Ritchey: Not so scientific
A couple months ago, I read a distressing article in the Lawrence Journal-World. It reported on research carried out by Trego County district superintendent George Griffith as part of his doctoral dissertation. His report sampled more than 900 elementary school teachers in Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma. He discovered that more than 20 percent of teachers surveyed gave their students grades in science class even though they did not teach any science material or test them over science knowledge. No, I’m not making this up. Science is not being taught at all in a significant number of our schools. The main reason cited for this was the emphasis placed upon reading and math scores in the No Child Left Behind law, which ultimately determines funding and other important benefits to a school district. Subsequently, this emphasis on the “important” subjects pushed science to the back of the priority line in many instances.
“Why should I worry about this,” you may ask yourself. “Why should I care?
When remembering our own science classes, we tend to think of them as a collection of facts we had to begrudgingly memorize for the test. “The Sun is 93 million miles away from the Earth,” you dutifully recited. “Atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons,” you regurgitated proudly in anticipation of acing your exam.Well, as important as the acquisition of this type of factual knowledge is, the true value of science lies in the process of scientific inquiry itself in understanding the universe in which we live, and the utilization of this knowledge to improve our world and ourselves. Through the power of human thought and ingenuity, we have come to understand such wonders as how stars shine, how diseases are caused (and how to cure them), and how to create healthier crops to feed a hungry planet. From the car you drive, the iPhone you use to stay in touch with the world (and with which you use to play Angry Birds), the artificial heart valve that is keeping your grandfather alive, to the feat of landing human beings on the surface of the moon: all were accomplished by scientific and technological advances.
Even more than that, science is an important tool in everyone’s daily life. Children are naturally curious and are constantly asking How? Why? Where? Science education is an extension of this natural curiosity, teaching our youth how to think, not what to think. We must remember that science isn’t just a list of facts to memorize; rather, it is a way of thinking in which knowledge is systematically acquired through observation, experience, testing, reasoning and rational thinking. It’s about asking questions and having the intellectual skills to discern accurate answers from rubbish. To deny our children this vitally important skill will come back to haunt us in future generations. We are already seeing our country’s dominance in science fading, and this downward trend is likely to continue into the future unless we do something about it now. Most of the problems and challenges that face us in the 21st century- global climate change, food shortages, and disease epidemics, to name a few- can only be solved through scientific means. As noted scientist Carl Sagan once said: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”
So, let’s keep our science education strong in our schools. Don’t let well-intentioned but misguided policies deprive our children of one of the most important life skills our schools can impart: the gift of thinking.