Integrating Liberal Arts and STEM: A Recipe for Well-Rounded Success

In such a relentlessly competitive global marketplace, most parents struggle with the same question: “How on earth do I prepare my kids for what they are going to face?” Parents are flooded with information on the best educational options and philosophies, and all claim their model is the best way to educate and equip their children for the future.

Many parents are well versed in the core elements of a traditional, American liberal arts education from their own experience in college. They deeply value the literature, philosophy, history and political science classes they were lucky enough to attend.

At the same time, STEM has become an educational buzzword and strong focus for many schools and universities. U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, Jim Shelton, has this to say on the importance of STEM: “Everything we know about the way the world is evolving is saying that STEM is becoming a more important part of not only the technology sector, but every sector of the economy—and, frankly, solving most of the world’s most important problems.”

Check out a university course catalogue and you will see STEM subjects in their various combinations increasingly dominate the offerings. Ask a university admissions officer about the number of students interested in majoring in the humanities, and you might be shocked at how small it is in comparison to STEM fields.

Should parents and students have to choose between a STEM-focused education and a deep immersion in the humanities and social sciences? The simple answer is, no. It is vital that young people learn to investigate and understand their world and its many problems and opportunities as scientists, armed with serious mathematical and technological competencies. Yet is that enough to ensure their futures and help them build lives for themselves? Consider how enriched the scientist’s questions might be by a knowledge of the theories philosophers have given to explain the mystery of our conscious experience of ourselves, of others and of the world.

The fusion of liberal arts and STEM is at the core of a great, contemporary American education. So, when parents are touring schools to find the best fit for their children, I recommend they ask specific questions to discern whether the curriculum is an authentic fusion of STEM and liberal arts, including:

  • Do you have an accelerated math program?
  • What are student-learning results on external examinations that can show me the quality of your math program?
  • When do you begin teaching the core scientific triumvirate of physics, chemistry and biology as separate, serious disciplines?
  • Is the math program integrated with the science program in earlier grades when students need to learn the real world applications of math competency?
  • When do students start the immersive study of a non-native language? Can they study more than one?
  • Are foundational components in the social sciences and humanities, like philosophy and economics, part of the school’s core curriculum, or just electives for an interested few?

No parent can underestimate the importance of the answers given for their children’s future.

Dr. Q. Mark Reford is vice chairman of global strategy for BASIS Independent Schools. BASIS Independent McLean is a preschool – grade 12 private school opening fall 2016 in Tysons, VA. The school is part of the growing network of BASIS Independent Schools teaching a world acclaimed liberal arts, STEM-focused curriculum. Three BASIS.ed-managed schools were ranked in the top 10 on Washington Post’s 2015 high school rankings, with one included in the public elites, along with Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Learn more at


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