Adam Savage, the more energetic, ADD-addled member of the Mythbusters pair (I don't count their trio of doofuses as real Mythbusters) recently penned a short article for Popular Mechanics about how to save science education.
It's a quick read, so go do that, I'll pee, and when we come back we can talk about it.
Ok. While I support his drive to make science better in American schools, I think he's picking out a bad apple from a bad bushel and focusing on it. Yes, science is taking quite a hit in America, but that's because education on the whole is taking a hit.
He laments that "one of the first things to go when educational budgets get slashed is science supplies." But I think that's a bit like complaining how firefighters don't rescue the pets first when the house is on fire. The real problem is that the house is on fire. I like that he bluntly states "By all means throw money at the problem!" He's totally right. While many aspects of our school system are inefficient, the need for more money is without doubt. Politicians speak a god game about children being our most valuable asset, and education is critical. But when the time comes to actually do something about it, they push through a laughable reform like "No Child Left Behind" and then cut funding across the board because they all know that petroleum is actually more important than our kids.
I also can't complain about my own experiences in science classes. True, my teachers pretty much single-handedly funded the experiments, but experiment we did. It was interesting that surface tension experiments were some of the very first I ever did in High School. Hell, we even built robots out of TI-86 calculators and motors the teacher had ripped out of dead VCR's.
His last point is important, namely, celebrate mistakes. Our schools, and NCLB only exacerbates this problem, are obsessed with the avoidance of mistakes. When education is based entirely on standardized tests, which Adam laments earlier in the article, mistakes are anathema. Because if you make a mistake, you get the answer wrong, you fail, and your school gets its budget cut.
Obviously, though, this only scratches the surface of our country's educational problems. We have so many I am of the mind that it is dead, and is merely decaying. As Adam points out, "by 2010, Asia will have 90 percent of the world’s Ph.D. scientists and engineers." Our schools are dying. Crumbling under the weight of inadequate funding, an antiquated psychosocial design, and a populous that, really, doesn't care. You may say you care, but when was the last time you voted for someone who said they were going to raise taxes.
As always, America will respond when things get really bad, and they're not really bad, yet.