play it safe and produce innovative workers who will get nice jobs in STEM fields. But innovation comes from many sources. Inspiration comes from great books, beautiful music, amazing historical discoveries, humbling cultural exchanges, breath-taking art, and researched critiques.
“Making” is more than technology. It is more than economics. It is more than innovation. It is more than global competition. It is more than STEM. “Making” is about creating the world. Would would happen if we actually let all people have a say in creating their world? That would be disruptive. All of us should have the opportunity to “make”, not just those who get access to a high quality STEM education. When all have the power to “make”, all have the power to be truly human.