Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stemming STEM

So, yes, improving education in math and science is about producing engineers and researchers and scientists and innovators who are going to help transform our economy and our lives for the better. But it's also about something more.

It's about expanding opportunity for all Americans in a world where an education is the key to success. It's about an informed citizenry in an era where many of the problems we face as a nation are at root scientific problems.

Our problems are not, at root, scientific problems--our problems reflect cultural problems, a society that makes fantastic promises that defy natural limits. 

Lumping natural science education together with engineering is like putting coffee on your eggs--they both have a place at the table, but are best served separately.

President Obama fails to see this. Arne Duncan fails to see this. Bill Gates, Eli Broad,and many others handsomely rewarded by our cultural problems fail to see this. Their "education" has served them well.


***

I cut my teeth at Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. I could (and did) wander from Fourier to Frost, from lab benches to a benches in the Museum of Art. Though it sounds quaint today, we, the learning community (students, professors, locals, and more than a handful of colorful street performers--remember "Shakey Jake"?) sought truth through inquiry.

Seeking truth through inquiry is how we learn about the natural world, about the human condition, about pretty much anything that matters.


There is no better other way to teach a child.

***

  • One was a was a physicist, a theologian, a  natural philosopher, an alchemist, and  an astronomer.
  • Another a monk, a gardener,a  beekeeper, an astronomer, and a meteorologist.
  • The third was a failed medical student, a bug collector, a marine biologist, a geologist, and a taxidermist who happened to spend a few years on the British survey ship the HMS Beagle.

You do not create scientists by pushing "science" on them-- Newton, Mendel, and Darwin did not pursue science--they were interested in the world, and how it works.

If you know how the story ends, you are not practicing science.
If you tell a child how the story is supposed to end, you are not teaching science.

That we worry more about a young child's access to software than soil shows how confused we have become--no one ever got rich pushing soil to school children.

Someone's getting rich pushing iPads to kindergarterners, though. The Superintendent of that district, Tom Morrill, thinks it's something that "absolutely" must be done: 
“When you take a look at what the IPad 2 can do and you look at the wealth of apps that are out there, everything from learning your letters to books that can be read… fingerpainting, you name it. It’s absolutely something that we must do.”
Only someone disconnected from the world could equate a fingerpainting app with its messy, sensuous reality that teaches so much more than making pretty "art".




Imagine that--"books that can be read...."
The various vocations of the famous scientists were lifted from Wikipedia.

3 comments:

Mr. L said...

“When you take a look at what the IPad 2 can do and you look at the wealth of apps that are out there, everything from learning your letters to books that can be read… fingerpainting, you name it. It’s absolutely something that we must do.”


This is absurd! I can't believe this person is in charge of childrens' education.

There are some days when I seriously consider homeschooling my kid.

Leslie said...

Fingerpainting? Seriously, Fingerpainting???!!!

John T. Spencer said...

"That we worry more about a young child's access to software than soil shows how confused we have become."

Brilliant line.