I had another post scheduled for today. But, I saw this ad from Wells Fargo over the weekend and I felt I had to write about it. Wells Fargo was quick to issue an apology after the outcry on social media. They were also quick to point out that they have donated $93 million to the arts over the years. But, this one ad may have diminished their support in one fell swoop.
I am insulted. I am saddened. I am confused.
The ad seems to imply that children can only dream of being actors and ballerinas as youngsters, but as you grow up you need to gravitate towards a more realistic job like botanist or engineer. Having pursued both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the arts, I am insulted. I pursued my passions after a lot of deliberation. I struggled over my decision to get my degree in humanities as an undergraduate. I heard “what will you do with a degree in humanities?” more times than I could count. But, science wasn’t my thing. And that’s ok. Science isn’t something everyone can do. Should we all be exposed to science, yes. Do we all need to grow up to be botanists and engineers? No. Turns out my arts degrees have served me quite well over the years.
I am saddened because I thought in 2016 we were beyond thinking that arts jobs are fluff jobs. To me, the ad implies that ballerinas and actors aren’t serious, legitimate jobs. My son is a theater kid. He tried sports, lots of them. But, his niche is theater and the second we saw him light up on stage we committed to investing in passion. We still live in a world where some students have to legitimize a career in the arts to their families. They don’t need an ad to discourage their dreams.
I am confused because I have no idea how this ad made its way to publication. Who fell asleep on the job here? How did someone not look at this ad and question its message? Didn’t a designer work on this ad? Someone with an arts background. And what does this have to do with a Financial Literacy Day, the reason the ad was created?
I do think this ad sheds light on a bigger problem we have in education though. I will probably get some flack on what I am about to say.
I’m not a fan of STEM initiatives or a proponent of STEAM. I don’t even know if I agree with Design Thinking or Makerspaces. Not in the way I usually see them implemented. My problem with all of this is not the content. I am not anti-science. I’m not against math or coding or design challenges. My problem is with schools that put all their eggs in one basket when it comes to initiatives. We invest too often in programs and not people. We have this problem in education of embracing initiatives to the exclusion of all else.We expect these approaches to solve the problems in education. We ignore the whole child. I think there’s a place for exposure. I have seen STEM labs and Design Thinking labs, STEAM days and Robotics periods. The 21st century skills that are the aim of these programs are skills that can be integrated into any content area. They don’t happen in isolation and they are meant to be transferable.
In thinking of my own child, I want him to learn about science and math. I want him to tinker and practice engineering and coding. But, I also know that if he was in a school that had chosen to focus on STEM he would feel stifled. He may not feel success. He may also feel that his school valued careers in science or math over careers in the liberal arts. I believe the same is true for a student who loves science, but attends an arts school. We have to consider what our choices as educators communicate to our students. The subtleties of where we focus our time, money, and energy speak volumes.
The Wells Fargo ad states “Let’s get them ready for tomorrow.” Our challenge as educators is to get students ready for THEIR tomorrow. Not ours. Our job is to support them in their passions, passions which are varied and diverse and don’t fit into the box of acronyms. Passions that may not fit in a lab or a classroom. Passions that may not play out on a computer or on paper, or even a stage. I don’t know about you, but I would like my tomorrow to be full of actors and ballerinas, botanists and engineers, teachers and lawyers and writers, athletes and historians.