Florida Citizens for Science

December 17, 2005

Strengthening science

by @ 12:53 am. Filed under Analysis/Commentary


The Panda’s Thumb introduced a post entitled How would *you* strengthen science in the U.S.? It appears the focus is more on college and the science job market, but the issue made me think of where science initially grows or dies in people. In my opinion, it happens early.

It’s not necessarily science education that needs strengthened. The troubles involve issues much broader. It’s not about making science more appealing, but rather showing how discovery in general is rewarding. Kids need to be given obstacles and problems and puzzles to work out for themselves from an early age. Then the reward for such work needs to be trumpeted loud and clear over and over again. No, not a ten-dollar bill for solving a puzzle. That’s a bribe, not a reward. The reward is knowledge in all of its infinite possibilities. Kids need to be told: “If you can think your way through a problem, you will be self-sufficient. You won’t have to depend on others. Others will depend on you!”

We have to overcome the “Yeah? So?” reaction to that reward. A smart-ass kid might quip: “I could have just looked up a solution on the Internet.” It’s important to get across that things like the Internet are just tools that are to be used by something much more powerful: the brain.

The bottom line is that knowledge is power. Too many kids don’t know that.

Yes, a flashy high school science class can capture the imagination of some students. Unfortunately, many kids are out of the running long before high school. Daily expectations both in school and at home are too low. There is a desperate need for teachers and parents who force kids to work despite the moaning and groaning, then boost the kids’ morale by showing them that their work pays off.

It’s about defining a healthy work ethic at school and even more importantly, at home. With a strong foundation in place, science and math become more appealing.

How to implement this? Well, you got me there. Since parents/guardians by necessity play a huge role in building this foundation, I don’t think there is any magic formula or government initiative that will get the job done. We can’t keep heaping blame on schools and teachers and burdening them with “accountability” tests. Families have to shoulder a chunk of the responsibility. Until the general population is jolted into action by some common cause, this country’s science deficiency won’t go away. We need deep motivation to move us into action, and some national heroes—people truly deserving of such a title—for our kids to look up to.

I hated math with a passion when I was a kid and all through school. But now that I’m 35 and finally starting college, I actually enjoy it. Why? Because over the years I’ve developed a love for solving puzzles, and that’s pretty much all math is. When viewed that way, it’s actually fun. Why didn’t anyone tell me this earlier? We don’t have to try to make math or science fun; we have to show them the fun that’s already there.

My two cents …

No Responses to “Strengthening science”

  1. Vyoma Says:

    Sounds like we have a lot in common. I went back to school in my late 30’s after being diagnosed with a dyslexia-like condition that appears to have been the reason that I couldn’t deal with mathematics when I was younger. I learned some coping strategies, and this semester finished my last required math class and have gotten straight A’s in all of the math classes I’ve taken. Go figure.

    I think part of the problem with American education is that we don’t stress something very basic from day one; logical, critical thinking. It’s a skill that children should be learning right along with math and reading at the kindergarten level. There’s no reason we couldn’t do it, and while it’s not science per se, it would at least teach children to use the basic thinking skills that are involved with science, so that by the time they got to high school, they’d stand a better chance of being able to analyze any argument or hypothesis. Instead, we have the FCATs heer in Florida, which are, I think, instrumental in takinig more time away from teaching such basic skills. I don’t believe that our government, either at the state and federal levels, are much in favor of critical thinking, let alone good science.

  2. Iowa Citizens for Science » Strengthening science Says:

    [...] I have a post up at Panda’s Thumb regarding a recent summit held in Washington, D.C., discussing the state of science in the United States–and how to strengthen it, which is the question I ask in my Panda’s Thumb post. There have been many good ideas in the discussion (and some additional comments by Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science to boot). Topics touched on include better teaching at all levels, better pay, improved cultural attitudes (it admittedly can be difficult to be told repeatedly how you’re part of some global conspiracy to lie to children about evolution, AIDS, global warming, etc.), and starting early to get kids interested and keep them from being frightened of science. More than anything else, this is what I’d like this group to stand for: making science interesting, relevant, and accessible. This is, of course, easier said than done, but I’m always open to suggestions! [...]

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