Thayne. A. Yazzie



I believe children are smarter and infinitely more creative than we think they are. During my limited time in Pre-K and Early Learning Classrooms, I have noticed a degrees of problem solving through interactive play that would astound most adults. Unfortunately, what I lack is evidence.



This is a brief outline of the SMART Educational Framework. In this article, I will outline arguments for and against STEM, introduce an entirely new education framework, and argue for an educational  that promotes art and various other academic disciplines that should be the forefront (as well as in addition to STEM) of today’s education system – particularly Early Learning and K-12 education.



“It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education”

-Albert Einstein

Trends and Issues

STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) is among the most popular trend in the United States’ educational paradigm. It has gained momentum as society has shifted to supplying industries with qualified workers educated in STEM related fields. However, for some it is not entirely clear as to whether or not this STEM paradigm will actually yield the results educators, communities, and societies are seeking in regards to our world’s most desire concerns.

“Education policies to foster innovation have traditionally focused on increasing participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Recently, however, a more comprehensive view of innovation has emerged which recognizes the contribution of a wider set of skills and disciplines” (OECD, 2016).

The study and understanding of the learner’s self, the learner’s natural and social environments, historical and current ethical and moral dilemmas, cause-and-effect of choice, and healthy well-being are an example of what is sometimes lacking from a STEM centered approach to education.

There have been several attempts to add holistic approaches within the STEM paradigm. One of those movements is STEAM – the inclusion of the “arts”. This addition utilizes creative outlets on top of  quantifiable and scientific approaches. Additionally, STEAM is intended to invoke the study of humanities within the application of science and technology.

“STEM education cannot stand in isolation. The well-rounded education of human beings needs to include lessons learned both from a study of the physical world, and from a study of humanity” (Krieger, 2018).

There is a major critique, however, issued by STEM advocates as well as those advocating Art within STEM. For example, those who advocate “only STEM” suggest that art should not be included within the STEM paradigm because it is unnecessary. For highly technical fields such as medical or engineering fields, art is not required.

“I believe we should leave the STEAM, STREAM acronym as a marketing tool for libraries, museums, retail advertisers, etc. It is for those who do not need to concern themselves with the long term learning content objectives 9 (of STEM)” (Martin, 2017).

Points of view that support the separation of Art and STEM also fear that art focused disciplines would be over taken by wider ranged instruction. School districts, known economize their schools, might remove and/or separate art/music instructors which would in turn leave out art and music from the already limited curriculum.

STREAM is the inclusion of Reading & Writing and is lesser known or referred to in the educational community.

However, what is being advocated in this paradigm is not as compact as STEAM or STREAM, but instead an entirely holistic approach that educates students in their entirely – in their mind, physical self, environments, social relationships, communities, and systems both in the macro-level and the micro-level. The goal of this paradigm is to provide a starting foundation that allows for education practices to grow greater than STEM or STEAM (or STREAM). The SMART educational system is intended to benefit the learner and the teacher, the community, and, someday even, the world.


“A well-educated student is exposed to a well-rounded curriculum. It is the making of connections, conveyed by a rich core curriculum, which ultimately empowers students to develop convictions and reach their full academic and social potential”


In this section, we will explore the SMART Learning Framework. SMART is not intended to be the end-all be-all of educational curriculum development. Instead, SMART is a foundation for connecting traditional academic disciplines through a holistic and inclusive approach that promotes personal well-being, self-determination, traditional academic knowledge, and even traditional ancestral knowledge.

Additionally, SMART promotes skill-based and learner-driven objectives, meaning that its goals is to provide learners with life-based skills and tools that can be used in the learning environment as well as in real world contexts. SMART is therefore rooted in the learning frameworks of place-based and indigenous teachings where the educational environment is connected to the place, time, and community its teachers and students. Provided below is a brief summary of the SMART education framework.

  1. Science & Nature
  2. Math & Logic
  3. Art & Design
  4. Reading & Writing
  5. Technology & Engineering

1. Science & Nature

“I would argue that the central purpose of a basic education is not to teach children how to perform this or that particular skill, but simply to teach them to think clearly.”

– Krieger

What is “nature” and what is “science”? In brief, we might suggest nature is the environment around us and science is the methods of studying of that environment.

The study of nature is not only necessary for science education, it is inevitable. Science & Nature, therefore, should not only include the study of the academic disciples of science (i.e. biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), but specifically, the understanding of the “learner” (i.e. emotional, physical, mental, etc.) and the learning sciences (psychology, etc.).

Including the “learner” as part of the educational framework is not new in traditional and indigenous communities. Understanding the learner and biases formed within the learner’s perspective in relation to the surrounding environment is as important as the quantitative data achieved through scientific means.

With the inclusion of nature as an academic discipline, we focus on what is not normally included in STEM related fields – i.e. identifying, understanding, and relating to the natural world around us. In Native Tribal Colleges, for example, students in Environmental Science programs are encouraged to learn about a community’s place and traditional practice before entering into a scientific study of that place. In holding students, researchers, and instructors accountable to the place of research, the educational institution is able to foster relationships that is both beneficial to the learner and the community as a whole. This mutual benefit allows for a greater understanding of the interconnections between learning through experience as well as academic study.

