STEMpathy : Thomas Friedman’s Case for Humanity in STEM Education

Advice for Teachers From Thomas Friedman

STEMpathy: Thomas Friedman’s Case for Humanity in STEM Education

By Monica Fuglei November 25, 2015

I recently attended the Colorado STEM Summit, an event whose mission included connecting educators and employers in science, technology, engineering and math fields to create a “more synergistic Colorado STEM system.” Speakers and panels covered issues relating to STEM industries and education fields.

A defining moment for artificial intelligence: ‘What is shoe?’

The keynote speaker was Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist and author of The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century. In his speech, he tackled the complex issue of what 21st-century STEM students need.

In his address, Friedman painted a picture of a shifting world. One, he noted, that had reached the greatest inflection point since the invention of the printing press. The defining moment? Artificial intelligence computer Watson’s appearance on Jeopardy. More specifically, his word-play based answer “What is shoe?”

This, Friedman said, marked a significant shift in computers — from archivists to thinkers. As anyone who has run a Google search can attest, there are many ways artificial intelligence computers continue to expand their thinking. However, the very nature of modern computing has fundamentally changed the world. It has also had a profound influence on the job market and, in turn, Friedman’s talk suggests, should change the way we educate our young people.  

Thomas Friedman’s concept of ‘STEMpathy’

Friedman’s most significant point in the talk can inform teaching, lesson design, and assessment. The future, Friedman said, isn’t about what we know. “Nobody cares what you know, because the Google machine knows everything,” he said. Rather, he argued, the future is about what we can do with what we know.

The thing that makes us uniquely different from computers, Friedman pointed out, is our humanity and empathy. If we can unite that with STEM education, students will be armed with “STEMpathy”, which cannot be found in an algorithm. “The faster the world gets, the more everything old and slow matters — the things you can’t download,” he said.

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