Monday, May 4, 2009

The zombies of science education

While digging around for articles on how science is taught in schools, I found this article: "State of Utah Taps FreshBrain to Ready High School Students for Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math." First of all, did nobody in public relations stop and point out that the choice of words makes it sound like the state is preparing it's youth to be fed to a bunch of zombies? Actually, that might not be such a bad conceptualization for what they do want to do, turn out high school and college graduates with fresh brains that the zombified corporate structure can suck dry to try and fuel their bottom lines. You could imagine that the name fresh brain had to come after a long night of watching John Carpenter movies.

This does seem to draw attention to a problem with how science and engineering are pitched to students. It always sounds like some kind of late night infomercial shrieking, "Do you want to make more money?" Most unfortunate channel surfers who stumble upon such a claim would presume it is some form of scam and continue on their survey of their 500 channels. By the same logic, is it no surprise that students in public schools have a rather tepid reaction to some one promising them fortune and glory if they just jump through this series of science and math flaming hoops.

I believe that you have to change the focus from the, "Hey little girl, want some candy,' approach of promising fat future paychecks to something completely different. Present science and math as interesting and relevant ways of understanding the world, show engineering as a creative and effective way of addressing problems. Depicting the aspects of, what the state of Utah would call STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math that are dynamic, innovative, interesting, engaging and showing the passions of the people involved in those fields would draw more people to them than would be interested in the lucrative aspects of these fields.

Unfortunately, I seem to be about 180 degrees from where this state is going with USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative. In describing this initiative they state, "This initiative focuses on leveraging the proven success of Utah's research universities in creating and commercializing innovative technologies to generate more technology-based start-up firms, higher paying jobs, and additional business activity leading to a state-wide expansion of the Utah's tax base. " One is reminded of the Ice Cube lyrics from back in the NWA days;

"To a kid lookin' up ta me

Life ain't nothin but bitches and money."

That's right, made the leap from USTAR bureaucratic jargon to the lyrics from "Gansta Gansta," if the shoe fits. . .

To sum it all up, science, math and engineering should be taught because they have value in and of themselves, not for their ability to produce lucrative cogs for corporate machines. Also, get away from treating students like human capital, schools should serve their students not the business sector, the last thing you want is people not being able to tell the difference between public school policy and gangsta rap.

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