On Dec. 1, rock ’n’ roll icon Steven Van Zandt paid a visit to Salt Lake City, where his band, Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, performed a riveting set of music at the Depot. It was dubbed the “Teacher Solidarity Tour.”Van Zandt also had a message for the concert crowd, as well as the educators who attended his workshop earlier that evening: “We need to be teaching kids how to think, not what to think.”

A focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) since the adoption of No Child Left Behind in 2002 saw arts programs slashed nationwide as schools clamored to meet new objective standards. Standardized testing has emphasized fact memorization over critical thinking.

But a growing movement is calling to transform STEM into STEAM by re-incorporating art into the curriculum. Far from competing with science and math, art education can help provide the imaginative spark to help students innovate hands-on STEM projects.

A quality, integrated arts education also teaches leadership, creativity and collaboration, skills prized by employers. It imparts life skills of perseverance and civic engagement.

It’s time to heed the call of art advocates such as Van Zandt to better prepare our students for the future.

Eric McKenna Spreng, Salt Lake City