Thousands of intermediate grade elementary school students will be at the Capitol building on May 19 for “State Scientist Day.” The event is sponsored by the California Association of Professional Scientists, a group that one assumes knows a thing or two about science. The kids who attend this event, however, will probably still only know literally a thing or two about science when it is over, as some of the topics covered are “Fishing in the City” and “Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.”
I’m stretching a bit, as the other topics on State Scientist Day agenda do sound like hard science — chemistry, wildlife tracking and earthquakes for example. This event is my hook into discussing something I’ve been bugged by lately: the sorry state of science education in California.
My daughter attends an acclaimed public school in the Sac City Unified school district, a school praised for its high scores. However, as it turns out, students in the intermediate grades at this school have performed poorly in science in the past, showing up at middle school unprepared for the curriculum. I was shocked to find out that there was no annual science fair. Instead, they have “Science Night,” with various hands-on “science-y” exhibits manned by parent volunteers, which means they can’t explain anything or answer any of the kids questions beyond “what do you got here?” The bright spot at Science Night was a pop-a-shot robot built by St. Francis High School students (the Fembots) for the FIRST competition (I believe).
I know it sounds like I’m veering into political/religious territory, and this is sounding like a rant about how annoying it is to be told to recycle, but if you think about it, the topic of science is directly opposed to politics. What I’m annoyed by is that science is becoming increasingly watered down. It’s a problem when the catchphrase most related to science is not “E=m c squared” but “Reduce~Reuse~Recycle” or “Replace your bulbs with CFL.” Our world’s environmental problems will be helped by everybody changing their habits, sure, but the scientific problems underlying this need won’t be solved that way.
The science curriculum or lack thereof at my daughter’s school is indicative of public education all over this state. Our kids need to learn the scientific method and need to develop critical and inquisitive minds. Appropriate use of physical resources is not antithetical to science, but it’s not what kids need to learn about science in school. I worry about what it will mean when our country’s scientific community is composed primarily of children whose scientific education consisted of carnival optical illusion games and trips to organic farms.
What do you think? My kids are still in the elementary grades, so I don’t have any experience with 3rd-5th grade science. Is science education lacking in Sacramento or is it just me?