How to get science across to the public

| 49 Comments

Following up on comments by the maker of Flock of Dodos, PZ Myersh has taken to task the idea that we ought to dumb down our message in order to entertain [summarized by PvM here, with links]. On the Dino List, Kent Stevens posted the following analysis of why science programming is so poor in terms of the sets of audiences and advertisers, which I think needs to be widely available. He has given permission to reproduce it:

The Calculus of Science Documentaries

[Read the rest on my blog, Evolving Thoughts]

49 Comments

Once again, we all seem to be operating on the assumption that the purpose of the American education system is to . . well … educate people. It’s not. Its sole and only purpose is to produce enough people who are sufficiently educated (barely) to run our low-wage unskilled service-sector economy. Anything beyond that is, in this view, wasted money.

As a society, the US has decided, again and again and again, that we simply don’t care about educating our people. All we really want are new generations of semi-literates who can reliably flip cheeseburgers and give correct change (usually).

That is as true of education in history, mathematics, literature, economics, geography, or languages as it is about science. We, as a society, simply don’t care about ANY of them.

Changing that will mean a large number of changes in economics, politics and social conventions — none of which we, as a society, are prepared to make. Or even seriously consider.

Want people to be educated? Then be prepared to pay for it. Don’t want to pay for it? Then we won’t get it. (shrug)

‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank you comment- “…American education system is to . . well … educate people. It’s not. Its sole and only purpose is to produce enough people who are sufficiently educated (barely) to run our low-wage unskilled service-sector economy. Anything beyond that is, in this view, wasted money.”

Sounds like what has happened to teacher education and what NCLB has done to the quality of education.

As a high school science teacher, my experience is that most kids coming into the upper grades have had little meaningful science. Most elementary schools lack science programs and rely on the main teacher to cover “Science standards.” By the end of 6th grade the kids have been exposed to dinosaurs and volcanoes of vinegar and NaHCO3. If concepts such as evolution and hereditary were presented earlier say, 4th grade, the foundation would be better set for more in depth understanding and receptiveness later.

Teachers shy away from the controversial topics in the lower grades so Evolution is this mumbled secret that kids connote the idea that we all were apes once.

For our society to better understand the place of science and in particular Evolution, it must be better represented in the lower grades. Waiting until high school is to late to build the foundation.

Finally, I think many young people expect to much info-tainment. We are educators on limited budgets. We can’t compete with Jurassic Park, yet that is the expectation.

Twenty years ago we said the same of “Star Wars”. I think Lenny’s right. Elementary Education is the key, but Americans don’t really value it. The requirements (especially in math and science) for teaching elementary age kids is so low. I know many talented, dedicated elementary teachers, but I live in a college town, where the standards are higher. I had a former student, who in his second year of college earned a gpa so low elementary ed was the only major he qualified for. What does that tell you?

If we valued education, we’d be willing to pay for it from the start. Smaller classes, better pay for teachers, more control in the hands of individual schools, school boards that are hired rather than elected and composed of teachers, better qualifications, better facilities, I could go on and on.…

I think it is telling that our president and our politicians say we need to strengthen math and science education and students need to take more science and math, and our parents are saying “what for? students get enough math and science now”

I was just going to say that 1)there’s nothing wrong, in principle, with a documentary producing a decent ROI (actually, it would be better to look at the NPV, strictly speaking) and 2) the people who make science documentaries, even super-commercial ones with highly speculative dinosaur reconstructions and/or sexy hosts, could be making Britney Spears biography specials instead. So let’s not complain too much about them.

I personally came to science, from a disrupted elementary education, through the odd but not uncommon back door of science fiction and even curiousity about astrology (the “thinking person’s superstition”).

However, I feel compelled to comment on Lenny Flank’s semmingly accurate statement about the US education system. History supports his opinion. During the “industrial” phase of the US economy, many people were left totally uneducated, but those who graduated from high school were well-educated (coal heavers versus accountants and engineers, we might say). As service jobs that require more diffuse but less rigorous education have come to predominate, we push everyone at least into high school, but require only semi-literacy.

I would argue that the US system is too focused on elite performance! We funnel a lot of money into “gifted programs” and “magnet schools”. Nothing terribly wrong with that,except that those programs cater to the kids who are going to do well no matter what. (You may argue that we need to help gifted kids with emotional problems or from dangerous homes, and that’s true, but those are social work issues, and apply equally to non-gifted kids.)

There are probably of kids with the potential to be electrical engineering PhDs going by the wayside, but even worse, there are millions of kids with the potential to “merely” be well-educated, skilled, and productive who, by dint of being born in underserved communities, end up illiterate and imprisoned.

Part of the reason for this is that power lies in the hands of those of us who have education now (even if the elite-educated president does play a phoney “uneducated rube” act for political purposes). We tend, collectively, to think that we serve our own interests by keeping potential “competitors” away from education.

