Posted by LisaJ
I find it astounding in this day and age, with the many grand scientific discoveries and advances we’ve seen and in our increasingly technologically dependent world, that a large proportion of our population (at least in Canada and the US, with which I have more personal experience) seems uninterested in understanding and learning about science. We have a wealth of information available at our fingertips and an educational system with the potential to accommodate any type of scientific mind, but yet we science-minded individuals are not in the majority. We are a culture that largely breeds an aversion to science. Now I know that I’m generalizing here, and that some individuals living in North America aren’t able to access these opportunities so easily, but that of course is part of the problem.
Now I’m not saying that I think everyone should become a Scientist, I just think it’s sad that more people aren’t embracing the wonders of science into their daily lives. Science is everywhere. It has the power to explain anything you want to know about the world, and it opens our minds up to bigger and bigger possibilities everyday. Science is beautiful, and to embrace it is to enrich your life dramatically. But so many people aren’t doing this, and they are really missing out in life. I see it myself everyday with many of my friends and family members who choose to tune out whenever science is brought up or who quickly cut me off with the ‘oh, you’re so smart, that’s too hard for me’ line. And they’re entirely comfortable to just walk away, carry on, and not understand.
So what’s our problem? Well, my thoughts are that we’ve really gotta get ’em while they’re young, and then give them the tools to keep them there, and this just isn’t happening for a lot of people. Most kids have a natural curiosity of the world, be it a love for dinosaurs, model airplanes, bug collecting, etc., and I think these innate curiosities need to be promoted more. Perhaps a large part of the problem is that the parents themselves have lost this curiosity and the ability for scientific dialogue, so they don’t know what to do to further promote this curiosity in their child. An interesting attest to this point is that I have a much easier time engaging my soon to be 12 year old brother in a scientific conversation than I do with most of the rest of my family. Another part of the problem could be the science education system. Now I can’t speak for all schools and teachers out there, and I know that student experiences will be quite varied. There are definitely some fantastic science teachers out there who are really able to engage their students and promote a love of science, and they are a wonderful gift to us. However, in my personal experiences, there are also a number of science teachers who just don’t have the tools to move past just teaching the basics of what they are required to teach and really communicate to their students how wonderful science is, and that it’s not just about memorizing names of animals and molecular pathways. I know that teaching is a busy and difficult job and a high calling, and that, at least where I come from, the course syllabus for each science class in elementary and high school is quite strict and defined. So how do we give our teachers the proper tools to really engage our kids in science?
Another question is, is It really the teachers and the course syllabus themselves that are at fault for our scientifically averse culture, or is it something more pervasive in our thought processes? Now this won’t be the same for all families and all geographical locations, but at least in my experience the supposed ‘fact’ that science is hard and only for the really smart people is instilled at a very early age. This is really sad, as a lot of people will quickly do away with their science education as soon as they are allowed to because they don’t have the confidence in themselves to carry on with such a ‘difficult’ subject. Yes, I do admit that a lot of science courses in say high school are difficult as they largely require a lot of memorizing, working through formulas, etc. But even if someone doesn’t want to carry on with a formal science education there’s no reason that by the point they are able to stop taking these courses they shouldn’t have the capabilities to remain literate in the subject and to still have that natural curiosity to understand the world around them. We seem to have a real difficult time in our society teaching kids that science really is wonderful, and that it’s about appreciating the wonders of nature around you and everything that is real. Instead, a lot of people seem to feel that science is just too hard for them, too geeky, and in a lot of cases, the big bad bully standing in the way of their beliefs.
So let’s hear your thoughts on what is at fault for making our culture so scientifically averse and what we can all do to help promote greater scientific literacy. Here are a couple of things going on in my back yard to promote a love of science in kids and teens. Let’s Talk Science is a now Canada wide organization that started in London, Ontario (where I started my Undergrad and Graduate careers), that, among other activities, pairs up Undergraduate and Graduate students with elementary and high school classrooms to teach them about various science subjects, form the viewpoint of a ‘scientist in training’. This organization has become highly successful, and is really doing a lot of good things to peak kids’ innate scientific curiosities. Another great example is CRAM Science, Canada’s first online science magazine for kids and teens that was launched about two years ago. This magazine is actually the brain child of two of my previous Grad school friends, and has a lot of great information about how science works in our everyday lives, possible careers in science, and lots of other stuff. I would highly recommend this site to any parent or teacher wanting to instill a greater excitement for science in their kids. What’s going on in your regions to promote scientific literacy and what else can we do to help solve this problem?