Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A choice

The Washington Post reports that American students did less well than the average on an international test of math and science. I find this totally unsurprising, in large part because we have not chosen to teach the theory behind the sciences, instead giving a gloss of trivia and memorized facts as our "science curriculum".

Science, contrary to the view most frequently presented in our media and public discourse, is far more than a collection of technological advances. It is, in fact, a form of philosophy, a way of understanding knowlege, hence the name which is derived from the Latin "scire", to know. All too often, the "science kits" available as toys for children might as well be recipe booklets. Rather than foster questioning, these seek to impose knowlege from above.

And as we move to an educational system dominated by tests with limited answers, we depress the questioning that forms the basis of true science. It is by looking around at the world and asking questions, often open-ended questions, like "why?", "how does that work?", and even "does it really?" that scientific discoveries have been made. Science is a means of putting questions to the test: will a heavy ball fall faster? There is only one way to know and that is to carefully measure and observe balls of various weights being dropped.

Sadly, many in this country fear that open questioning, and so science curricula have been gutted, stripped of a real understanding of what science is, and what it can and cannot do.

And so we discourage children from questioning, and from learning. I have sometimes thought that the primary purpose of schools was to teach children to sit still for hours at a time while being bored out of their skulls. Sadly, that is what it felt like to sit, listening to droned repetitions of facts I already understood, with no encouragement for further questioning.

In the face of these results, I think we are faced with a choice: accept that we have done this and work to remedy the problem, by supporting teachers, students, and families in their search for an education for our children, or continue to undermine our own future.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not just in education, I think. As a nation, we seem to have stopped asking, "Why?" and "Really?" and "What happens if . . .?." We seem content to wait for someone to tell us what we need to know, instead of asking questions and hunting for the answers ourselves. Whether it's trust, or fear, or intellectual laziness, it's a bad sign for our future.


12/07/2007 5:48 AM  

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