15 September 2005

The Future of Math and Sciences

As an advocate for the World of Science, I want students to take as many courses as they can in high school. It's their last "free" opportunity for schooling---why not make the most of it? I admit that it's likely due to my background that I see the applications of science out and about in the world: I have developed those eyes.

There are some out there who feel that America is in the middle of a crisis where math and science education are concerned. According to Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), "...those who say the crisis is indeed real warn that without stronger student preparation in math and science, the United States cannot be competitive in a globalized world. The jobs of the future are going to require the basic understanding of principles of math and science. If we aren’t able to educate our children, they won’t get decent jobs, and I am not just talking about scientists and engineers.” Bill Gates is also on board. (You can read the article here. id: bugmenot@123.com; password: bugmenot) The ever-popular sore point is the TIMMS study: a test that compares students in various countries.

However, Howard Gardner, looks at TIMMS with different eyes. He wonders if we're falling prey to a "herd mentality." (same id and password as above) The idea here is that perhaps "improving performance on a particular test is a terrible goal for an education system." After all, a country like Japan may look a whole lot better on TIMMS, but their economy isn't something to be envious of. Instead of focusing on leading the pack on test scores, perhaps we should be cultivating disciplined, synthesizing, creative, respectful, and ethical minds in our students.

I think I'm somewhere in the middle of these two opinions. A solid background in math and science can provide a foundation in critical thinking and problem solving---regardless of one's path after high school. But I don't think that we should force this agenda in the name of outcompeting other countries in an international study. It seems like we should focus on what's best for our kids in the culture they're experiencing and will inherit. This means everyone gets a chance to experience a rigorous curriculum. Everyone gets math, science, and literacy skills (hopefully music, P.E., art, etc., too). You know, maybe education isn't meant to be a competition.

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