From the September 2017 issue

Why Einstein is Not Greater Than Mozart

STEM! STEM! STEM! It sometimes seems like any non-science subject must feel like the “Jan” of the educational world, and science, technology, engineering and math are the popular, attention-grabbing “Marsha” of this binary Brady Bunch. But here’s the thing …

It shouldn’t be a binary choice. I understand that science subjects are important and we want young minds primed to invent a housecleaning robot, a teleporter (so long, air travel!) and a cure for cancer. But we are so remiss when we don’t realize that other subjects – art especially – play a role in developing the crucial innovation needed to take the things people learn and make something magical and transformative in our society.

Even if you don’t think van Gogh’s painting of “The Starry Night” is as significant as Einstein’s contributions to physics and quantum theory, that’s fine. But what if arts education helped Einstein be, well, Einstein?

Einstein learned to play violin at an early age and grew so proficient and besotted with it that he once said, “If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music.”

At the minimum, one could argue that Einstein’s love of music gave his science-centered brain a reprieve that allowed him to refocus and solve complex theories. At maximum, his musical education was an essential dynamic to his cognitive process.

Imagine: Einstein may never have achieved the scientific success that has made him a household name if had never studied Mozart.

That’s not a far-fetched theory …

Study after study points to music – and the arts more generally – as a significant indicator in academic performance and achievement. For instance, research has found that long-term learning in music and theater has a strong correlation with higher achievement in math and reading.

So is it any wonder then that arts and music education programs are mandatory in countries like Japan, where students rank among the highest in math and science test scores?

And yet here in the States, we regularly wrangle over funding for the arts – in schools and as cultural treasures. That’s why, in this issue, we profile four professionals – people who’ve achieved great things in non-arts fields – who tell us why art matters and how it shapes them personally and professionally.

The bottom line is this: We may want more of our kids to grow up and be doctors, entrepreneurs or engineers. But let’s not discount the role that the arts can play in developing their minds to be able to take on those careers, succeed in them and maybe even change the world. STEM may get the most fanfare, but let’s be sure ART is given its due attention and not just tucked into this educational acronym. Full STEAM ahead!