I ate my wafer...


Science Education, Imprimis, and No Child Left Behind.

(This was yet another fast and dirty post written w/o spell check in class, I may need to edit it later, sorry guys.)

The current issue of Imprimis discusses science education, a topic of particular interest to me. I certainly agree with Dr. Herbold's analysis of the current sorry state of high school science and math education. Unfortunately, blaming the educational community, the unions, and unqualified teachers seems myopic to me. The problem has its roots in a public lack of respect for science, and consequentally a lack of respect for science education. Parents (and in particular, school board members) are extremely unlikely to support requiring 3-4 years of science and math because they simply do not see any reason for doing so. The American public simply does not care about a science gap, or see any reason that science and math are important. Time for an Ad Councilcampaign on the value of science, I suppose.

Quick thoughts on the rest of the article:

1.A very high percentage of those with a degree in the hard sciences are completely unfit to become high school instructors.

2.The NEA actually has a very strong stance on requiring high school science, the last I checked, they supported, at least via published articles, even more science and math than the National Commission on Excellence.

3.Any educator that is truly a great, or even decent, teacher is more than qualified and capable to teach several subjects, at the high school level, that they do not have a major or a minor in. The best teachers I've had were not "qualified" from Mr. Herbold's perspective to teach all of their classes.

4. Money is tight, the number of school districts that could pay a teach $100,000 a year is quite small. Actually, given the rather unfunded mandate nature of the NCLB act, the big question this article doesn't answer is where the money comes from.

5.It is insanely difficult to determine which science instructors are good, bad, and mediocre. Managing a school is not like managing a tech. Firm where one can reward for patents, market successes, etc. Rewarding teachers based on the % of students that pass a proficiency test tends to promote “teaching to the test”, which is the absolutely worst way to excite students about science.

6.I certainly find the platitudes about the No Child Left Behind act predictable, but less irritating than most current Imprimis articles. I find it amusing that the education department has been flexing the supposed rigid criteria of the act.

Ironically, the lack of motivation to properly teach science extends to Hillsdale College itself where the ridiculously broad and superficial Science 101 class is considered more than adequate, while student knowledge of the U.S. Constitution will require an entire class. During my senior dinner at Dr. Arrn's house, I suggested that requiring Chemistry 101/Physics 101 of all students, not just the honors program would be a positive change. Dr. Arrn first expressed great surprise that I would argue for expanding a program that I did not major it, then expressed his concern that Science 101 should be modified to eliminate or reduce lab sections in favor of spending more time discussing how science integrates with the rest of the core curriculum. He went as far as to suggest that instead of science 101, we should change to “Science in the Western Tradition.” Sorry Larry, but teaching scientific method REQUIRES lab time, otherwise, you're teaching a boring HISTORY of science, not science. Not to mention that making science 101 remedial, and Chemistry 101/Physics 101 required raises the bar on incoming students. I told Dr. Arrn that I believed that his “Science in the Western Tradition” plan made as much sense as teaching foreign languages without speaking exercises, and instead devoting a great deal of time to the integration of how, for example, the French language evolved in response to historical events, and was part of the western tradition.


  • Well-stated. What science requirements would you precisely require? I would suggest Chem 101, Bio 200, and Phy 101 if you haven't tested out of Calc, Phy 201 if you have. Up-ing the standards indeed.

    By Blogger Hillsdale College Alumnus, at 1:09 PM  

  • Sounds about right to me...Physics 101 and Chem 101 for everyone. I would consider reworking Bio 102 a little and keeping it, but Bio 200 would be a fine idea too.

    Just as there are intro level math classes for those who didn't do particularly well on the ACT and test out, I would let people with light high school science backrounds opt to take something like Science 101 IN ADDITION to Chemistry 101/Physics 102 as a gentle introduction.

    I would require Physics 201 for all B.S. degrees, at a very minimum for all the hard science degrees, I don't understand the logic of letting Bio majors take the 101-102 sequence instead, they used to (in the 1970's, take Calc. based physics.

    I would be fine with requiring Math 213 (I think its 213, whatever Calc I is) for every student, but that seems less important than raising the bar from one semester of Science 101 to 2 full semesters of trig-level chemistry and physics.

    I honestly think a big part of why high school students take little science and math is that colleges require little. Besides the general benifit of churning out well rounded, science educated students, Hillsdale could set a good example by basically rewarding a strong high school science backround. (If one has taken any high physics, Physics 101 is cake, if one has two year of high school chemistry, they can basically do Chem 101 in their sleep). (This is how I cast it in my argument with Arnn...that it could be part of boosting our reputation.)

    Personally, I think that Arrn thinks that Liberal Arts=Trivium, and honestly has little use for the hard sciences and math (really just a modern Quadrivium) because they are not related to politics, and his personal facination with Lincoln/Churchhill/Reagan. As I pointed out in the post, the fact that Arrn was suprised that I was advocating expansion of the chemistry requirement because it was not one of my concentrations is not exactly a good sign about his ability to lead a liberal arts school.

    By Blogger Bob, at 2:35 PM  

  • another 10 points for bob.

    I did do the chem 101 and the bio 102 thing... but I really wish I had been required to take some math. in retrospect, I probably would have enjoyed it.

    By Blogger Krupa, at 9:15 AM  

  • Yeah, can't really complain about anything you said, Bob. No reason why everyone shouldn't have that level of science education coming out of a liberal arts college. Though, I would also like to see more integration of science with other disciplines. And the idea of a "Science in the Western Tradition" course make me drool--though, really, that's also a sad commentary on how history of science isn't being taught as part of the Western Heritage sequence. That would be another nice curriculum change.

    By Blogger David Talcott, at 9:50 AM  

  • It probably depends on the professor, but I thought the history 200 sequence was pretty fair on history of science issues, and might be a model for some slight corrections to 104/105. Then again, I don't really see why there is both the 104/105 and 201/202 sequences...I found 201/202 less academically demanding.

    I'm wary of attempts to intergrate lower level hard science courses closely with other fields, but I suppose there is some room to talk there. I tend to fall back on my example of teaching languages, where the sheer amount of material and difficulty pretty much eliminates attempts to discuss context in the western tradition.

    By Blogger Bob, at 10:22 AM  

  • Bob: Wasn't I at that dinner arguing against Arnn with you? I seem to remember it was you and me against him (and I think we made a pretty darn good case).


    By Blogger S.F., at 10:24 AM  

  • Yes, you were, and I would guess that Arrn was less than thrilled with whoever handles scheduling students after the first hour or so. I wish I could remember completely more details of the conversation, as I recall he got worked over on the lack of emphasize on publishable paper (in both science and the humanities), and for various things in the English department. Do you remember more of that? Did we talk about the consitution class? The Collegian?

    As I recall you and I were seated on next to him at the head of the table, and he started the evening conversation by going around the table with "tell me one thing Hillsdale should change to become the best liberal arts college in the nation?" Since we were next to him, he got into several very hot arguments immediately and spent ~80% of his time talking to us.

    By Blogger Bob, at 1:09 PM  

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