To the Editor:
I both applaud and weep in response to Nancy S. Grasmick’s Commentary on the National Academies’ committee on science, engineering, and public policy and its 2005 report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” (“A ‘New Model’ for a New World,” March 15, 2006). I applaud the continued, high-profile focus on science education. I weep as the nature of the problem is misunderstood by those poised to make a difference. While I would welcome many of the report’s proposed changes, outlined by Ms. Grasmick in her essay, none of these solutions will bring about lasting change in the approach to science education in the United States.
To create the political will for such change over time, we must educate our future citizens and consumers. The general populace, through buying and voting, has the ultimate power—the power of the purse—over scientific research and ethical, sustainable technological innovation. Seeking to further grow the scientific elite will have no impact on the continuous health of such research and innovation.
If we are to advance science in the service of humanity, we must take on the burden of educating all students in the fundamental principles of science. This cannot be accomplished through programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, which are designed for select students.
We must develop inquiry- and experience-based science programs that provide not only the formulas of science, but also the underlying principles and concepts. If there is no exploration, inquiry, and discovery in a program, there will be no true understanding for students of the importance of the activities of science.
The end result of public science education must be full access for all students to the life of an informed citizen and steward of the world.
A version of this article appeared in the April 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as To Aid Science, Instruct More Than an Elite Few