Is Education the Answer?
Brian Leiter links to a recent New York Times article in this post at his blog. The article itself is now only available for a fee in the Times archives, but Leiter produces the following excerpt:
American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century....
Dr. Miller, who was raised in Portsmouth, Ohio, when it was a dying steel town, attributes much of the nation's collective scientific ignorance to poor education, particularly in high schools. Many colleges require every student to take some science, but most Americans do not graduate from college. And science education in high school can be spotty, he said.
“Our best university graduates are world-class by any definition,” he said. “But the second half of our high school population - it's an embarrassment. We have left behind a lot of people....”
Lately, people who advocate the teaching of evolution have been citing Dr. Miller's ideas on what factors are correlated with adherence to creationism and rejection of Darwinian theories. In general, he says, these fundamentalist views are most common among people who are not well educated and who “work in jobs that are evaporating fast with competition around the world.”
But not everyone is happy when he says things like that. Every time he goes on the radio to talk about his findings, he said, “I get people sending me cards saying they will pray for me a lot.”
There's no doubt that science education could be far better than it is in this country. But it is naive to think that improvements in public education by themselves will put much of a dent in the seemingless endless tide of ignroance that has swept the nation in recent years.
Everything mentioned at the start of this excerpt is taught in science classes. Everyone learns in school what molecules are, that the Earth orbits the Sun, that DNA is the key to heredity and what radiation is. That's not the problem.
The problem is that for many kids in this country, the things they learn in school are not reinforced outside of school. If you never hear anything about science outside of school the facts you learn in the classroom will quickly slip your mind. The same goes for any other subject.
And when it comes to science specifically, a lot of kids are leanring things outside of school that are completely wrong. The typical child in a fundamentalist home hears, from the time he is little, a huge amount of false information about what science is and what it's findings are. The best public education system in the world could not fight that.
This is an anti-intellectual society that values neither teaching nor learning. Between public libraries and the internet it is easier to obtain information than ever before, but too many people refuse to make use of these resources. The article complains that we are leaving many people behind. Well, a lot of people are perfectly happy to be left there. At some point, they are responsible for their own ignorance.