Science differs from math, engineering, and technology in that science is a process and the root of learning about various systems in nature. Nature, however, differs from an academic standpoint in that nature is not entirely understood and can be influenced by the limitations of the learner as well as the limitations of the learning community as a whole.

Learning about the world – both seen and unseen, both known and unknown – is not new. While controversial to the “Western” or “industrial” educational system, the realm of the unknown is important for understanding cultural and worldwide differences such as varying perspectives and epistemologies. For modern educators and scientists, this concept might be difficult to discuss and even harder to teach as it entails a a moderate understanding of spiritual components (religious or non-religious) as well as other “non-scientific” concepts foreign to the science disciplines.  Nonetheless, nature is the root of knowledge in which science is trying to understand.

2. Math & Logic

“If (Thomas) Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search… I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”

– Nikola Tesla

Understanding and effective applications of mathematical theory offers learners an extreme advantage over those who do know theory. Mathematics is defined as “the abstract science of number, quantity, and space” and is studied both in its own right and in application to other disciplines such as physics, engineering, accounting, and science. However, there is another valuable functionality of mathematics that is commonly left out of most traditional educational curriculums – “logic”.

“Whether you’re an astrophysicist, a moral philosopher, a web designer, a baseball pitcher, a social worker, a parent, or a panhandler, you make or make use of arguments all the time. Logic helps to render these arguments transparent; it uncovers their strengths and flaws.” (Harmon, 2018)

When faced with real world problems, students should have the tools to solve them before catastrophic events arise. Logical reasoning teaches critical thinking skills and prepares learners to be conscious and valuable members to their communities. Students with a strong understanding of mathematical and logic principals will have the tools to become effective problem solvers.

“A useful education needs to give students the skill of following a line of reasoning, of asking rational questions, and of chewing things through in their minds–even if we regard the material are beyond question. Besides feeding students a well-balanced diet of knowledge, healthy schooling needs to teach them to digest this information thoroughly” (Krieger, 2018).

Logic is complimentary to math as it encourages imaginative thinking as well as conceptual problem solving before the physical act of doing. With long term application, logic can turn ideas into fruition and expand on mathematical principles such as balancing systems, rationales of language, and symbolic representation. Additionally, logic encourages the learner to explore the foundations and philosophy of knowledge.

The knowledge of the known world is very limited in the context of what is unknown. Therefore, discussion about knowledge as a limited and culturally influenced concept will allow learners to better understand themselves in relation to the world. Mathematics and logic can teach us that various academic disciplines are in fact working in tandem and will help learners more effectively explore outside of their learning environment. If a new educational paradigm is to make effective learners, it must include concepts beyond STEM and promote the creative, imaginative, and ambiguous aspects of human experience.

3. Art & Design

“I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.”

― Plato

Art might be defined as the expression of creative work and imagination. What constitutes art, however, lies outside of the creator and is, most times, attributed to the audience. Therefore, art as an academic subject can be challenging for educational systems to encourage because it is difficult to articulate its function. However, we cannot overstate how much art impacts every instance of our lives. Whether it’s film, music, advertisement, or any type of design, art is in one way or another influential to our lives. Thus, the study and practice of art is necessary even if assessing the outcome is difficult. 

“Our education system, from pre-kindergarten to the doctoral level needs and must have the humanities and liberal arts. In the liberal arts, you pursue the trail of inquiry wherever it leads. Truth, not use or reward, is the only criterion.” (Deresiewicz).

Art & Design, like any branch of science, is another way of understanding the greater realm of nature. “The purpose and intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, system, or material object is defined as design” ( Therefore, design is more than just pleasing aesthetics. Design is the meaning behind, within, and surrounding various things.

In the sciences, students are encouraged to question and learn about the material world. In the arts, the students are encouraged to question and learn about humanity, society, philosophy, and the un-material world. Art and Design are necessary in an educational paradigm that strives to foster critical thinking and problem solving skills.

“If you want graduates who will simply engage in “inquiry that leads to pre-determined outcomes,” then the answer is to make all education instrumental and utilitarian, where the focus is technical and on immediate employability.” (Liberal Arts & Humanities vs Science, Math and STEM: What if Educational Leaders Are On Wrong Side of History?)

