STEM has become a common acronym in our culture:
It's been exciting to see these areas of study and employment receive attention, especially as young girls are encouraged to enter the fields.
Less common, but still important, has been the introduction of an "A" which stands for Arts (music, art, literature, etc). This leads to the acronym STEAM.
Too much focus on STEM might devalue the Arts, which traditionally have been core to education. The right-brain A is able to balance and complement the left-brain STEM (at least to the point that speaking of left- and right-brain is even accurate).
This STEAM acronym is helpful, but I think it's still incomplete.
***Instead of STEAM, I prefer STREAM.
Not surprisingly, the R stands for Religion. (Under Religion, I'd include the traditional topics of Philosophy and Theology. And don't worry, the rabbit hole is long and deep when you begin to explore how we should understand the relationship of philosophy, religious studies, and theology in Western history, not to mention the majority world.)
Why does an argument about acronyms matter when people are battling viruses, navigating social isolation, and generally uncertain about the future?
Why is STREAM better than STEAM or STEM?
Because everyone has a perspective (a framework) through which they understand science and technology, arts and literature, humans and the Divine.
When we leave R (or for that matter, A and R) out of STEM, we find ourselves living in a world futilely seeking answers for life without having a solid framework or foundation for understanding life itself.
How does STREAM help us live amid the coronavirus?
Value Common Grace - I don't advocate adding an R to STEAM because I dislike science and the arts. I would argue that adding an R to the acronym actually allows us to value science and the arts appropriately. A strong belief in God's power and love should lead us to celebrate the contributions that others make in their fields of study, even if the other person doesn't share my personal religious beliefs. Religion humanizes science and the arts; it doesn't eliminate them.
Don't pit religion against science - The recent virus outbreak has revealed the divide between religion and science. However, a Christian understanding of God's work in the world shouldn't pit religion against science, but should allow us to properly appreciate both the advancement and limitations of science. Our ultimate hope isn't in science; and acting as if religion and science are at war confuses these categories and ultimately clouds the Gospel message.
Celebrate beauty, including the power of arts, entertainment, and literature - It's interesting that as scientists scramble to stop the spread of a virus, most people find themselves turning to the arts (sometimes for hope; sometimes for distraction) and religion. During this strange season of life, I hope your love for the arts and literature increases (and that you become even more discerning about what and how you consume the arts).
Appreciate multiple perspectives - An appreciation for STREAM should teach us to value another person's perspective. Each of us is limited in knowledge and wisdom (despite what your social media feed might suggest!). Let's learn to value the skills and perspective of another person instead of living in an echo chamber.
Focus on life's meaning and the big questions - What good is a vaccine, or what good is a work of art, if we aren't also dealing with the big questions of life? Once again, R adds value to A and STEM. Without R, both A and STEM can easily erode into projects that actually destroy life, instead of promoting life.
Put your faith into action - The Christian religion compels us to put science and art to work. We believe God is work in the world, and that the world is moving toward a goal (telos). Life isn't random; and our lives aren't meaningless. This shouldn't lead to laziness; instead it should lead to loving others and working together for the common good.
Point your kids to STEM degrees and careers, but not without an appreciation for the arts and a foundation of Christian thought and practice - The future of missions and the future of the church won't be about professional pastors or missionaries (though, God knows, we will continue to need Christ-like pastors and ministry leaders). I pray many kids will come out of my church to pursue STEM careers with a STREAM approach.
If I could sum up the value of STREAM, I'd simply point you to Oklahoma Baptist University. This is a shameless plug for OBU and other like-minded schools, who maintain a distinctly Christian education in the liberal arts tradition. ("Liberal arts" isn't liberal in the political sense; it's simply a term that reflects the broad-based learning I've encouraged above.)
OBU can seem expensive, but it's more affordable than you would imagine and definitely worth a look. And if you can't send your kids to OBU, or they feel led to attend elsewhere, help them connect with a church (and other ministry groups) that will encourage academic excellence, character formation, and missional living.
In summary, here's one more strategy for dealing with the Coronavirus:
Blow off some STEAM and wade in a STREAM.