STEM. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That is the watchword for education these days. And increasingly any education program not focused on the STEM disciplines is seen as less valuable. That is a big problem. Yes, science and technology are huge growth fields, and yes, we need to encourage more of our youth, especially young women, to seek training in those areas, but we must not forget how vital the arts are as well, both from a societal perspective and in terms of rounding out individuals.

Shortly before his death, scientist Charles Darwin lamented that he had let his passion for science displace the arts almost entirely from his life. He suspected that not only his happiness but also his scientific accomplishments had suffered for the oversight. “If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week,” he wrote in 1887. “For perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use.”

The renaissance of the renaissance person

It is heartening, then, to see the rise of initiatives like Toronto’s Metropolitan Preparatory Academy’s SMITH Program, which aims to empower students to recognize their potential in the realm of music, media arts, visual arts, theatre, and film. Those students who proceed into STEM careers nonetheless will be better grounded, with a renaissance person’s multi-dimensional education. And those who have a natural affinity for the arts will find a launch pad for an illustrious career they may not have otherwise considered in the humanities, which also represent a vibrant and growing sector of the global economy.

As the dominance of a STEM focus on education continues to grow in our post-secondary system, high school is perhaps the ideal moment to instill a love of the arts in our youth, and we should fight tooth and nail against any curriculum that seeks to press our children into STEM and STEM only. After all, multiple studies, including a 2011 report in the U.S. by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, have found that a comprehensive education in the arts substantially increases measurable achievement not only in arts-related fields but also in science and mathematics.

We simply cannot raise the generation that will advance our society scientifically, technologically, and culturally in the decades to come if we don’t build a solid educational foundation in the arts. To that end, we must hope that more secondary schools — and post-secondary institutions — begin to follow Metropolitan Preparatory Academy’s lead in recognizing the value of empowering today’s youth in creative fields.