6 September 2015
There is a piece on SLATE (by Laura Moser) about the continued drop in the SAT test scores of U.S high school students. The title of the piece implies that no one knows why, but I think I can make a stab at explaining it. No, it’s not all due to school funding, or bad teachers who cannot be fired, and it’s not because fundamentalists want their beliefs given equal time with evidence based science. All of these are a factor, but there’s a real elephant in the room that’s rarely talked about.
Far too many Americans just don’t think education is important.
They may claim they do, but when a state gives 250 million dollars to a basketball team to build a stadium, while its cuts education by 300 million, then actions speak far louder than words.(The Governor who did it never finished college). Ask yourself how often you’ve heard someone say something like, “I just never got math” or “physics confused me”, or “thankfully I made it through algebra by sheer luck!”. When someone says something like this to me, I want to say, “how did you do in phonics? Was punctuation as difficult?” Then again I also want to say something like “I know what you mean! just never understood that school spirit thing, and why did we take an hour off on Friday to cheer people who ran around with a ball under the flood lights? I just never got why that was more important than learning math and science.”
A good case can be made that the problem with education in America is a culture that values it far less than many other nations. An ivy league professor was asked about affirmative action during a radio program I was listening to recently, and he said yes indeed his college graduate school practiced affirmative action, because “If we didn’t, then every U.S. graduate school would be full of students from Asia.”
Physicist Lawrence Krauss was giving a lecture and said, “Just ask any high school student…..well any Canadian or European high school student…”. Everyone in the audience laughed. He did not need to explain himself. That said, many students are fighting back, as the school board in one Colorado district found out recently.
When Sagan wrote the words above, it was Dumb and Dumber. Now, it’s Fat Guys in the Woods on the Weather Channel.
The source of America’s education problem is this: We live in a country where more people believe in magic than who accept scientific facts proven by experiment. Until we live in a nation where it’s just as embarrassing to admit you’re lousy at math, as it is to admit you’re a poor reader, we will struggle in education. In the meantime, we need to ditch the attitude that Carl Sagan called a “celebration of ignorance”. Requiring every high school science student to read Sagan’s Demon Haunted World would be a good thing, so If you want to do something for education, donate a copy to your local school library.
Ignorance is not a cultural identity to celebrate.