“Practical utility, however, is not the ultimate purpose of a liberal arts education. Its ultimate purpose is to help you to learn to reflect in the widest and deepest sense, beyond the requirements of work and career: for the sake of citizenship, for the sake of living well with others, above all, for the sake of building a self that is strong and creative and free. That’s why the humanities are central to a real college education. You don’t build a self out of thin air, by gazing at your navel. You build it, in part, by encountering the ways that others have done so themselves. You build it, that is, with the help of the past. The humanities–history, philosophy, religious studies, above all, literature and the other arts–are the record of the ways that people have come to terms with being human. They address the questions that are proper to us, not as this or that kind of specialist, this or that kind of professional, but as individuals as such–the very questions we are apt to ask when we look up from our work and think about our lives. Questions of love, death, family, morality, time, truth, God, and everything else within the wide, starred universe of human experience.” (p. 155-156, Excellent Sheep)

4. Reading & Writing

“Literacy skills may be the focus in language arts classes, but they are equally necessary for math, science, art, music, and any other course work.” (Literacy Belongs in Every Classroom) (Kansas, 2018)

Connecting disciplines are possible through creative and imaginative thinking. Likewise, understanding various disciplines will be very helpful if the students can read and understand their own language and other the languages of the world. Reading and writing, though rudimentary, are generally overlooked in most post-high school students.

Engaged reading leads to engaged learning, but students are not prepared to dive into the written word and immediately extract all of the valuable content. They need instructional guidance on how to read critically, understand the material and implement what they have learned” (Back to the basics of Reading) (Kansas, 2018)

“While all aspects of literacy are critical to eventual success, for most students, the process starts with reading skills. These skills form the foundation for all other learning, which is a large part of the reasoning behind the wide adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) curriculum programs. These new standards put the responsibility for teaching reading and literacy skills on the backs of all teachers, not just language arts instructors” (Making Reading a Priority) (Kansas, 2018)

5. Technology & Engineering

“My method is different. I do not rush into actual work. When I get a new idea, I start at once building it up in my imagination, and make improvements and operate the device in my mind. When I have gone so far as to embody everything in my invention, every possible improvement I can think of, and when I see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form the final product of my brain.”

– Nikola Tesla


Spiritual knowledge cannot be observed by physical means; therefore, it cannot be measured or quantified. Thus, indigenous and spiritual ways of knowing are often dismissed by scientific researchers. The relational nature of Indigenous epistemology acknowledges the interconnections of the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects within all living things, the earth, and the universe. Indigenous epistemology is fluid, nonlinear, and relational (Kovach, 2005). Many indigenous ways of knowing accept both the physical and the nonphysical realms as reality and are considered equally valid and interconnected. In accepting the nonphysical, one must accept that reality cannot always be quantified. Therefore, the means of acquiring non-physical knowledge stems not only from the understanding and investigation of the self, but from the exploration and study of creative work, social environments, emotional awareness, cultural practices, historical causes and effects, personal and societal goals, and subsequently, the interconnection of all things.

Continue reading …


“You must realize the qualities with which you were born and learn to trust and use your own experience. Somehow education has struggled so hard to develop a conforming good citizen, that the “bending of the twig” has often stunted growth instead of nourishing it.” (Tooze, 1959)

The teacher is the foundation where the learning environment is built. Therefore, an effective teacher must not only be prepared with the fundamentals of behavioral theory, learning practices, or academic rigor; teachers must also be fully knowledgeable, confident, and aware of the self. It is the utmost importance that the teacher is able to perform their duties as an educator and it is important that the organization, school, or company employing teachers understand the complexities of being an effective and successful teacher.

Continue reading …


“What we think of a course in poetry in which students never read a poem?” (p. 16, Lies my Teacher Told me.)

“Textbooks also keep students in the dark about the nature of history. History is furious debate informed by evidence and reason. Textbooks encourage students to believe that history is facts to be learned” (p. 16, Lies My Teacher Told Me).

“Five-sixths of all Americans never take a course in American History beyond high school. What our citizens “learn” in high school forms much of what they know about our past” (p. 16, Lies My Teacher Told Me)

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner … and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth” (W.E.B. Du Bois)

Continue reading …



Link to More Education Videos


Chase, C. (2014, February 25). Real Learning is a Creative Process. Retrieved from creativesystemsthinking:

Denzin, N., & Lincoln, Y. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE PUblications, Inc.

Duncan, A. (2010, April 9). U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from The Well-Rounded Curriculum:

Harman, Justin. (2018). 4 Reasons to take Logic the 1st Year of College.

Kansas, U. o. (2018, June 26). Teaching Reading and Writing Skills in Your K-12 Classrooms. Retrieved from The University of Kansas School of Education:

Krieger, J. (2018, September 04). Today’s Focus on STEM Education is Missing a Crucial Point. Retrieved from leapsmag:

Martin, J. (2017, April 14). Why I use STEM, not STEAM or STREAM in Education? Retrieved from Linkedin:

Meador, D. (2017, April 30). Meaningful Life Lessons We Learn From Teachers at School. Retrieved from ThoughtCo:

OECD. (2016). Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation: The Power of Digital Technologies and Skills. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Robinson, S. K. (2010, October). (S. K. Robinson, Performer) Retrieved from Changing Education Paradigms.

Tooze, R. (1959). Storytelling. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc.




S.M.A.R.T. Education

Above and Beyond S.T.E.M. / S.T.E.A.M. Early Childhood Learning, Pre K-12, College, and Beyond. Education through an Indigenous Framework.



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