How To Stop Science Alienation Syndrome

June 21st, 2012 § 2 comments

Deborah Blum of Slate Magazine poses a fascinating theory as to one of the reasons so many people in this country find it acceptable to dismiss scientific reasoning when it doesn’t fit their world view. Those of us that have studied science can find it baffling how quickly someone can dismiss out of hand what is clearly a well researched theory because their TV “news” host told them to. What Mz. Blum is putting forth, however, is that it’s the studying of science in K-12 that is the problem. It was an idle conversation with a physicist years ago that set her on this train of thought.

What we really operate, he said, is not so much an education system as a filtration system. Our science classes are designed to filter out those meant for the “priesthood” (his word) of science from everyone else. By the time students are ready for college, those who will become scientists are primed for the next step. And those who are destined for the “lesser” (my word) professions are primed to fear, even dislike the subject.

Obviously this doesn’t excuse the people that exploit this fear for their own political or financial gain but it does present a solution. If we raise our kids, whether they are destined to be scientists or not, to admire the subject we can take away some of the power from those who are so willing to exploit ignorance.

The solution the author poses is very intriguing as well and it starts at the high school level. Rather than cutting back on science she proposes doubling the required two years of science to four while creating two tracks.

Those who want to specialize in science could take math, physics, and complex chemistry (and the kind of genetically detailed biology that my son disliked). Nonmajors, by contrast, would focus on what I think of as science of the everyday—things like kitchen chemistry, CSI-style crime investigation, the biology of health, and a class in the physics of sports that would include playing the games.

Here is hoping someone runs with this idea.

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§ 2 Responses to How To Stop Science Alienation Syndrome"

  • Laurence Orr says:

    I like this a lot. How do you go about changing the current education system to something like this when there is regular hostility towards science?

    • Thomas Paine says:

      I’d start with the science teachers. Have a couple pilot programs to show it’s improved effect upon test scores and you can convince the administrators. From there the money will most likely flow.

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