Sunday, May 25, 2008

Have We Forgotten How to Think?

It seems like lately there have been plenty of "doom & gloom" stories of how the United States is lagging behind our European and Asian counterparts when it comes to educating our population about science and technology. Our kids K-12 do not score as well on science and math tests compared to their global peers.

As a society, our US culture has always seemed to hold athletic prowess above academic achievement...traditionally, rallies were held for football and basketball team events, but never for forensic or music competitions. Our entertainment is more important. Tickets for a professional football game can cost more than a visit to the doctor that may improve our quality and longevity of our lives. Are those screwed-up values, or what?

Many of our teachers themselves were taught science and math in boring and confusing classes. No wonder that attitude carries over to when they have to teach their pupils. Have you seen the science and math textbooks currently in use now? In an attempt to seem more interesting, their layouts are colorful, but totally illogical in their presentation of facts. Sometimes rote learning is all that is require and needed...there is no extensive reasoning associated with why 2+2=4. Or why a rectangle has 4 sides! Some of these textbooks seem to fill up their pages with words just so their author can justify their reason for publishing a "new" version. Some textbooks written 40 years ago seem to be more reasonable and give concrete examples of practical problems and solutions. Like, "If you need to pour concrete in a semicircular area with a radius of 10', and each bag of concrete can cover 2.5 sq ft, how many bags of concrete will you need?" None of these silly "if train A leaves the station A at noon and travels 40 mph towards station B, and train B leaves station B at 12:25pm and travels 60 mph towards station A, when will they crash into each other?" Who the heck cares? Who would ever need to make that kind of calculation?

Science helps us describe the world around us, it helps us describe ourselves. It attempts to organize and explain. Science is what provides us sustenance and shelter. It even gives us an appreciation for things on a more spiritual plane as there is so much we still cannot explain.

However, science, math, and associated fields do require you to think! To analyze and form opinions and judgements based on what is seen, on facts...not emotions or conjecture. All too often people really do not want to take the time and effort to really think things through. They are too work, they just go through the motions just to pull a paycheck. At home, they have no interest in improving their minds, and therefore the opportunity to improve their position in society, help their family, or help their community. It would be considered outrageous to request them to read up on something related to work on their own time. TV or computer games waste away a lot of leisure time. It really is a kind of selfish existence. And their kids have these parents as their role models.

We allow the news media to present their version of what is "news". Editors are just that, they edit an article not so much for space reasons, but more so for content. Creative cut & paste can make any article sound totally different than what was originally reported. The Internet is a great medium for exchange of information, but it's a two-edge sword. There is lots of misinformation out there also. And if we choose to not really think about the source or credibility or validity of the information, then we really will find ourselves in "Alice in Wonderland" where the normal rules do not apply. Even this blog is just one person's is not fact, but there has been some thought behind it.

Be skeptical. Challenge people when they express an opinion. Ask them what they think, not what they feel. Encourage questions. Ask why?

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