The educated/ignorant divide

This is a very interesting analysis of Unscientific America: the authors weren’t only shallow in identifying solutions to the problems they identified, they completely missed the big one. This is an informative chart.

American variation in science literacy is enormous. Data from Salzmann & Lowell (2008)

We’ve got a large number of science-literate students in the top-performing category (which is good), but the average is relatively low (not good). I know this is really obvious, but I have to say it anyway, since I’m afraid many Americans will read this: the only way that can happen is if there is a huge number of students who are also really, really bad at science. Our country has an educated/ignorant divide to match our ugly rich/poor divide.

Here’s a personal story to make the abstract real. It’s back-to-school time in Florida, and the budget isn’t there.

Science teachers are feeling the pinch at Journeys Academy, Seminole’s new alternative school.

“My science teachers handed me three pages of things they’d like to have, but because of the hard budget times, we weren’t given an opening budget for science,” Principal Michael Icardi said.

That means a big need for “microscopes and balances and those types of things.” His team, Icardi said, will have to be “creative.”

If you don’t have the basics, if science teachers are told by their administrators that they have to replace essential tools with their imagination, it’s only going to get worse. If you want to fix science literacy in America, the answer isn’t going to come from the top with the training of a thousand Carl Sagans — we need to give a few tens of millions of students a decent lab experience, a little knowledge of critical thinking, and the intellectual tools to aspire to something better.