The right way to get kids excited about science, math


August 11, 2008|By Paul Spause

The U.S. government does not have the authority to dictate what a student studies. Any federal education law that dictates curricula, no matter what its intent, will have the double dishonor of being unconstitutional and a failure. Problems with math and science education are neither a lack of availability nor a lack of requirement; local school districts require more math and science education in earlier grades than ever before.

Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins of Breakthrough Generation wrote on this page recently that a federal National Energy Education Act is needed to promote education in math and science to modernize our energy infrastructure. This proposal illustrates the modern problem: lack of excitement on the part of American youths for the study of math and the physical sciences.

There is something wrong in the modern education system when bright children learn to hate math and science. When I was a youth, every year or two there was a news article about a teenager designing an implosion atomic bomb for a science fair and publishing the plans (this was way before the Internet); today, many science fair projects relate to the information sciences or environmental sciences. Much of this can be attributed to encouragement from the instructional staff. Students are essentially taught that nuclear, radiation and petroleum are bad words; there is no encouragement to delve into atomic and nuclear sciences, or to exploit natural resources for the benefit of society.

There is a problem in education, and educators must first admit they need help before it can be resolved. The key to revitalization of math and physical science education is feedback from industry and professional groups to education professionals of where they are missing the mark. Until math instructors teach how an engineer or scientist solves a word problem and science instructors teach about the messy sciences of high-volume energy production, we will continue to struggle with fielding technically savvy students who are excited to become scientists, engineers, and informed citizens.

Government edicts will not excite a new crop of scientists and engineers. Only by immersing them in the complexities and necessities facing society can the next generation of technical students be inspired to want to develop inherently safe designs or multiply redundant backup systems, and to consider the public risk posed by any and all energy generation technologies - from offshore oil drilling to production of solar cells.


Paul Spause is an aerospace engineer from Hanover

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