Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Brief Post: On K-12 Science Standards

Over at the online version of Scientific American, blogger Anna Kuchment has written about the new achievement survey which shows that only about 32% of American 8th graders are meeting basic science standards set to test proficiency and general knowlege of all aspects of science. 

In an America that depends on innovation and technology to drive human knowlege, invention and the economy, these are sorry results for sure. When you think about how much American science (and science in general) has given the world, the study's numbers are troubling and not encouraging.

We need to support our public schools to ensure every citizen at the earliest of age gets to learn science and also learns to think critically.  This, on top of providing affordable health care and resources to go to college, can help us build the next generation of the bravest and brightest to serve all humanity. 

The science survey can be found here .   Apparently 26 states have now joined in the call to raise the standards.  According to Kuchment, the authors of the report note:

"The standards are based on recommendations from the National Research Council of the National Academies and address many perceived shortcomings in science education. “Currently, K-12 science education in the United States…is not organized systematically across multiple years of school, emphasizes discrete facts with a focus on breadth over depth, and does not provide students with engaging opportunities to experience how science is actually done...The recommendations also explicitly include the teaching of climate change, evolution, natural selection and the history of Earth. Middle schoolers would “obtain and evaluate information about how two populations of the same species in different environments have evolved to become separate species.”

As a professor of anthropology and administrator in higher education, I've seen first hand how the failures of a robust k-12 science education can negatively impact or even delay the hopes, dream and aspirations of students wishing to go into health careers or the physical sciences.  In addition, if science does anything, it trains the brain to think logically and both set and follow logical arguments.  

These skills are easily transferable to the humanities and social sciences, so to say that a science education only benefits those who study or work in science is false. Science is more than a process, it is a way of thinking about and viewing the world. It is a search for truth and meaning using tools which help humans learn about and understand the natural world.

While this isn't the front stove burner issue facing our nation, it should be taken into account when looking at folks who want and need your vote to win elections. So if your vote is your civic voice, then use it responsively and clearly. Vote for those who will support reason and science. Vote against those who will try to teach our children non-science, like Intelligent Design. Vote for candidates who understand the vital nature of science and the role it plays in making our nation and the world safer, richer and more connected.

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