A recent feature in Science Magazine (21 Oct 2016) offers “Science lessons for the next president.” As I read the article I realized that these lessons exemplify the reason that all citizens need to be scientifically literate.
While by no means comprehensive, the article covers the range of science-based issues that the next president will face. Science was not an issue during the recent presidential campaign and I fear that the voice of science will be sadly silent—or at best muted—in the days ahead with the new Administration. But our next president will not decide these issues alone; Congress will weigh in on every issue and the public needs to be able to voice its concerns.
While recently released NAEP Science scores tell us our 4th and 8th graders are improving in science, the results also indicate that 40 percent of 12th-grade students perform below the “Basic” level and only 22 percent are “Proficient.” Clearly we need to increase student achievement at this grade level. Critical to this effort is to find a way to help older students (and their parents) understand the significance of science-based issues.
“Science lessons for the next president” tells the story of these issues in a focused and easy to follow format: What the Science Says, Why it Matters, and Pending Policy Issues. Consider the topics:
- Evolution promises unpleasant surprises – Pathogens change faster than our defenses
- The genome-editing revolution beckons – CRISPR raises tough ethical issues
- Seas are rising sooner than you think – Regional variation means Atlantic shorelines are already at risk
- Brain health should be top of mind – The personal and budgetary costs of Alzheimer’s disease and other maladies are immense
- Machines are getting much, much smarter – Advance in artificial intelligence carry promise and peril
- We aren’t so great at assessing risk – Gut instinct can lead to poor policy
For each issue, the writers present a clear, easily understood example of why science matters and why everyone has a stake in understanding it. Evolution, climate change, and computer science are especially prominent. When our students ask, “Why do I have to learn this? I am never going to use it,” invite them to read this article and take it home to their parents as well. They need to understand that, in a democracy, as we speak to our elected leaders, the voice for science has to come from citizens as well as from scientists. That voice will become loud and clear when we all have learned our “science” lessons.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.