Oak Hall headmaster criticizes emphasis on STEM in schools

Richard H. Gehman, headmaster at Oak Hall, speaks to students during an induction ceremony for the Oak Hall chapter of the Cum Laude Society on Thursday in Gainesville.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 9:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 9:48 p.m.

As Oak Hall School's headmaster addressed his students Thursday, he told them he wants students to be well-rounded enough that they can blend science and rocker Bruce Springsteen.

"We need creative thinkers," said Richard Gehman, headmaster at the Gainesville private school with about 800 students from pre-K through 12th grade.

Gehman used his opportunity to speak at the induction of new members into the school's Cum Laude Society chapter to comment on the education world's trend toward STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — subjects.

His view represents a counterpoint to the increasing support from lawmakers and educators for STEM disciplines, noting that this emphasis can come at the expense of liberal arts fields.

Standing with 12 newly inducted members of the prestigious student honor society, he touted the importance of the humanities and cried out against the increased emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math education at the expense of liberal arts.

"Young people, all of you need an education that is broad and deep," he told the audience.

When warning about the dangers of allowing funding and attention to the humanities suffer in favor of more support for STEM and an increased emphasis on school rankings, he cited past trends in education as failed experiments — schools without walls, the whole language approach and circles of learning.

"That is what it is — a trend," he said.

Eileen Roy, chair of the Alachua County School Board, echoed Gehman's message in an interview Thursday.

"STEM is very important, there's no doubt about it, for careers," she said. "But I think the humanities teaches you how to think and see the bigger picture in life."

A blue ribbon task force on state higher education commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott recommended last year that the state keep tuition lower for only "high-skill, high-wage, high-demand degree programs," such as STEM fields.

The rationale, according to the task force's report, is that the lower tuition will lead to more STEM graduates, satisfying state leaders' goals to fill more STEM jobs.

On Thursday, Gehman disagreed with the idea, saying a well-rounded education is paramount.

"We need discerning minds," he said. "Discerning minds and creative spirits that in their daily lives blend science and Springsteen."

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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