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How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science

Original post made by Sharon, Midtown, on Aug 5, 2008



Some keen insights on the dismal state of science education in our schools.

"In March, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology about the abject failure of American schools, colleges, and universities to prepare students for advanced study in the sciences.

At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.

The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with "identity."

In 2006 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering." Officials of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education are looking to use Title IX to force science graduate programs to admit more women. The big problem? As of 2001, 80 percent of engineering degrees and 72 percent of computer-science degrees have gone to men.

A society that worries itself about which chromosomes scientists have isn't a society that takes science education seriously. In 1900 the mathematician David Hilbert famously drew up a list of 23 unsolved problems in mathematics; 18 have now been solved. Hilbert has also bequeathed us a way of thinking about mathematics and the sciences as a to-do list of intellectual challenges. Notably, Hilbert didn't write down problem No. 24: "Make sure half the preceding 23 problems are solved by female mathematicians."

Obsession with the sex and race of scientists is just one more indication of how American higher education has swung into orbit around the neutron star of identity politics."

Web Link

Comments (21)

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Posted by brit
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 5, 2008 at 2:24 pm



A very disturbing statistic from Bill Gates testimony

"In his testimony, Bill Gates did more than glance at the failures of American schooling. Our record on high-school math and science education is particularly troubling. International tests indicate that American fourth graders rank among the top students in the world in science and above average in math. By eighth grade, they have moved closer to the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, our students score near the bottom of all industrialized nations. As a result, too many of them enter college without even the basic skills needed to pursue a degree in science or engineering."


We seem to be deskilling our students over time!


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Posted by Time to get serious
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

"At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits......"

The "self-esteem" movement is toxic. In fact, prominent cognitive scientists have said as much, and have been saying as much, for years.

There are far more productive psychological working strategies - proven out in clinical trials by the thousands (literally) - that have a far better impact on performance and ultimate self-esteem than the almost pathological banter of constant praise for every little thing, or the protection from failure than insures a life of fear and non-accomplishment.



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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2008 at 6:10 pm

I believe that the dismal state of science education is basically an economic decision on the part of students and sometimes schools. The U.S. presents many choices to those with scientific skills but it does not reward scientists, nor teachers. It is far more lucrative to become a lawyer, doctor or MBA. If a students isn't sure of their career path, I would counsel them to avoid professions with cheap foreign competition which will hold down their future earnings.

Unfortunately, because of these incentives, the scientific literacy of the nation is declining. The average person can tell you more about Britney Spears than Mars soil samples...



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Posted by palo alto parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 5, 2008 at 6:17 pm

I think scientific "literacy" as taken such a back seat to english and reading (NCLB testing) that up thru 6th grade only a tiny portion of the week is spent on science - and much of that is not terribly hands-on. Science can be an exciting adventure in the hands of a great teacher - we don't have many great science teachers, even in PAUSD.


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Posted by Parent without handles
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2008 at 9:05 pm

PA parent

I really agree with you about lack of good teaching, but I also think there is lack of a good curriculum for elementary levels. By 6th grade, many PA kids are already turned off by science. Balls and ramps, gravel, sand and pebbles, planting seeds and annual science fairs mainly done by parents, are what my kids remember about elementary science. There is no innovation, no room to find out what the kids actually think science is, no excitement and no magic. Get the kids really interested in science at a young age and then watch them develop. Bore them in the early grades and they will have little perception of what science is before 7th grade and just won't be able to see anything more than exactly what is in front of them.


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Posted by Ckecking Sources
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 5, 2008 at 10:12 pm

The nasty tone of the commentary sent up a "red flag" to me and - lo and behold – my instincts were correct.

It turns out that the benignly namely National Association of Scholars is actually another right-wing group with a pointed anti-liberal agenda – from People for the American Way:
Web Link

- NAS was founded to bring together conservatives in academia to fight the "liberal bias" on college and university campuses and to target multiculturalism and affirmative-action policies.

- NAS organizes professors, graduate students, college administrators and trustees, and scholars who believe that there is a "[d]ogmatic hostility to Western civilization, and turning the study of non-Western cultures into an instrument for denouncing American society" on college campuses.

- Fights against the "[d]ecline in civility on college and university campuses."


Thus, just more conservative clap-trap to be ignored.


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Posted by Teacher Mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 6, 2008 at 9:27 am

NCLB is one of the biggest culprits. As teachers (elementary) we're not tested on science, so the time and effort goes toward curriculum that the kids are tested on. It doesn't make sense, but there is so much to teach and not enough time in the day to do it. I'm really disappointed for my own children as well as my students. BUT, if our Language arts and math scores are low(er), then the you know what hits the fan.

I also agree that the elementary science curriculum is poor. How many times does a kid really want to see the life cycle of something? and after the first two or three times are they really learning anything? As far as science at Jordan at Paly, my kids have had wonderful teachers.


