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Why STEM Education is so Important for African American Youths
By Danielle Hildreth, dhildret@usc.edu
Published December 23, 2015

I wish that I could say that I was surprised by the racist rhetoric spewed by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in reference to the Black student’s need for a “slower paced university, as they are unable to keep up in faster paced curriculums.” But I’m not.  I wish that I could say that I am surprised that a young, White woman would blame the University of Texas’ Affirmative Action policy for her inability to gain admittance, despite the fact that 42 of the 47 students with lesser credentials who were accepted are also White.  But I’m not.  While media giants and network commentators drop their jaws in shock when racist comments are discussed in an open forum by those in positions of “high esteem,” I sit stone faced, void of emotion, aware that I should have some kind of irate reaction.  But I don’t.

I don’t react because I know the worth of the African American community.  I know the untapped potential for greatness that our young people possess just waiting to be explored and unleashed.  The time to explore that greatness is now and STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) is an excellent path to get there.  As such, it is of the utmost importance that we advocate for our students and ensure that schools adhere to the STEM Education Act of 2015 to advance STEM studies in inner city schools. The STEM Education ACT of 2015 (H.R. 1020), is a legislative policy that seeks to improve educational performance in American schools by enhancing the math and science curriculum and school programs.  The goal of the STEM Education Act is to improve STEM instruction in preschool through 12th grade, supplement STEM education through afterschool partnerships, decrease the disproportionality of a White, male dominated STEM culture and to create a opportunities for a diverse STEM labor force (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

It’s no secret that African American consumers spend an obscene amount of money on technology. We marvel at the sight of toddlers maneuvering I Pads searching for their favorite Aps, however, their proficiency to peruse Aps make them more a consumer relative to an inventor. Understanding the algorithm behind the Aps is what makes one an inventor.  As African Americans we hail from a long line of inventors, and it is time to add more names to that list.  STEM education is our new “Traffic Light,” our new “Straightening Comb.” Just as these great inventions by Garrett Morgan and Madame C.J. Walker revolutionized millions of lives many years ago, STEM education also has the potential to enhance the lives of future generations.  Moreover, the economic advantages of STEM careers are even more rewarding.  According to a study conducted by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, approximately 65 percent of wage earners with Bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields earned more than Master’s degrees employees in non-STEM occupations.  The wage difference is so significant that 47 percent of Bachelor’s degrees in STEM occupations earn more than PhDs in non-STEM careers (usnews.com, 2012).

We should be as optimistic about STEM education as we were that historic day in 2008 when Barack Obama was inaugurated.  Let STEM be the new voice of “Hope and Change” in our communities. We should not allow a racist in a long, black robe or a disgruntled college reject to define who we are.  Stand tall, know your worth and take advantage of the opportunities presented before you.  Our nation would thrive if STEM education was inclusive of all its citizens.

Categories: Opinion
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