America has built its prosperity and power on science, technology, and entrepreneurship. As leadership in these fields passes to other countries, what future can Americans expect?
Astonishingly, the United States is on course to fall behind in science and technology. Other nations will take over the position of scientific leadership occupied by the U.S. for the last 50 years.
This is not news to anyone in the U.S. scientific or science education communities. They understand the implications of such facts as:
- In 1999 only 41 percent of U.S. eighth-graders had a math teacher who had majored in mathematics at the undergraduate or graduate level or studied the subject for teacher certification -- a figure that is considerably lower than the international average of 71 percent.
- Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China. In India, the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.
Anyone who has read my previous posts on science education, President Bush's attitude toward science, or the President's thoughts on the place of "intelligent design" in science classes, can guess that I think science education in America is broken.
Of course, President Bush is entitled to his personal beliefs about how the world works. He should just realize that those beliefs, if allowed to guide science education, are likely to make the U.S. a second-class nation. Science is about what works, not about ideology.
I happen to be of the generation that benefited from the boom in math and science education that followed the launch of Sputnik in 1957 (see "Sputnik Crisis"). America perceived that its science, technology and engineering capabilities were falling behind, and undertook a crash program of innovation in science and math teaching. Since then science and math teaching have again gone down hill.
I don't think erudite reports will shake up national priorities enough to significantly improve science education, especially since the actions recommended by the report would cost about $10 billion a year (only a small fraction of which is for improvements in education). That's money the U.S. does not have, or at least thinks it can't afford, given current priorities.
The federal government is already running a deficit of $300 to $400 billion a year. Such deficits have resulted in a government debt of about $8 trillion ($8 x— 1012) , which continues to grow. The interest on that debt is about $380 billion annually. The occupation of Iraq is currently costing about $6 billion a month in cash outlays (not counting casualties, etc.) (source).So it is unlikely that Congress will allocate much for better science and math education just based on a National Academies committee's report. It will take a shock. What will be this generation's "Sputnik"?
David Wheat's Science In Action site has articles about science and math in the real world, weird science, science news, unexpected connections, and other cool science stuff. There is an index of the articles by topic here.
tags: science, science education, math, education, Science In Action