I would suggest that the interests of all Americans would be served by greatly ameliorating the “bottom” and “middle” of the educational system. While the ultimate effect would indeed be more claimers for a piece of the pie, this would also create a proportionately greater increase in the overall size of the pie.

Lenny is right on the money,we have a political administration, who no matter what ruse they try to pull, are anti educational.There has been a general “dumbing down” within the system, from grade school to graduate level.Not only is this attitude prevalent toward our own students, we no longer encourage the cream of foreign students to study hear. Last year, Europe exceeded the U.S in Phd’s awarded, scientific research papers published, and patent’s applied for,I hope we can come to our senses before its to late.

Harold you ignorant slut…

I would counter-argue that the US is NOT FOCUSED ENOUGH on elite education. You say that we funnel money into gifted and magnet programs, and this is true, BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH! I could also counter your argument that the elite will do well regardless; IMO, there will always be a middle and lower level, so why cater to them, as opposed to the kids that can and will make a difference? What YOU are preaching is communism - a totally failed system. Take care of the good kids, and they will take care of you.

J-Dog -

“Harold you ignorant slut…”

It’s pretty obvious who the ignorant one is here.

“I would counter-argue that the US is NOT FOCUSED ENOUGH on elite education. You say that we funnel money into gifted and magnet programs, and this is true, BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH!”

Someone could certainly make a rational argument to defend this view; all you’ve done is embarrass yourself and hurl cheap insults. By arguing incompetently, you make the very point you support look bad. It’s also obvious that either you are not receiving an elite education yourself, or that if you are, you are certainly correct that, at least in your case, it is NOT enough.

“I could also counter your argument that the elite will do well regardless; IMO, there will always be a middle and lower level, so why cater to them, as opposed to the kids that can and will make a difference?”

I disagree that the people you refer to as “lower level”, let alone “middle level”, don’t “make a difference”.

“What YOU are preaching is communism - a totally failed system.”

This is pathetic. It’s almost silly to point out that my comments had nothing to do with communism. In fact they had to do with what would be good for capitalism.

“Take care of the good kids, and they will take care of you.”

Are you an example of a “good kid”?

I hate to be rude, but could let me know whether any kind of ethnic bias fuels your attitude and comment (not toward whatever ethnicity you imagine me to have, but toward certain types of US students)? The reason I ask is that many people who express opinions like yours are motivated by the works of, say, Charles Murray, or views derived from/inspired by such stuff. I’d hate to have PT waste pixels on you if that is the case.

I would suggest that the interests of all Americans would be served by greatly ameliorating the “bottom” and “middle” of the educational system.

I quite agree. Too many in the US believe, quite literally, that some people DESERVE better educations than others.

Me, I think that the corporate CEO doesn’t deserve any better education than does the janitor who mops his floor. Why? Because (1) both of them can vote, and (2) both of their votes count absolutely equally.

IMO, there will always be a middle and lower level, so why cater to them, as opposed to the kids that can and will make a difference? What YOU are preaching is communism - a totally failed system. Take care of the good kids, and they will take care of you.

Like I said, educating all our people in the US will require social, economic and political changes – changes that we simply don’t want to make.

It’s why we will never have quality education for all our people in the US. We simply don’t WANT it, and aren’t willing to do what it takes to get it. (shrug)

Funny how I led off with…

“I was just going to say that 1)there’s nothing wrong, in principle, with a documentary producing a decent ROI (actually, it would be better to look at the NPV, strictly speaking)”

…but ended up getting accused of “communism”.

Strong public education is the bedrock foundation of a modern free market, capitalist economy. Some communist countries may have had decent public education as well, Cuba and China still may, although I’m not sure. But no country ever became or stayed a successful capitalist country without strong public education.

Harold — “You ignorant slut” is a quote from Saturday Night Live. It pitted Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtain in a take-off skit about a liberal and a right-wing extremist from a Sixty Minutes segment called Point-Counterpoint, which a 30 second Google search easily discovers.

So, YES, “It’s pretty obvious at this point who the ignorant one is here.”

I understand the tenor of your response however, if you were unaware of the quote, or skit. I am sure that I would react in a similar fashion, although I do not quite get the correlation with this and arguing incompetently.

My point was that we, the US, does not spend enough money on gifted education. My children have all suffered from funding cutbacks, and in my School District, where once there was a gifted instructor for 10 — 12 identified gifted students in each school 12 years ago, that same instructor now travels between 4 schools and “instructs” up to 40 kids.

My communistic reference relates to the old communistic canard “all men are equal”. It also refers to Animal Farm, where “some are more equal than others” evident in my community, where gifted education has suffered.

I am in favor of diversity, I preach the virtues of diversity, and when my kids are home from school we look like a session of the United Nations, so you, Harold, can kiss my Charles Murray! Right in the middle of my Big Bell Curve!

