01 November 2004

Why don't we teach science?

Kids are born scientists. They want to know how the world works. They are curious about everything. They will need correct information and reasoning ability in the future to detect and avoid all the baloney that will be thrown at them (much of it pretending to be "science").

How can we best prepare them to deal with all the misinformation, confusion and error they will encounter?
  • Try to give them a feeling of wonder and excitement about the marvels of the natural world
  • Teach them that science is more than just facts—how it works
  • Give them tools for critical thinking and baloney detection
  • Give them the ability to "do the math"
  • If time allows, provide them with some useful facts
I don't emphasize the facts, partly because the "facts" presented by many science teachers are so out-of-date as to be misleading. Remember, most teachers were trained in teaching, not in science. They foist an amazing amount of garbage on unsuspecting students. For example:
  • Richard Feynman wasn't joking when he said science textbooks were UNIVERSALLY LOUSY! (his emphasis).
  • Textbooks have been found riddled with errors in a 2001 study. Its authors note, "Many middle-school science teachers have little physical science training and may not recognize errors".
  • Worst of all, most science teaching misleads students about what science is and how it works!
Nature is so cool! Here are some questions that can be approached "scientifically":
  • Do plants feel pain? (Do animals feel pain?)
  • What limits the height to which trees can grow? (The world'’s tallest tree is in California—112 meters tall)
  • How much do human "clones" have in common with each other? (There are human clones, you know—they are called "twins".)
What questions would you ask? How would you find the answers? How good is your "baloney detector"?

Update

To see what can happen when science education is neglected or perverted, see this more recent post.



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1 comment:

Cotton Blossom said...

Hello sir!
I discovered your site today when fact checking the definition of a word for a blog post that I am writing. I've just begun poking around your site and I am very excited by what I have seen. I am a woefully undereducated product of the public school system. As an elementary student I was in love with science but by my junior year gave up on it completely. I now school my children at home. A bit of my reasoning for doing so, was sited in the Forbes article you linked to. I am confused about your "baloney" link...is the link no longer working? Or am I missing the obvious?

I hope you are not too concerned with my admission to being woefully "undereducated" and then taking on schooling my children at home, ha! We have pretty much ignored the use of textbooks and I've admitted right from the start my lack of having all the answers but knowing how to look for them. That is pretty much our philosophy: Learn how to learn. My most prominent frustration comes from the disconnect of subjects in a traditional school setting. I always felt like science was EVERYTHING and not just limited to a 45 minute class period...but what I didn't learn until now, is how connected all subjects are, history and math, language studies and science, the arts. This is not something you typically learn in traditional schools but the real danger is finishing school, royally confused and turned off from learning anything. That is what I'm attempting to avoid with my two students.