Classical Science Instruction vs. the STEM Approach

Teachers from Hillsdale College’s affiliated K-12 schools gather to discuss classical science instruction on the Hillsdale College campus.

What’s the difference between a great science lesson, and a great science lesson in a classical school? We are the principles behind the classical approach to teaching science?

For the last several decades, the teaching of science has been a focus of K-12 education reform. How many times have you heard a politician or a pundit talk about the importance of getting STEM education right? Meanwhile parents who hear these arguments begin to think that for their children to have a successful future, they must study science, technology, engineering, or math.

The argument sometimes goes even further: I have heard people say that classical education and STEM education are opposites, and that students or their parents need to choose one or the other. Science, they think, is hard-nosed, academic, and important, and the humanities, meanwhile, are vague, less academically demanding, and less concrete.

These arguments are very popular, and very wrong. Let’s set the story straight.

  1. Classical education does not value the humanities over the sciences. A classical education is well-rounded, balanced, and strong across the four core disciplines, with instruction in mathematics, science, literature and history. Classical schools also study the fine arts, physical education, and modern and classical languages seriously. A classical student is a well rounded student.
  2. The study of science in a classical school is deeper and more thorough than the science studied in a STEM school. Why? While STEM education is focused on the application of science, classical science is focused on the principles behind the science.

Here’s Michael Berndt, an excellent teacher of astronomy and physics in one of our affiliated schools, on the difference.