Roughly half of the people in the United States reject one or more fundamental tenets of science (most commonly evolution), while a larger percent, perhaps more than 80 percent depending on how we measure, would fail a basic science test. A strong majority of those American citizens who would claim to have strong feelings about one or more science policy issues such as climate change, stem cell research, or nuclear power either know very little about the relevant science or are so badly informed regarding the science that their knowledge is not merely insufficient, but is actually opposite what is generally accepted by experts in the area. Most Americans would prefer to make science related decisions on the basis of political affiliations (while at the same time often claiming to not be affiliated with a particular party, and to be ‘independent’ ‘thinkers’) than on the basis of scientifically demonstrable realities. This is true even to the extent that it is possible to predict a person’s likely stance on a scientific issue on the basis of their politics than on the basis of their own economic self-interest or concern about personal or family health and safety. Hmmmm.
In other words, when it comes to science, Americans are absurdly stupid.
Here’s why. The first paragraph of this essay contained five sentences, some run-on. The second paragraph of this essay was made up of only one sentence. It is my understanding that in many American High schools, this concise, accurate, and very clear one sentence paragraph would not be allowed in any student wiring (in English class or Science class) because it breaks a rule. The rules is that a paragraph has five or more sentences. WTF?.
If find this rule to be profoundly disturbing. While this rule is not only about science education, it does symbolize much of what is wrong about our system of education in general. This rule solves a problem (students not thinking enough about what they are writing) and in the process ruins the teaching of good communication. Similar arbitrary and capricious rule making plagues each area of our educational system. Bleh.
Recently, my daughter wrote an excellent short essay for her English Literature class. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, with a very logical progression and making excellent points about two novels being compared as part of the assignment. But the first and third paragraph were three sentences long. In order to comply with the rules, she had to move the last sentence of the third paragraph with the first paragraph, split one of the sentences in the first paragraph in two, and tack what was left of the third paragraph on to the middle paragraph. Ouch.
Every iota of effort expended by our students on appeasing teachers and school authorities by following arbitrary rules made up to fix minor problems but in turn causing serious deficits in how we teach thinking, writing, and reasoning, is a wasted iota of effort and should be discouraged, not required, of those students. I. Really. Mean. This.
Well, I’ve said enough and it is time to break for lunch. Having soup today. Mmm. Mmmm. Good.