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Science Education: Who Needs It?

The evidence suggests an awful lot of people need it. A recent study by Harris Interactive for the California Academy of Sciences found the following:

  • Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
  • Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.
  • Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.
  • Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Especially the first one strikes me as a real “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” kind of question. Sad, really.

But not sad enough. Tucked away underneath the outrage over AIG’s criminal greed and use of taxpayer money to sue for bigger tax refunds, tucked away underneath all that has been some talk about education. Obama has said he’s for it. He feels it should be high quality. He feels all children should get the same high standard. He feels good teachers should be rewarded.

How, exactly, will these desirable goals be brought to pass? By means of national standards, apparently, and national tests, and merit pay for teachers with students who do well on the tests. It’s amazing, when you think about it, how the Republicans had it right and some of us just refused to see it. I mean, that’s No Child Left Behind. And, of course, unlike boring and expensive methods such as small class sizes, this system is bound to be successful. What other outcome is possible when success is measured by scores that are assigned by the people to be rewarded based on those scores?

Now comes the part that’s not in the news. This is just rumblings on the grapevine. There was a molecular biology workshop for high school and middle school teachers near here recently. The middlle school teachers were saying that their school districts are talking about the new testing environment. At the middle school level everybody’s concerned about The Basics, Kids will be tested on The Basics. In these days of starvation budgets, there’s no room for luxuries. Luxuries are anything not on the tests, because that won’t be reflected in the schools’ bottom line. So. at least at many districts here in Southern California, the plan is to cancel science classes at middle schools.

Dateline: 2030. A new Harris Interactive study found that 70% of adults know the sun circles the earth. 80% are sure that prayers are directly answered. 67% favor the new trials for witchcraft. Under the circumstances, it is vitally important to stop people from praying for the wrong thing and causing earthquakes.

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