So, America has dominated this year’s Nobel prizes. Outstanding. But there is also warranted concern over the future, and I’m glad this article focused on that.
The American sweep of Nobel Prizes in science this year has filled the nation’s science educators with pride over what’s done well in labs and classrooms – and angst over what’s not.
“We are the best in the world at what we do at the top end, and we are mediocre – or worse – at the bottom end,” said Jon Miller, of Michigan State University, who studies the role of science in American society.
Science advocates said the American public shows a poor grasp of science when they engage important issues like stem cell funding or global warming. They said there aren’t enough qualified American technicians to help turn basic science into marketable products.
A 2002 survey by the National Science Foundation found that half the public didn’t know that electrons are smaller than atoms or that dinosaurs and humans never walked the earth together.
That’s because science education for most children is second-rate, especially between kindergarten and 12th grade, said science advocates. Below-average students study “pond biology and old science,” Miller said.
“I think that in science we’re still king of the hill, but we’re going to have a lot of challenges in the decade ahead,” said Vest, who has served on committees studying the quality of American education.
To compete well with other economies, the United States should improve training of science teachers, fund the curriculum more reliably, and perhaps require four years of science in all high schools, experts said.
“Our 53 million kids in this country are not suddenly going to jump up and pay attention because some scientist got a Nobel Prize in gene transcription,” said Gerry Wheeler, a nuclear physicist who heads the National Science Teachers Association.