The importance of science in our education

I am working as a Class Advisor in the Dean of Studies office. I talk with many of the students who seek general advice about academic matters.

Many students, often who have taken AP courses in science in high school, say to me,

“Science is not for me.” “I’m not a sciency-type.” “I’m not interested in science.”

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Why not? These same students, to get into this liberal arts college, took science and math throughout high school, often advanced or honors classes and did well academically. Where do they get the idea that science is something to avoid?

1. Science is bigger than human-centered subjects like history, literature, language, music, art. Perhaps it’s overwhelming to think deeply about the implications of concepts like evolution, the big bang, subatomic particles. We can get out of our comfort zone pretty fast.

2. Science is a moving target, forever advancing and getting more complicated. It’s hard to keep up and really hard to catch up. What you learn in high school is often so different by the time you have kids of your own that you can’t easily help them with their science homework. Science changes faster than iPod models.

3. Science is like a foreign language but is not taught that way. The vocab is pretty rough. Words like “biogeochemical” or “neurotransmission” don’t work well in our texting, tweeting world. Why is it that the only writing that kids learn with regard to science is IMRAD?

4. Science is an extreme sport for the brain, and needs to be practiced like that. If we take some time off from science, which most people do, it’s hard work to get back in shape. Meanwhile, the vocabulary has changed.

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5. A lot of the time, what we’re learning about and discovering in science is not good news. It’s a bummer to learn about climate change. It’s a bummer to think about cancer. Ongoing human-caused mass extinctions are kind of depressing to think about, let alone acknowledge. This leads many of us to feel helpless, like what’s the point.

6. Many students come to us from families, school districts, neighborhoods where science is definitely not in the forefront, nor is it integrated into the social fabric of our communities.

Why is Science so important?

1. A basic human motivator is to try to understand WHY. Why did something happen? How does something work? Curiosity about the world around us, about what makes it and us TICK is at the foundation of invention, of creativity. Teaching science well can nurture that curiosity, can satisfy some of that yearning to understand WHY. Understanding why a year is what it is for us on planet Earth feels good. Understanding how organisms are all connected by the long thin thread of evolutionary change gives depth to our sense of stewardship of the Earth.

2. Having a methodology to turn our native curiosity into knowledge gives us the power and possibility of invention, of finding solutions to problems.

3. A knowledge and love of science is the ultimate equalizer, the pathway to human rights and a better quality of life. Countries with strongly supported science programs are better off economically, have greater numbers of people creating new technologies.

4. Our knowledge of how and why things are the way they are in the natural world is our greatest natural resource, second only to water. The way we acquire that knowledge and understanding, called the scientific method, is not difficult, nor does not require memorizing a list of words: observations, hypothesis, experimentation, interpretation. These are simply ways we go about learning.

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So, let’s try to figure out ways to make studying science as attractive as learning how to use that new smartphone!


One thought on “The importance of science in our education

  1. How much do you think the anti-intellectualism in society matters to how these students react? Or is it anti-science in particular? Bill Schlessinger, of CIES in Millbrook, just had an editorial in the PoJo talking about how he gets attacked from the left and the right when he discusses the scientific analyses of fracking. He laments when reasonable people select evidence to support their pre-conceptions.

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