We have on occasion tooted the horn for arts education in our schools, reminding readers of the importance of arts and music activities for our younger citizens and urging that the funding for such activities be on a par with funding for school sports.
We do not back away from this opinion, but now feel the need to advance another, perhaps more important take on the type of education our kids receive and should receive, the kind of information and curricula to which they are exposed and should be exposed, and the attitudes that are engendered in them as they prepare for life as adults.
To put this simply: they need more science — more than sports, more than art, more than music, more than theater. They need extensive exposure to science, math, and technological training and skills. To tell them they are “stars” is to deceive them. To tell them they must be adept in a world dominated by science and technology is to give them a gift.
As Americans, we have moved more and more distant from science and technological skill, all the while becoming more dependent on their products and systems. At the same time, we have seen an increase in general suspicion about science and technology, with a rise in “alternative knowledge” that, tested, brings little in the way of verifiable results. We live in a Google-driven atmosphere in which untested “knowledge” and unsubstantiated ideas are too readily available.
Our education systems churn out young grads eager to move on to college studies in theater and film, in poetry and fashion design. Every year, there seem to be few students eager to leave high school to pursue advanced studies in physics, engineering, chemistry, biology, etc. Too few high school students receive more than rudimentary introductions to math and to scientific and technological subjects. There is scant broad-based, less-than-superficial science education taking place in the U.S. today.
A scan of statistics concerning science education at the highest levels in the U.S. shows an alarming percentage of PhDs in the sciences awarded to students from other nations. Considerably more emphasis is put on technical education in other countries than here in America.
And yet our students, and we, their parents and grandparents, are neck deep in a global society that relies increasingly on the products spun off by scientific research and technological advance. We are reliant on products resulting from science and technology (think of the devices needed to run an automobile, of computerized devices involved in nearly every financial transaction, of phones, computers and media devices) and yet most of us are ignorant of how they work. We are morons when it comes to science and its products.
Make no mistake, despite what trendy and irrational commentators might say, science and scientific and technological products have made life better for countless people. For every setback noted, for every techno-disaster registered, there are a hundred, perhaps a thousand examples of incredibly positive effects of science and technology on our lives. If anything is going to save this planet and our species, it will be science and technology.
Our task, now, is to make sure our children and grandchildren are competent and not pawns for those who are.
We need to encourage the life-affirming pursuits in the arts, in music, but also prompt an intense and lasting involvement with the sciences and technologies – one that leads to productive, positive occupations. We need to stop fostering delusions regarding “stardom” and bolster the kind of progress this country made in eras past, when it took the lead in science and technology, prompting economic growth, the development of advanced industry and a healthy and large middle class. Entertainment is a luxury; education in the sciences is a necessity.