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Science Education

July 14, 1994

Re "Public Schools Can't Deliver Science Education Alone," editorial, July 5:

You call justifiably for more science in American school education. The issue is surely partly as you state it: Incentives are needed for those in academic science to teach in the school system. There are, however, very powerful disincentives of another sort that stem from the school system's inability to establish a teaching environment where scientists have the freedom to teach the basics underlying these disciplines, unencumbered by religious advocacy. For example, the textbook stance with respect to evolution is a disgrace, not encountered in any other "advanced" nation.

"Science" is not merely the mechanics of various scientifically based technologies which produce television and automobiles. To teach science is to teach skepticism, with a reverence for the fundamental mysteries of how we got here, and what life, particularly human life, might mean. The proposed scientific answers to such questions are all tentative, and attempts are made to state them in a refutable manner, based on measurement and observation. (With respect to the origin of the universe, the "Big Bang" theorizers merely place the ultimate mystery at a greater and more abstract distance than most conventional religions.)

The sense of wonder that science imparts is as real as that of any other worldview, and is integral to scientific teaching. So also is the sense of the incompleteness of our understanding, and the sense that scientific knowledge, however unwelcome and unpleasant, is to be sought after.


Senior Scientist, RAND

* Your editorial seemed especially pertinent as we approach the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon. I appreciate your pointing out the great need for science education and the public conviction necessary to accomplish science literacy. One remark especially caught my attention: "Partly the problem is that science is widely considered, particularly among minority youngsters, as irrelevant or too hard."

As a board member of Friends of the Observatory I have an overwhelming opportunity to see how youngsters are affected by understanding something scientific. Two million visitors inside Griffith Observatory each year are largely made up of youngsters and a huge percentage of them are minorities. The excitement, involvement and interest shown by kids, both little and near-adult, are what keeps most of us involved with our volunteer efforts. Everything in sight is read, touched, questioned and experienced. Watching these spirited encounters makes it look far harder to fear learning than to actually learn.

Science is understanding the beauty and elegance of all that exists around us. Each time a child is a bit more educated and enthusiastic about learning more, the means to do so should be available and encouraged.



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