Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Shooting Ourselves in the Head

When future historians analyze America's fall from superpower status, doubtless one of the key causes of the nation's decline will be its intellectual abandonment of science. Modern military power rests on economic prosperity, which driven by advances in science and technology. The US has already lost much of its high-tech industrial base to Japan, China and Southeast Asia. As if perversely compelled to make the situation even worse, the US is continually gutting its education system, lowering academic standards in pursuit of politically correct goals to appease the left, and slashing basic science from the curriculum to placate the evangelical right. Yesterday's New York Times notes that recent clashes between scientists and creationists (now called "proponents of intelligent design") are a mere sideshow - because in many places where evolution remains officially part of the curriculum, it simply isn't being taught.

"The most common remark I've heard from teachers was that the chapter on evolution was assigned as reading but that virtually no discussion in class was taken," said Dr. John R. Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, an evangelical Christian and a member of Alabama's curriculum review board who advocates the teaching of evolution. Teachers are afraid to raise the issue, he said in an e-mail message, and they are afraid to discuss the issue in public.

Dr. Frandsen, former chairman of the committee on science and public policy of the Alabama Academy of Science, said in an interview that this fear made it impossible to say precisely how many teachers avoid the topic.

"You're not going to hear about it," he said. "And for political reasons nobody will do a survey among randomly selected public school children and parents to ask just what is being taught in science classes."

While schoolchildren in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China are exposed to demanding science and mathematics courses, American schoolchildren have teachers afraid to explain basic scientific concepts.

Even where evolution is taught, teachers may be hesitant to give it full weight. Ron Bier, a biology teacher at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio, said that evolution underlies many of the central ideas of biology and that it is crucial for students to understand it. But he avoids controversy, he said, by teaching it not as "a unit," but by introducing the concept here and there throughout the year. "I put out my little bits and pieces wherever I can," he said.

He noted that his high school, in a college town, has many students whose parents are professors who have no problem with the teaching of evolution. But many other students come from families that may not accept the idea, he said, "and that holds me back to some extent."

"I don't force things," Mr. Bier added. "I don't argue with students about it."

In this, he is typical of many science teachers, according to a report by the Fordham Foundation, which studies educational issues and backs programs like charter schools and vouchers.

Evolution is the central theory of modern biology, akin to Relativity in physics. To ignore evolution in biology class renders the class useless. Worse, it undercuts the students' understanding of modern science at exactly the time American students find themselves well behind their Asian peers in mathematics and science. By castrating scientific education - or worse, filling students' heads with pseudo-scientific mush - the US will produce a generation disinclined toward pursuing science as a career (and likely unable to gain admission to a college level program in science due to their lack of basic scientific knowledge even if the inclination survives). The economic consequences of this strategy will become increasingly apparent over the next several decades.

Of course, long-term thinking has never been an American strenght.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home