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Posted by R Wray
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2008 at 10:02 am

If anyone is interested in an example of good science curriculum, go to
Web Link and click on "Learn Physics".
The method is to build on concepts as they were developed historically. There is at least one elementary school that teaches science this way; unfortunately it's in southern Calif.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Checking,
Your statement is a pretty good real life example of what is going wrong. You have decided that any 'conservative' organization has an agenda that is bad, and probably in the realm of a 'Vast Right Wing Conspiracy'.

As a long time exec in Silicon Valley, I have seen firsthand in both hiring and within my existing staff the evidence supporting a number of the points above. Young people with seemingly good college degrees that have the most appalling gaps in knowledge, and not a clue that they have them, nor any willingness to face the fact. These are not usually grads in computer science or engineering, but other majors who seem to be of the belief that they are entitled. This is not true across the board, but it is for a significant number I have encountered.

Your attitude to dismiss this 'self esteem' problem because conservatives believe it is frightening. Flawed logic...As they say, "just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you."


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2008 at 1:29 pm

A science and math education is still available for anybody who wants it, even as NCLB attempts to sabotage it. Like everything else Bush, NCLB is a disaster for the country.


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Posted by Lisa
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 6, 2008 at 2:07 pm

The original post cited the National Academy of Sciences (Web Link). From where did the National Association of Scholars come in (cited in Ckecking Sources post)? Both have the acronym NAS but they are not the same thing.


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2008 at 3:40 pm

"From where did the National Association of Scholars come in...?"

The author of the article that the original post cites and links to (Web Link) "is executive director of the National Association of Scholars".

If one checks sources one becomes better informed. It's the scientific method. It can also save one embarrassment.


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Posted by Checking Sources
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 6, 2008 at 5:07 pm

Mike:
"You have decided that any 'conservative' organization has an agenda that is bad."

Actually, I don't like clap-trap from extremists on either side (MoveOn, for example).

But what I REALLY don't like are front groups like the one involved here ("National Association of Scholars") that try to use a non-partisan-sounding name to get away with pushing their extremist agenda. Luckily, though, with the advent of the Internet, such ruses can be determined and exposed rather quickly.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2008 at 6:11 pm

Checking,
Have you checked to see what the agenda might be for "People for the American Way", whose comments you seem to accept?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 6, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Re "People for the American Way", look at their website and then tell me they don't have more or less the same agenda as MoveOn.org!

Web Link

Highlights on their site are a number of anti-Bush rants, advice to Obama to pick a Progressive for VP, petitions to jail Carl Rove, etc. They might be the auxiliary for Code Pink...


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Posted by GBD
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2008 at 7:25 pm

The original post gives the impression that Bill Gates said "At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn..."

Which struck me as a pretty off-the-wall observation by Gates and it sounded like someone who had an agenda. That quote is actually the article's author opinion.

In fact the entire opening paragraphs of the article are:

"In March, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology about the abject failure of American schools, colleges, and universities to prepare students for advanced study in the sciences.

Well, that's not exactly what he testified. The purpose of his trip to the Hill was to impress on Congress the need for more H-1B visas..."


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 6, 2008 at 8:35 pm

Exactly. We don't need to train more scientists and engineers; we can just hire H-1Bs. Besides, they work cheaper, and they go home after their job is done to teach their comrades what they learned about our industries instead of hanging around collecting unemployment.


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Posted by America-Needs-More-Science
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 7, 2008 at 7:00 am

> Young people with seemingly good college degrees that have
> the most appalling gaps in knowledge, and not a clue that
> they have them, nor any willingness to face the fact.

Ditto .. thanks for posting this .. very important for people not in the industry to know about ..

> These are not usually grads in computer science or engineering,
> but other majors who seem to be of the belief that they are
> entitled.

Interesting point. Given how specialized some of these disciplines can be .. it would not be surprising to find that many university grads might be "long", but not "wide" in their worldviews.

From working with a lot of Silicon Valley engineers (meaning people from educational systems other than US), I have been impressed with Russians .. not only are they good engineers, but seem to have a keen sense of historical perspective too.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2008 at 8:50 pm

> Young people with seemingly good college degrees that have the most appalling gaps in knowledge, and not a clue that they have them, nor any willingness to face the fact.

I don't know if the interviewees in this video have college degrees, but check out
Web Link


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 8, 2008 at 10:54 pm

Don't know about the Americans, but the British interviewed were too young.

I think it is very telling that the interviewer must have searched a long time to find people this stupid in both countries.

Entertaining nonetheless.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Thanks PAUSD
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2008 at 4:56 pm

I think PAUSD should be congratulated for concentrating its development resources on the most glaring of issues in US education today - lack of Mandarin fluency. Thank goodness their attentions are not being frivolously drawn into the mundane topics that are distracting so many educators, parents and businesses in the US, like math and science. Heaven knows they've achieved perfection in their math and science education, so rightfully they have moved their attentions to the real 'feel good' fads of the day. Its sooo 2009 of us. Bravo!


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