The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Students don’t know their science

Dec 3, 2001

Thousands of students taking the National Assessment of Educational Progress scored lower on scientific knowledge in 2000 than they had in 1996. Only half the students knew even a bare introduction to science and only one in five could understand basic concepts by the time they were twelfth graders. Less than one in three children at the fourth grade level understood science appropriate to their grade level.

As the head of the National Science Teachers Association, Gerry Wheeler, put it, “Our nation continues to shortchange our students in science.” He spoke of the frustrations of science teachers, who report they lack time, money and even teachers to do a good job of explaining science. Wheeler said that we lack “the science-teaching work force that we need to produce the next generation of scientists and engineers,” people wanted both by business and government.

The lack of scientific understanding in young people makes fertile ground for other explanations of how the world works – like the religious explanations pushed by fundamentalists. Since the enormous strides made in recent decades in biology, physics, geology, chemistry remain a mystery to at least half the younger generation, the students become adults who are easily fooled. A rational explanation, based on evidence, might not be as interesting, or as believable as lies put forth by con men.

If we judge by the results of public education, that’s the kind of general population the rulers of this country prefer.