STEAM not just STEM

Harvey White, co-founder of both Qualcomm Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc., knows something about the work force of the future.

Qualcomm's president since its earliest days, White was responsible for hiring thousands of engineers. Now, he says, they all need courses in art as well as science. Otherwise they will not be as creative and innovative as America needs to be in the new global economy.

White, who actually coined the phrase STEAM -- for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math -- in a talk to the San Diego Economic Development Corporation, is especially passionate: "We simply cannot compete in the new economy unless we do something now about creativity and innovation."

More than three years ago, then-president George W. Bush signed into law a bill called the America Competes Act, also known as the STEM initiative for Science Technology Engineering and Math.

The administration bill authorized $151 million to help students earn a bachelor's degree, math and science teachers to get teaching credentials, and provide additional money to help align kindergarten through grade 12 math and science curricula to better prepare students for college.

President Obama has called for yet a new effort called "Race to the Top," but has also called for a renewed STEM focus.

Today centers and institutes for STEM are popping up across the nation. STEM is on everybody's lips and dire futures are predicted unless we all get behind STEM.

In a commentary in The Wall Street Journal, Chester E. Finn Jr. and Diane Ravitch, both assistant secretaries of education in the first Bush administration, complained loudly: "This is a mistake that will ill serve our children while misconstruing the true nature of American competitiveness and the challenges we face in the 21st century."

In truth, we need a huge infusion of capital and a change in attitude about art and music, math and science. We need to define a well-rounded education and to make the case for its importance in a global innovation economy.

As demand for a new work force to meet the challenges of a global knowledge economy is rapidly increasing, few things could be as important in this period of our nation's history than art education.

Most analysts studying the new global economy agree that the growing "creative and innovative" economy represents America's salvation.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley predicted that the jobs in greatest demand in the future don't yet exist. In fact, he said, they will require workers to use technologies that have not yet been invented to solve problems that we don't yet even know are problems.

Clearly we are headed into a new and uncertain future, yet many of the critical questions are not being asked, let alone answered, in the public debate over K-12 education.

Kids, parents, educators and politicians alike are just beginning to sense that the hearse is at the back door. We have talked the education concerns to death. Time is wasting.