A Look At Science Education In The US

from the you're-forgetting-one-thing... dept

An interesting article in MIT’s Technology Review complaining about science education in the US, suggesting that we turn out great PhDs, but everyone else is clueless. He tries to make the argument that everyone should have a core understanding of science and PhD-level people should be teaching high school. It’s an interesting read – but the bias is obvious (the writer is physics professor and his focus is certainly more on physics than any other science). What he never even mentions is the large number of engineering students out there. I’d suggest that most engineering students have a fairly practical understanding of certain sciences – which is useful to them after they graduate. Just telling people they should be better educated in sciences without explaining why that will be useful doesn’t do any good.

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Comments on “A Look At Science Education In The US”

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Eric Hirschorn says:

Good critique!

I’ve got one of those useless Physics PhDs, from a top-ranked department. I work outside of academia, where it is pretty clear how irrelevant all that course work on quantum mech, relativity, etc really was. I’ve come to believe that many academics, but not just scientist academics, possess a myopic view of the world: you are correct to wonder why he doesn’t discuss the worth of an engineering education.
At the same time, I understand the fear many scientists feel when they observe how irrational beliefs are still the norm in most people. Ghost stories and religious miracles are of much higher entertainment value than a science-based presentation — for most. For myself the opposite is true, which I suppose is one point the prof was making… the ancient irrational habits have been mostly slapped out of me. Is society at risk by so much irrationality in the culture — it’s hard to disagree for someone trained to be excessively rational.
Many physicists are fervently religious, however — I know this from many old aquaintences. Can anyone explain away that pre-nazi Germany was one of the most science-literate in history? Perhaps the more science-oriented a culture is, the more it desires those good old days with Bachus and Dionysius. The prof seems to think this is not true, but it’s really just an assumption.
But if I could find good work doing physics and math problems all day, of my own choosing, even if it paid a bit less (within limits), I’d jump at it. But since the economic value of such work depends on high risk factors, I guess I’ll have to keep slogging away at that nasty C++ if I want to continue making that much higher salary.

Duffman says:

Re: Good critique!

Good comment! I (also) agree with the question of why he doesn’t bring up engineering education. Even though I’m an electrical engineer, I’ve taken one or two pure physics courses and a couple engineering physics courses. I sympathize with the article though – my science memories were definitely lackluster for elementary school, when kids are probably the most malleable. My high school years were better, but I got lucky, I think, plus I enjoyed it in the first place. Part of the problem is, ironically, is that students are enrolling less in subjects they enjoy than they did say, 10, 15, 20 years ago (in my opinion only). A lot of students these days I talk to say something like, “Well, it’s not bad, but I’ll have a lot easier time getting a job with this than ______.” Degrees like pure science (physics) and liberal arts (english) are only taken if they can be afforded. I’m not saying there aren’t jobs for these degrees, there are just less. I’ve talked to lots of business and computer science students who don’t really like what they’re taking, but it’s ‘what I have to do’ to get a job. Is it better to have a more educated society when we force that education? Probably, but I’m sure there are downfalls.

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