I suggest however, that BOTH our points can be defended equally well, and both problems can be solved with better education and more funding.

My children have all suffered from funding cutbacks

Then open up your wallet.

Oh, wait, you want everyone ELSE to open up THEIR wallets instead, to educate YOUR little darling, right? Because your little darling is, well, inherently superior to all those simple unwashed masses, right?

Hmmmmm.

Sounds pretty Leninist to me.

Hmmm…

How about “no democracy survives for long without an educated citizenry”? Irrespective of the particular organization of the economy?

In this part of the UK we still have a selective system i.e. The kids do and exam at 11 (the 11 plus as it is called). If they pass they go to the superior grammer school of their choice, and if they fail then they are stuck with the inferior secondary school of their choice. Things are further complicated with schools being segregated on religious grounds. There are the government sponsored state schools and the catholic maintained sector.

They system is going through an “evolutionary” change at the moment but I feel that the authorities have missed an opportunity to introduce a fully comprehensive system, which I would favour. The reports on the proposed changes (the Burns report)are recommending student profiles but I feel that this is just selection under another name. At least the test was non-discriminatory).

It is often argued that Northern Ireland sends more kids to university than in the rest of the UK, but statistics show that more people leave school here with no qualifications at all as well.

I sometimes feel that because the majority of the people in this part of the UK have a rubbish education (the pass rate for the 11 plus is around 25%), it is fertile ground for the promotion of creationist ideas, with a lot of people not even understanding the most basic concepts of evolutionary science. Our school was one of the few that did geology and this grounding from an early age makes me very resistant to creationist flood geology nonsense. I remember learning about stratigraphy and was fascinated that the area in which I live was so different millions of years ago. I wonder if the majority of the general public here even know what plate tectonics and continental drift actually is ?

My brother taught physics to A-Level, in both secondary and grammer schools, for a number of years, and he often told the students that we ourselves are made of stardust. In other words, the human body is composed of exactly the same material that makes up stars. I have often wondered how many of them understood the statement or if it just went over their heads ?

I think Lenny is correct. Teaching kids about evolution, in all fields of science, is best early on.

At least part of the problem is cultural; there is a strain of blind, bullish anti-intellectualism in our society that is clearly visible in the school system. With a few exceptions, both public and private schools can literally be torture chambers for bright kids, especially “science nerds,” who are bullied and picked on by other kids from elementary school on. To an American high school kid, being good at sports and not so good at classwork is the real success story. This kid then turns into an adult who thinks that science is something done by white-coated geeks, a different sort of life-form, in far-off labs somewhere, a black-box process that he has nothing to do with. He likes his TV, cell phone, and computer, but he just wants to buy them and enjoy them; he doesn’t want the burden of knowing how they work. In other words, he is incurious, and disconnected from science as such, even though he enjoys its benefits. (When this person has religious sensibilities, the disconnect is clearly delineated: the religion infuses his everyday life in a way that demands belief and devotion; he doesn’t have to be devoted to science to talk on his cell phone or take his pills.)

So I think there is a much bigger issue here than just communication, or how to market science to the masses, etc. How do you get these people to feel *connected* to science? How do you make a nonscientist part of the process, so he doesn’t see science as just another commodity source that throws a tool his way at the end of the production line?

J-Dog -

You are correct, this was yet another example of a Saturday Nite Live quote going over someone’s head. Couple it with the fact that this is the internet, the mention of “communism”, and you can see why I drew some Charles Murray suspicions.

Incidentally, I have called people for holding unstated, hinted, nasty beliefs on this and other sites numerous times, and very seldom have I ever even come close to being wrong. This would seem to be one of those rare cases.

I suppose what I wrote could be read as a call to take things away from gifted kids. That would annoy many people, because a high percentage of parents perceive their kids as gifted.

That came across sort of wrong. I don’t mean that we should take away from the elite (educationally, that is), but rather, that our primary problem is, indeed, that the bottom and middle aren’t getting enough. Our elites (again, I mean educational elites) are doing rather well. They have the social and academic resources to do well under a wide range of circumstances.

Of course, it’s true that misguided leadership is hacking away at every level of education these days.

Lenny Flank has a point. If one’s kids are running far ahead of the public school curriculum, it usually isn’t that hard to find a “private” outlet for their talents. Free public library had a major role in getting me educated, as well, and it’s still available.

I still think that the primary role of public education is to provide everyone, regardless of zip code or parents’ income, with as much of the basic, common requirements as they can handle. And I am utterly convinced that in the worst schools, which tend to be, but are by no means exclusively, located just where Charles Murray would want them, a great deal of potential tax-paying brain power is going to waste.

Maybe I’ll modify my stance. We tend to screw students at every level. But in my opinion, the effects are most disastrous for individuals and our economy at the bottom and middle levels.

