We’re falling behind the world, we need math and science teachers and why do we distrust science anyway?

Just read a column by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times (see link at bottom of blog) about how climate change has become a four-letter word that many politicians who want to keep their public office are now afraid to utter.

It seems that the forces who put quick profits or continued profits by continuing as usual and who scoff at any environmental concerns (probably the same types that litter our earth with fast food wrappers and cigarette butts) have been so intimidating with their baseless rants against science and their threats against any politician who would heed scientific studies that the U.S. is falling behind China and European countries in the industry of new green technology.

Friedman says that while climate change has been turned into a four-letter word by many in the U.S., China has also turned it into a four-letter world, except in their case its J-O-B-S.

Of course some over-eager scientists who have fudged a little on their research have discredited the whole field to a degree and have certainly given a lot of ammunition to the know nothings who neither care nor understand anything of science and who are motivated by profit and the desire for their own immediate comfort and their need to demagogue the issue to gain power.

Now I’ll break away right here and say that I am not one to support immediate wholesale prohibitions of various activities in everyday life in the name of environmental concerns. There has to be reason and practicality in all of this.

For instance, I‘m all for recycling, but its needs to be made relatively easy, and of course it is always helpful, but perhaps not always necessary, to have some monetary incentive. I see a lot of folks collecting cans. But I am not going to spend my days sorting out trash, but I do put easily identifiable recycle material in the blue bins where I live.

Also, last night I drove through some pungent but not at all unpleasant fireplace smoke that had wafted across the freeway, signaling the approach of fall and winter. In some places that activity is already banned. To lose that would be a shame.

Environmental restrictions should be debated, but science cannot be ignored forever.

The recent massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill was an interesting case. First we were told there was no problem. Then we were told there was a big problem. Then we were told that a large percentage of the Gulf was contaminated with thick crude oil and there seemed no way to get rid of it. Then we were told that scientists had discovered that naturally occurring micro-organisms were eating much of it up. Well that certainly had to be good ammunition for those who would say just continue business as usual –see? What was all that fuss about pollution? It seemed for a time that much of the spilled oil had disappeared. But scientists have now discovered thick globs of it on the ocean floor, surprise surprise, not really.

As to climate change that most scientific observers seem to attribute in large part to man’s activities, some, including some seemingly learned observers, such as Dr. Bill Wattenburg of KGO Radio fame in San Francisco, blithely wave it off by saying there is no real scientific proof that climate change is anything but a continuation of natural processes that have been going on since time immemorial (with man-made activity only affecting it ever so slightly, maybe).

Whatever the case, I think it would be helpful if more of us were scientifically literate so that we could interpret more of what is happening for ourselves.

For some reason science is given short shrift in our education system. Under the requirements of the time (graduating from high school in 1967 in California) I could have attained a four-year degree without taking any math or science. There are some requirements along those lines these days for college, but the real problem may be in the lower grades anyway.

Ever since I can recall there has been a shortage of math and science teachers. One reason might be that many people skilled in those subjects find better paying and more desirable working conditions elsewhere.

I for one think that the best math and science teachers might well come out of career fields other than education. Sometimes people who have retired from another field then go into teaching. They might be able to afford a somewhat lower rate of pay what with their retirement benefits. That’s a plus for them — something to add to their retirement — and it is a plus for the students because teachers like that might better be able to offer real-world practical applications to the subjects that make them more meaningful.

The idea of a teacher coming from another career than education could work in all subjects, not just math and science. An English teacher who had written or edited for a quality publication might be an example of someone who could offer something extra to students.

I do not suggest that all teachers have to come from other fields beyond education and I certainly do not suggest that teacher pay can be held down because some may be entering education as a second career after retirement from another.

In fact, there could be a danger in replacing the whole education establishment with real world actors. Someone has to keep up the standards and there needs to be a certain body of people who are not subject to the shortcut thinking of the practical everyday world.

But I do think we as a nation need to invest more in education, particularly math and science, since that seems to be our weak spot, even though somewhat ironically we still lead the world in much scientific research ( I think we do, anyway). But of course a lot of foreigners come here to work and study.


ADD 1:

And this via the Daily Kos blog, which picked it up from the LA Times (and I’m paraphrasing) — While United States researchers have developed one major breakthrough after another over the past decades, such as flat screen TVs, robotics, and lithium batteries, much of the economic benefit, to include jobs, from those developments has been shipped overseas.

And from my own point of view, some multinational or supposedly American corporations which benefit from the location and amenities and protections of the United States have no real allegiance to the United States.


But that investment needs to go to the classrooms not the administrative offices. Yes of course we need administrators, but we have a tendency to overdo it in that regard. One reason we are top heavy in administration is that becoming a principal or vice principal or superintendent or a dean is often the only path to promotion and higher wages. There ought to be some way for teachers with demonstrable knowledge and talent to, putting it bluntly, make more money.

And how do you determine who is a good teacher meriting merit pay? Good question. While I think students’ performance obviously has to play a large part in that determination, I think demonstrable talent and knowledge, mastery if your will,  in subject matter by the teacher has to be given at least equal, if not more, weight. Teachers should not be required to be cheerleaders whipping up learning enthusiasm for their students, even though an ability in that regard is certainly welcome. Simply put, students who want to learn should be able to learn from a teacher who has knowledge as long as the teacher does his or her part to share that knowledge. A teacher who has unmotivated or perhaps simply weak-minded students should not be held accountable for their lacking.

We could simply continue business as usual. We also can fall behind the rest of the world. While I think that it is in our own best interests as a nation to lead, there is no law that says that has to be the case. It’s really up to us. But we are falling behind.


And you should read Friedman’s column if you have not already: http://www.NYTimes.com/2010/09/19/opinion/19friedman.html?-r=1@src=r@ref=homepage


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