Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No Wonder Our Students Know Little About Science

A few weeks a report came out about how few American students had the scientific knowledge that they should have. One reason for this might be explained by examining incentives, as we like to do in Economics. Schools get judged now mostly on how students do in reading and math. So, the incentive is for schools to focus on reading and math so they don't get shut down. That leaves less focus on other subjects. Less science, less history, less phys ed.

Today's NY Times has a story that may also explain it. It appears only 28% of biology teachers are teaching it properly, and by that I mean teaching evolution as scientific fact. Instead, most choose to hedge somewhere in the middle and discuss creationism, or "intelligent design" as an option to believe in. And the story estimates that 15-20% are teaching creationism.

How can this be? How can we allow science teachers to promote such nonsense? And how did they even become science teachers if they can't understand science?

If you were a math teacher teaching kids that 2+2=5, or an English teacher teaching that xojhsdf is how you spell cat, you would be fired in minutes. Yet science is given the same weight as a silly myth?

Maybe tomorrow I will teach my students that prices are not based on supply and demand, but are set by an invisible man in the sky.


Charles said...

To your point: teachers teaching improper spelling and math would be fired in minutes. I must disagree. Depends on how long they have been teaching. If they have been teaching that 2+2=5 for just a year, the union might let them go. But if they've been doin it for five or ten, the NEA is going to insist that you find another more effective teacher to fire.

To your point: "How can we allow science teachers to promote such nonsense?" I'm not a nut, and I'm not a right wing zealot of any kind. I'm not a radical. But wouldn't this whole situation go away if we had private owned and operated school across the board? Then I could go to the school that teaches Santaria and blood-letting, my friend can go to the Bible-High-School to learn about.... you know.... Jesus and stuff, and you can send your offspring to the "we know we are right about evolution, but have somehow mis-extrapolated that science to mean that there can absolutely be no "higher order" to the universe" school. Then everyone would be happy.

P.S. Our kids fail at science more because of Jersey Shore and Lady Gaga than because of our teachers.


Glenn Locke, The Tall Thin Guy said...

Charles makes an excellent point that the union would protect a bad teacher with tenure.

I can't agree that allowing schools to compete on the basis of "we teach what you believe" is a good idea. In fact, we learn because we challenge the status quo, and have our own beliefs challenged. Not that our current system is working as well as it should.

Charles said...

But, kind sir, what right is it of the government to decide which portions of the collective American psyche ought to be challenged? Why, for instance, is it ok to challenge people's religions, but to challenge views on sexuality might be considered bigotry or worse in public school?

Not that this is true across the board, but I'm just saying, if I wanted my kids to go to school where they learn about Jesus and His Magic Flying Camel, I should be allowed to send them there. If I want my kids to learn science, I should be able to send them to a school run by arrogant militant-atheist pricks. Why should the government get to decide such things? If the populace is not in agreement, what right does the government have to meticulously homogenize the youth to one bland agreement?


Charles said...

Hmm, maybe if when devising reading and math lessons, teachers would make the kids use science as the medium, our kids MIGHT be able to retain a little residual science.

For instance, if Johnny needed 2 9V batteries to power his electromagnet and each battery cost $1, how much money, excluding state and local taxes paid to the man, would Johnny need to connect his batteries and pick up metal objects. If he needed to also buy a nail and wire to build the electomagnet, what would the total cost be if the nail and wire were .50?

I still think some teachers are lacking a little creativity when teaching the plan.