Please note also that by “bottom” and “middle” I am not referring to students’ performance, but to the quality and funding of the schools they attend. Although to some degree I could also be talking about student performance.

And by the way, fixing this would cost money. The fact that badly spent money is wasted does not mean that well-spent money is not sometimes required.

Peter Henderson -

You know, there is something GOOD about the US education system, as well.

I have many friends who were raised in systems (almost all non-US systems, except, of course, the US-like Canadian system) where you take an exam at an early age, and if you do poorly for any reason, that’s it for you. Systems where they had to know, at age 16 or 17, that they wanted to be a physician or lawyer, and if they didn’t know it, and compete savvily for it, they would have lost their chance. Systems where how you do in regimented classrooms as a pubescent really determines your final educational status.

Here in the US, we need to do a far better job, to put it mildly, running our basic public schools. We also need to massively reduce university tuitions, if you ask me. It’s a sign of how weak our system has become that social mobility is actually now higher in some countries with systems like what I described above, than in the US.

But I do like the fact that our system has some flexibility, and allows for second chances and changes of heart. We should maintain those strengths, in my view.

David B. Benson Wrote:

How about “no democracy survives for long without an educated citizenry”?

uhmm… well, but isn’t that exactly what they are aiming for by dismantling of the education system ?

Rev Lenny - You are my PT Hero, but totally wrong about my situation! I worked - very hard BTW - to get out the vote to raise taxes for our school district this past year. The district DID vote to raise taxes to pay our teachers a fair wage. (shrug. And yes, I did like John Lennon… who you referenced, right?

Harold - I definitely see your point and thanks for responding the way you did, because I went back and re-read my original post,cringed, and realized it was a “little”, okay, way too weird of a way to start a comment on a science blog… Maybe Randy Olson the Dodo guy would appreciate it,no?

Anyway, it’s my KIDS,. not me that are gifted, so there you go! They would not be so stu-pid as me.

Anyway, it’s my KIDS,. not me that are gifted, so there you go! They would not be so stu-pid as me.

For the record, I am a product of those “gifted” programs. In both science and English.

They didn’t do diddley for me. The vast majority of what I learned, I learned in the library. For free.

If one’s kids are running far ahead of the public school curriculum, it usually isn’t that hard to find a “private” outlet for their talents.

that depends on where you are, and what your parents resources and time availability is, along with many other factors.

I too was involved in the gifted student programs in CA, but unlike Lenny, these programs were wonderful resources for me. up through my entry into high school, half of what i learned about science was brought about by these programs. Nothing of which my parents could have even come close to providing.

In high school, the things i learned through programs like that enabled me to be the first to take AP classes in my district, and even move on from there to take full college courses while still a junior in high school.

It’s very unlikely any of those things would have been available to me without the assistance of those programs.

as to their availability, anybody could participate in those programs, all they had to do was exhibit a B+ average or better and show great interest in going beyond the standard lesson material.

However, things have changed in CA since then (70’s and early 80’s).

because of increasing costs of liability insurance, combined with decreasing available funding overall, things like direct observation of scientific principles “in the field” have almost entirely disappeared, along with a lot of other substance that used to exist in the gifted programs (and secondary school in general).

I don’t think the purpose of any of these “gifted” programs was to serve the needs of a select few; instead their purpose was to provide outlets for those who exhibited a desire and ability to go above and beyond what was available for standard education.

without programs like that, students with those desires typically will end up becoming entirely bored with the educational process, and become actually MORE likely to simply drop out of school altogether, or attempt to alleviate their boredom in other unproductive ways.

It was my opinion at that time, that the only thing really missing was encouraging students participating in these programs to “give back” to the community. Perhaps by offering tutoring to other students, assisting teachers in setting up labs, etc.

I actually did try to do some of this kind of thing on my own, by tutoring other students, creating academically oriented “clubs”, etc.

However, I think this kind of thing should be almost a “requirement” of participation in gifted programs. first, the best way to learn something is to try to teach it to somebody else; second, it teaches that each person has a responsibility to their communities. Just because a child might be smarter (or richer, or whatever) than another doesn’t that child is more or less important to the community.

In fact, this is perhaps the most important lesson to teach; the kind of ethics i see entirely lacking from many CEO’s and politicians these days.

Harold: Even though we have this system, just because a child fails the 11 plus doesn’t mean that’s it for life. I’ve heard many stories of kids that have gone to grammer schools and done badly in the end and vice verse. But I think the amount of heartache that the test causes every year is unbelievable. I’ve had one niece and two nephews sit it this year. One of my nephews that failed was really upset but as I said earlier it’s not the end of the world and if a child has the ability he/she will succeed no matter which school they go to. It really makes me wonder why the public here still support the system, especially when there are so many discrepancies over who succeeds and fails in life despite the test. The US model certainly seems fairer.

But it’s the teaching of science that’s important no matter whether education is selective or comprehensive. both the local universities here have closed their geology depts. and the nearest university that offers the subject is either Galway or Trinity in Dublin.

