Ultimately, education should nurture a motivation to make our world a better place for all. Aldo Leopold called this innate connection to the natural world a land ethic. E. O. Wilson termed it biophilia. Stephen Jay Gould speaks of it as love, and he writes, “We cannot win this battle to save environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.” David Orr asks an important question, “Why is it so hard to talk about love, the most powerful of human emotions, in relation to science, the most powerful and far-reaching of human activities? What these individuals and I agree on is that human values are integral pieces of STEM, and we ignore it to our own (and the earth’s) detriment.
During conversations on this road trip, it dawned on me that if we are indeed serious about preparing future generations for the environmental challenges and opportunities that they will inherit from us, then 21st century skills should include those outlined by STEM as well as an environmental education that explicitly embraces the value-laden aspects of our scholarly activities. I am suggesting that we can be humanistic in our professions, without giving up the focus and attention to detail that can lead to academic rigor. We should not forget about our motives and feelings in the context of our scholarship and scholarly identities. In the words of David Orr, all education is at its best when it is driven by passion and emotion.
Locating the environment in STEM education is going to be more difficult than I had imagined. Perhaps a paradigm shift is in order but certainly it will require courage and a conviction to continue asking difficult questions in order to push the boundaries of institutionalized knowledge and practices. If nothing else, I hope that this presentation has given us a moment to pause and think about the assumptions we hold about STEM, education, and that our discussions at the symposium today point us in directions that continue to nurture humanity and sustain the environment.
-Bryan Shao-Chang Wee