California needs geology!

Ok, you're probably thinking. Now she's really lost it. California's got earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, coastal erosion, oil, gold, sinking ground, a funky inland delta with levees in danger of failing, major water issues... and that's not even getting into the really cool stuff, like serpentinites and blueschists and pillow basalts and forearc basin sediments and granodiorites.

Yeah. California's got plenty of geology, and plenty of problems related to its geology. And college-bound high school kids don't study it, because very few high school earth science classes count for admission to the University of California.

That is crazy. Earth & environmental science would make the perfect capstone course for a high school science curriculum. It would be easy to design a course that would reinforce chemistry, physics, and biology, because the earth sciences use them all, and for practical and fascinating and important problems, too. And it would be fun, even for kids with a bad case of senioritis, because the earth sciences are outside, everywhere around us. (Also, volcanoes explode and earthquakes destroy things. Geology = extreme science.) The earth sciences could make Californians better citizens, and better fans of science. But not if the class isn't even offered.

Eldridge Moores (of UC Davis and Assembling California fame) is leading the fight to get earth science education into California's schools. The Far West section of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers has taken up the call to arms, and Garry Hayes has some suggested talking points for a letter-writing campaign to the UC Academic Council here, and Andrew Alden has some additional arguments here.

Because civilization, especially California's, lives by geologic consent. Just ask Louis Agassiz.



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That sounds nice, but is anybody actually HIRING geologists in California? Or are we looking at a situation where we end up with California full of fast-food clerks with Geology degrees?

(I ask because my wife, who is plainly insane[1], really wants to move back to California with her PhD in Geology from UC Davis. However, none of the many job applications she's sent to California have even gotten her an interview yet...) California may really need more geologists, but it seems to think it has plenty already.

[1] She married ME, what more evidence do you need?

That indeed makes a lot of sense. It also strikes me as odd how Geological and Earth Sciences are considered lower level in other states. New York has Earth Science as a course typically designated for high school freshman. If Geological and Earth Science is an applied science, incorporating chemistry, biology and physics, would it not make more sense to have that class designated for high school seniors? However, one would have to bring into question how "senioritis" among those students would affect their intake of information, as well as the education requirement of only 3 courses in science for a NYS Regents Diploma.

It also still disappoints me how geology is called "rocks for jocks"...

Epicanis - they're talking about college-prep earth science in high school, not job training. Taking earth & environmental science in high school doesn't mean one has to become a geologist, any more than taking English in high school means one has to become a writer, or taking US History means one has to become a historian. It's training to become a citizen.

And as for whether California is hiring geologists... well, the economy just fell apart. California has a smaller proportion of geoscientists compared to other scientists than many other states (according to a recent report from the American Geological Institute).

And a PhD is not the most marketable degree in the geosciences. A masters is. So your wife may unfortunately be overqualified, except for the oil industry, the USGS, and academia. (And academic job searches have been shut down.)

But a high school class in earth science is hardly a PhD in geology. It's just basic knowledge for living on this planet.

I ought to mention that I do completely agree with the campaign in question, assuming the high-school geology classes are as rigorous about geology as the biology and chemistry classes are about their own subjects. It is kind of absurd that virtually every aspect of fundamental modern needs like energy and food production is directly related to earth science, and yet earth science isn't being treated as something important to know about.

I was just picking up (first thing in the morning and still having too much blood in my caffeinestream) on the "California needs Geology" title, the statement about California having geology-related problems (implying a need for geological specialists), and connected that to the "we need to teach more geology to kids". The progression reminded me of the "Kids aren't learning math and science in general" and the associated "therefore we can't find people to hire to deal with math and science" that goes with it.

Epicanis - I agree with the typical progression from "kids need to learn more science" to "more kids need to turn into scientists" is silly. Geoscientists know an awful lot about things that would help people deal with living on this planet, but the majority of the rest of the population doesn't. (As an example, there was an article in the NY Times yesterday about California's groundwater. If people don't have any idea where groundwater is or where it comes from or how it flows... well, there's trouble ahead. And it needs one good lesson with a hands-on groundwater "ant farm" to illustrate the issues. Not that research into groundwater modeling isn't also useful, but only a few people need to go that deep.)

SW - ack! I didn't acknowledge the photo source!

It's from the USGS 1906 earthquake photo collection (here). It's a statue of Louis Agassiz at Stanford University, toppled by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Photo by W.C. Mendenhall.

One of my favorite attention-getter slides for earthquake lectures, too. (The USGS site has a lot of other great photos from 1906, too.)

This weekend was the USGS Open House at the Menlo Park, CA campus. I went on Saturday; there were a lot of people of all ages learning about earth science.