As an example of how the public are not getting the message, I had an encounter with a creationist friend a while back. He was able to widely quote Hovind and tried to convince me that there were no mountains before the flood and that these only “rose up” after the waters had receded. He was unclear about the geological processes that caused this to happen !

Lenny Wrote:

I quite agree. Too many in the US believe, quite literally, that some people DESERVE better educations than others.

Me, I think that the corporate CEO doesn’t deserve any better education than does the janitor who mops his floor. Why? Because (1) both of them can vote, and (2) both of their votes count absolutely equally.

I think that’s the root of the problem: Americans long ago abdicated their citizenship. A citizen isn’t just a passive consumer - it’s supposed to be an involved, informed, concerned person.

Even as far as people do need different educations, it should be a matter of extent, not quality. Everyone should get the same broad, solid general education, with additional technical training for technical fields. When the ability to read, write, and count is considered technical training, something has gone “terribly, horribly wrong”.

For the record, I am a product of those “gifted” programs. In both science and English.

They didn’t do diddley for me. The vast majority of what I learned, I learned in the library. For free.

While my experiences with gifted/magnet programs weren’t exactly life-changing, they did introduce me to many things sooner than I would have discovered them on my own. I always start in the library but eventually wander off to the arcade. ;)

I feel so deprived, not being one of you gifted children (Lenny, STJ etc). ;)

An education system should raise the standard of the lowest tier, and it should challenge all to achieve. No child left behind is great rhetoric, and it would be even better if it were resourced adequately.

Comment #81083

Posted by ‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank on February 20, 2006 04:23 PM (e)

For the record, I am a product of those “gifted” programs. In both science and English.

They didn’t do diddley for me. The vast majority of what I learned, I learned in the library. For free.

OTOH, many children, my wife for example, would have never had the enrichment opportunity without gifted education. It is doubtful she would have come to appreciate education had she gone to her local, under-peforming public schools and would most likely not have earned her PhD and be engaged in productive scientific research. So, while I am like you (gifted was a waste of time and I learned on my own in the library until I got to college) for my wife it was very important. Just as it is important for my children.

And, as J-Dog pointed out, gifted education in America is the poorest-funded and always the first to receive cuts. In our district our children get ONE-HALF of one day per week in the gifted program. It’s so pathetic in its application and benefits that I don’t even know why they bother.

I always start in the library but eventually wander off to the arcade. ;)

Well, I preferred the arcade rather than classroom. ;)

High school bored the living crap out of me.

I suppose that’s why I now assemble scuba masks for a living. That, and the fact that I didn’t have the money to go to college. :)

Lenny, gifted programs may not have helped you, but they certainly have helped by son. And they helped by preventing him from getting bored and coasting, like I did, not by extending him into field theory or quantum mechanics.

Gifted kids have roughly the same amount of trouble getting educated that the lowest 5% do, for different reasons. They are intensely focused on things that interest them, but fail in the areas they aren’t. So they don’t learn, depending on interests, the rest of the curriculum, or any of it.

And it takes serious effort to teach a kid like that.

On education - in a democratic society, the level of education determines the mean level of knowledge of the elected representatives. Typically an elected representative is only slightly better educated than those who elect him or her. So if we want representatives who are smart enough to deal with the problems a society faces, they really ought to be well-educated, and for that we need to ensure a good basic education level. You won’t get good decisions from people who think, to take an example, that if you sit under a crystal you get more power (and so we can solve the energy needs of our nation/society by building pyramids). But that it the sort of outcome we will see with dumbed down education.

And we are seeing it now. “Junk science” is the claim made against anything that conservatives don’t want to face, like global warming, land-based contamination of coral reefs, overfishing stocks in the Atlantic and elsewhere, etc.

The last in particularly interesting - fishing fleets hate restrictions based on the best science because they often have a more intimate knowledge of the state of the fisheries, and there is a lag from data sampling to analysis and policy. But if they were better educated about science, some of them might be able to help with building decent models, and thus better regulate what everyone agrees is a crisis. [An example told to me last night by someone with firsthand experience of both.]

In the education debate, just for some perspective:

In 1947, 51% of people graduated from high-school. At that time it was an all-time high and well up from the turn of the century numbers. In the mid-1970’s it hit the mid 80’s and has hovered around there ever since.

Two of my four grandparents did not have HS diplomas. My grandfather (an emigrant) and my grandmother (a woman) were never given a chance.

In 1947, about 6% of Americans had a college degree (4-year). Two of my four grandparents were in this category because they saw it as important and were among the first college educated people in my family. Today, one-in-four people have a bachelor’s degree and over 50% have some college.

And some observations:

Part these increases were through societal changes embracing education. Unfortunately, part of the increase in these graduation rates was obtained by lowering standards. For example, the difficulty and rigor of my college-educated grandparents high-school curriculum was much greater than their children’s or grand-children’s.

