Could science be lost?
Although we experience it on a daily basis, most of us do not think about science unless challenged to choose a side on a political debate, such as climate change.
Einstein famously said, “Politics is more difficult than science.” Still, most students and teachers will tell you that science is not easy.
A teacher can make a real difference by encouraging students to be curious and explore real problems that can be solved by persevering through the academic challenge that is science.
Robert N. McCauley, author of Why Religion is Natural and Science Is Not, says for most people “Science is something really that’s out there quite at a distance from them … but they do understand, first and foremost, the spinoffs in two domains of life. One is in technologies … also in healthcare … for most human beings, there’s a certain point in their life when these consequences of science turn out to be really important.”
” … for most human beings, there’s a certain point in their life when these consequences of science turn out to be really important.”
Because students – particularly those interested in advanced technology or healthcare careers – need to build a strong foundation in science early in their education, Dr. McCauley expresses concern about society’s disinterest in (and sometimes disrespect for) the subject.
“Science is surprisingly more fragile, I think, than most citizens realize,” he says.
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. McCauley – professor of philosophy, psychology, religion and anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta and founding director of Emory’s Center for Mind, Brain and Culture – when he visited Pennsylvania College of Technology in 2017. Portions of that interview appear Working Class: Helping & Healing, a new episode in the award-winning documentary series scheduled for release this winter.
“Science is surprisingly more fragile … than most citizens realize.”
Dr. McCauley believes science “crucially depends upon a sound system of education throughout the society. Not everyone is going to be a scientist. Not everyone is going to be a technologist. But we don’t know who they are from the outset and, moreover, it seems to me in a democratic system it’s vitally important that all of our citizens gain a solid education and become literate citizens.”
In Working Class: Helping & Healing, Dr. McCauley describes how own his sixth grade teacher – with whom he reconnected just a few years ago – bestowed upon him a lifelong love of learning. I would like to share that story with you and encourage you to watch the film when it premieres this winter.
“New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2016, was the 100th birthday of Florence Karnofski … certainly throughout all of my basic public education there was no teacher who had any remotely as close an influence on me as she did. She encouraged me in all the interests that I had – in philosophical interest and mathematical interest and historical interest and literary interest – and I find it astonishing, really, when I look back on this, that quite literally it is the case that there are things that I learned in sixth grade that I can still explicitly remember that have had an impact on my professional life. That’s really a pretty extraordinary accomplishment. I actually started assembling a list of all the things that I thought Florence Karnofski was responsible for me knowing about and the list is three single-spaced pages of items that I can still, as I said, explicitly recall.”
He noted that social science research has revealed this type of encouragement has a profound effect on student success.
“The findings are that if a student has a single, even one, great teacher … they have a bounce in their income relative to people who don’t have such an experience. At an early age, in a setting where these ideas were not widespread, Florence Karnofski introduced me to the power of ideas and their abilities to change not only your life but the world.”
We all want to improve our lives through innovation. We want to live long, healthy lives. To that end, science matters, and teachers who are able to inspire student learning matter.
Useable Knowledge, a digital publication based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, encourages teachers to “portray science as acquiring skills, rather than memorizing facts. If the classroom focuses on the scientific process of discovery, more students will be engaged in the subject matter.”
We cannot lose our enthusiasm for science. Science matters. It is necessary. It is the foundation for technology, for health care, for art, music, and so much more.
Alan Lightman, a physicist, author and educator featured in a recent Working Class blog, finds the joy in science as a journey toward understanding the world and ourselves.
“Science is an intellectual journey, and to me, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey to get there,” Lightman declared in an interview published by Aegis in 2006. “It’s a way of thinking and it’s an intellectual curiosity, a desire to know how the world works, and to know what the fundamental principles of the world are, and to know our place in it.”
We all want to know our place in the world. If we can open classrooms to curiosity, students may come to believe that science and other academic subjects really do allow them to explore anything and everything that piques their interests.
ENTER YOUR STUDENTS IN K-12 WHY SCIENCE MATTERS ART CHALLENGE!
Working Class is challenging K-12 students to depict the importance of science in everyday life using any art supplies and medium they choose.
Entries in the Why Science Matters Art Challenge will be accepted via email, with a digital photo (JPEG file) of the original artwork attached. A separate email is required for each entry and must include the following information: challenge title (Why Science Matters); artist’s name; teacher/parent name and email address; grade, school (or homeschool); city and state; and entry category (Student in Grades K-Six or Student in Grades Seven-12). Please email entries and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Inspiration for the art challenge comes from Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters, which is available now for online viewing on demand through PBS and WVIA Public Media, on YouTube or the Working Class website.