However, no matter how far you (reasonably) lower standards, some people are just not educable do to their personal limits and apathy. Hence the stagnant graduation rates hovering in the mid/high 80’s.

The last in particularly interesting - fishing fleets hate restrictions based on the best science because they often have a more intimate knowledge of the state of the fisheries, and there is a lag from data sampling to analysis and policy. But if they were better educated about science, some of them might be able to help with building decent models

indeed; fisheries biologists have been trying to work more with the fisherman themselves recently.

there have been good results utilizing this approach in the fisheries around the Monterey Bay, CA, for example.

enough to make me feel good from time to time.

It’s a very small bright note in a very dark symphony, however.

not enough to convince me of it being too little, too late for most fisheries around the world.

Wow this all sounds like a faculty meeting!

I teach at a “Program Improvement” school under NCLB. The focus is on the lowest performing sub-group’s test scores increasing year to year. With a goal of 100% of all students at grade level by 2014. Totally unattainable but sets forth the potential systematic dismantling of the public education system. I could go on for days on how this process is creating a form of education that rewards good test scores and not good education. If you are in the situation such as I am, the student capabilities drop every year because parents who can pull their kids. I equate it to setting doctors quality rating on how many patients they see for follow up or repeat appointments as a measure of how well they treat their patients diseases.

I agree with Lenny that as a country need to look at fundamental changes in how we deliver education. As I have witnessed education currently is trying to force all students to learn and perform in the same manner. We are back to the 1960’s style of education of drill and kill. That works for a percentage of any population. Yet at the same time we create this under class that is desired to fill up WalMart job openings. Oddly enough we are headed down a similar path as Great Britain. They started 20-25 years ago with nationalized standards and exams. The results have had a dramatic effect on public education in the UK.

Here is a link to TIMMS. Big study on math and Science. http://nces.ed.gov/timss. Sites evidence on how US compares with other nations.

This last week I read the results of a survey on Yahoo news. A majority of surveyed citizens don’t see a need for more math and science in the curriculum since the US doesn’t have a big need for those skills. Not saying I agree but interesting snap shot. Sorry I can’t find the link.

As for Magnet programs, these were attempts to create integrated schools with out busing. The result is “White Flight” still happened. US schools are now as segregated as 1968 ish. We could us a good Commie view point like Ike, who pointed out the dangers of the MIC funneling money away from the greater good of the society.

I think you’re right, sciguy, this thread does sound a lot like a faculty meeting!

I have a suggestion: If you think your local “gifted” program isn’t up to par, volunteer to make it better. Get out into the community and be an ambassador for science! Show people what is cool about science and why you chose to spend your life in pursuit of scientific knowledge. (Madam Pomfrey: this is the best way I know to get people to feel “connected” to science.) Offer to do an advanced science unit for the gifted program at your local school. I’m sure the gifted program teacher would be very grateful.

For six years I participated in a Girl Scout Science Night program in which all of our college’s science departments did science shows and activities for local Girl Scout Troops and their parents. The first year, the participation was 30 people. Last year, participation was over 200 people! The regional Girl Scout administrator said that it had become their most popular program. That’s just an example of what you can do. It won’t get better unless you, personally, get involved.

Madam Pomfrey Wrote:

So I think there is a much bigger issue here than just communication, or how to market science to the masses, etc. How do you get these people to feel *connected* to science? How do you make a nonscientist part of the process, so he doesn’t see science as just another commodity source that throws a tool his way at the end of the production line?

Exactly. Anti-science, or more correctly “wanting to have it both ways with science” has become ingrained in our culture. The scientist is at once perceived as (1) that geek whom anyone can and should beat up, and (2) that feared evil mastermind who’s out to destroy the world. America tried to dispel that stereotype after Sputnik (BTW, the first big “current event” in my memory), but then things turned back quickly, especially after ~1970. Yet despite the successes of keeping anti-evolution pseudoscience out of public schools, we still seem to be treating the symptoms and ignoring the disease.

A big part of the disconnect is this: We scientists almost always search first within ourselves for solutions, often to the point of “beating ourselves up.” But with most people, it’s usually “they” who caused the problem, and “they” who must fix it. With that imbalance, everyone loses.

Whatever specific methods we use, we defenders of science need to radically shift the emphasis to combating anti-science (not just defending science), and away from attacking religion and “conservatives” (or “liberals” in the case of scientific fields other than evolution). Let’s not forget that our greatest ally of late, Judge Jones of the Dover case, is a religious conservative. And he’s far from the only one in that camp who defends science. But we need more.

I find the idea of getting clergy to speak up for science (see the other thread) appealing. Most clergy are simply not aware of how anti-evolution activists bear false witness. They may defend evolution, but are afraid to speak out against anti-science activists, even if they suspect their dishonesty, perhaps for fear of alienating much of their congregation. The “search within first” philosophy seems like an ideal common theme, as it is frequently preached by most religions, if not practiced by most congregations.

When the ability to read, write, and count is considered technical training, something has gone “terribly, horribly wrong”.

I remember reading a book by Heinlein (a long time ago, I don’t remember which one) where this was exactly the case in the future US (whole world, maybe)

In our district our children get ONE-HALF of one day per week in the gifted program. It’s so pathetic in its application and benefits that I don’t even know why they bother.

Sounds like the program I went through.

This is going back to the original idea of this thread. I had an interesting experience today that raises important questions in my mind about this issue.

I am an independent school teacher. I attended an event today in with my students. While they were hard at work I had a nice conversation with a teacher from a nearby public high school. She described what life was like for her and her colleagues, with block scheduling (4 year-long classes each semester) 36 students per class, and now an additional series of exit exams to add to those already given in key subjects such as English, Algebra, and Biology. The exit exams cover so much content that it is difficult to cover it all, especially when the course is condensed into a semester.

My questions (there are two areas) What is the goal of exit exams? We do not use them, and we are a fairly successful independent college preparatory school. Clearly college admissions departments don’t care. What does the student gain from these exams? Who decides that every citizen must learn what content? How do these tests measure thinking? Process? Skills? What do you do with this “knowledge” after the test is over?

What about the hope that every student becomes a life-long learner? Why shouldn’t education be enjoyed long past school graduation, rather than be endured until we can move on to something better? Isn’t knowing how to learn, how to gain information and judge it for its merit, to read, write and speak to others, more important than taking a content exam?

Somehow the eduational experience seems misdirected. I suddenly appreciate the school I teach in now like I never have before. I guess I am spoiled, but I think education could be so much more relevant.

John Marley Wrote:

I remember reading a book by Heinlein (a long time ago, I don’t remember which one) where this was exactly the case in the future US (whole world, maybe)

It’s The Feeling of Power (1958).

KL Wrote:

What is the goal of exit exams? We do not use them, and we are a fairly successful independent college preparatory school. Clearly college admissions departments don’t care. What does the student gain from these exams? Who decides that every citizen must learn what content? How do these tests measure thinking? Process? Skills? What do you do with this “knowledge” after the test is over?

What about the hope that every student becomes a life-long learner? Why shouldn’t education be enjoyed long past school graduation, rather than be endured until we can move on to something better? Isn’t knowing how to learn, how to gain information and judge it for its merit, to read, write and speak to others, more important than taking a content exam?

There are competing purposes to education. One is to ensure that children have the basic skill set to integrate into their society, for which we teach reading, basic arithmetic and so forth. This is I think agreed upon by all interests.

Then there is the venal motive: equipping people to be useful in industry and commerce. A lot of what passes for education these days is venal. In my country, higher education was “reformed” about 20 years ago to ensure that training for industry and economic purposes was given equal status with traditional higher learning. The end result is that funds have ineluctably been drawn off those older disciplines unless they have some economic value to the present administration.

Then there is the lifelong learning motive. Typically, this isn’t a policy favoured by governments, but there is a strong feeling amongst those to whom they are beholden (the general community, of course, but specifically educationalists) that we have to teach these appurtenances of learning. But so long as we “teach” them by cramming, politicians are satisfied (considering how few of them actually understand or have any general education, or know much about most of the traditional disciplines).

These three conflict. And anyway, few politicians really want a sizeable proportion of the population to be able to think critically and act based on facts rather than opinion or special interests, since they mostly represent the belief communities and special interests anyway. So by offering up a curriculum that only appears to satisfy the call for actual learning, but which doesn’t take much resources and inhibits actual learning when it gets too dangerous, they get the best tradeoff from their perspective.

There will be an accounting, of course. Eventually we will have no real intellectual life, and democratic institutions will be more easily corrupted to special interests. The resulting society will be a mess, but they won’t have to solve that problem. But the ideal of universal education that drove it’s initiation in western society over a century ago will be effectively dead in the water, except in a few schools and pockets of idealism like your school.

I find the idea of getting clergy to speak up for science (see the other thread) appealing.

Hey, I’m a science lover and am all in favor of good science education.

But the ID fight isn’t about science. It isn’t about education. It isn’t even about religion. It’s about raw naked political power — who gets to have it, and what they get to do with it once they’ve got it. The IDers and their fundie leash-holders want a theocracy, with themselves as “theo”.

Either we are going to let them have it, or we’re not.

Comment #81358 Posted by KL on February 21, 2006 10:11 PM

My questions (there are two areas) What is the goal of exit exams? We do not use them, and we are a fairly successful independent college preparatory school. Clearly college admissions departments don’t care.

[hostileIhatepoliticiansrant]The purpose of the testing is to give politicians the chance to tell the general public that they are actually doing something about education while not really doing anything of substance and without having to increase the budgets for education[/rant]

Comment #81361 Posted by John Wilkins on February 21, 2006 10:16 PM

John Marley wrote:

I remember reading a book by Heinlein (a long time ago, I don’t remember which one) where this was exactly the case in the future US (whole world, maybe)

It’s The Feeling of Power (1958).

Isaac Asimov also wrote a short story about that theme with almost exactly the same title. The protagonist rediscovered basic arithmetic with paper and pencil after the art had been lost to computers for hundreds (thousands?) of years.

Paul

'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank Wrote:

Either we are going to let them have it, or we’re not.

But many religious leaders don’t want anti-science fringe groups to have a theocracy either. And they can reach their congregations better than we can.

It won’t be a magic bullet of course, but a resource is a resource. And this one is seriously under-utilized.

But many religious leaders don’t want anti-science fringe groups to have a theocracy either. And they can reach their congregations better than we can.

It won’t be a magic bullet of course, but a resource is a resource. And this one is seriously under-utilized.

I quite agree. It is the POLITICAL goals of the IDers that are their Achilles heel. No one in the US, not even religious people who like God and the Bible and who don’t give a rat’s behind about science, wants a theocracy (except the fundies).

This is not a fight between science and religion. It is a fight between a lunatic fringe of politically-powerful fundamentalist kooks and … well … everyone else.

Most religious people think the fundies are just as nutty as everyone else does. That makes them allies.

Attacking and alienating allies is … well … kind of stupid.

I find that when I raise the question of young earth creationism with ministers, or other Christians that I know, they either (A)look at me blankly and haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, (B)know what I mean but refuse to believe that a lot of people within the church accept YECism, or (C) Bombard me with YEC type facts and false claims and tell me that creation is a very important issue.

The first 2 reactions are in my opinion one of the reasons why groups like AIG can infiltrate churches so easily. Think about it ! Why believe those atheistic scientists that tell us we evolved from monkeys and that we are nothing more than a higher form of animal, and that the big bang came about by mere chance when, we have other scientists, who are creationists and have evidence that backs up the genesis creation story.

A lot of Christians don’t know why AIG materials are wrong, and in many instances they don’t care either !

I never felt like school was the place where education happened. My parents essentially educated me throughout my childhood. THat is a sad statement of education.

I was at a teacher’s conference recently where a guy made the comment, “What do you want to do, just throw money at the problem?” (I was a tagalong, I’m not a teacher). All the heads around us turned and darn near in unison they replied, “Yes. That would be a good start.”

30+ kids in a class is just too darn many. You really can’t do it across the board.

“What do you want to do, just throw money at the problem?”

I find it interesting to note that NONE of the people who make this comment ever suggests reducing the funding level of public schools in wealthy white suburban neighborhoods to match that of public schools in poor black or Latin urban neighborhoods.

After all, the money presumably doesn’t make any difference, right?

Recently, I read an op-ed piece in the local paper regarding a drop in college enrollments in the US. It would seem that a significant number of young men are passing on a college education.

In addition high school drop-out rates appear to be increasing.

There is a sizable group of people who are out of school (probably more than who are still attending) and have been for some time. These people have been holding down full time jobs, and perhaps don’t have the time or inclination to go back to school.

It seems to me that getting science (both today and in the future) across to the public is going to require more than just teaching it in schools. Folks are going to have to start looking at other ways to get the message across.

This thread, from the first posting has been about the problems in American schools. I will agree that the schools have problems with funding and curiculum.

You folks have talked around the problem by blaming the public school system.

But you haven’t addressed the issue. The issue is “How to get science across to the public”.

Comment #82101

Posted by ‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank on February 24, 2006 07:10 PM (e)

“What do you want to do, just throw money at the problem?”

I find it interesting to note that NONE of the people who make this comment ever suggests reducing the funding level of public schools in wealthy white suburban neighborhoods to match that of public schools in poor black or Latin urban neighborhoods.

After all, the money presumably doesn’t make any difference, right?

Lenny, I generally think you’re a nutty communist, but that’s a good point.

Larry, honey, really, who do ya think ya’ll are foolin’, heah?

I can kinda sorta relate to the Confederate battle flag preoccupation. A lot of brave boys did fight ‘n’ die under that banner, even if it was for the Wrong Cause. And it is indeed a part of our country’s history. None of which means we have to fly that flag over our statehouses today, as if none of that history had ever come to pass.

You’ve gotta know when to hold ‘em, darlin’, and when to fold ‘em.

When you get right down to it, wouldn’t you really rather just have some pizza?

No Larry, you’re still not wanted here.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by John S. Wilkins published on February 19, 2006 9:59 PM.

American Association for the Advancement of Science statement on evolution was the previous entry in this blog.

US Scientists enlist clergy in evolution battle is the next entry in this blog.

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