You really do.
Two items about science caught my eye recently, one awe inspiring, one depressing.
First, astronomers have recently concluded that there is a black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. After 16 years of study tracking 28 different stars near the center of the galaxy, they have found evidence, “beyond a reasonable doubt”, that all of the stars circling the Milky Way surround a black hole that has the central mass concentration of four million solar masses. If I truly understand the term “solar”, that means there is a black hole with the mass of four million suns at the center of the galaxy.
Pretty cool, eh? Wrap you head around that concept. The sun is actually 109 times larger than the earth, which means, if I did my math correctly (not a foregone conclusion, because comparing diameters to mass concentration is problematic) this black hole would equal the mass of 436 million planets the size of Earth. And it’s only 27,000 light years away!
Now for the depressing news.
In my state, nearly two-thirds of all 11th grade students recently failed the state’s science test for students at that level.
The state’s science test was given in the spring to students in grades four, eight and 11. Younger students did better than their older peers, with 82 percent of fourth-graders and 53 percent of eighth-graders scoring at grade level.
I’m not sure what to make of this statistic. Apparently, students in the earlier grades seem to be on course to finish out with a good science background, yet as they advance through the grades, their science abilities seem to degenerate.
Here’s another result that should cause some worry. In a broader survey of school students, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study indicated that:
Among eighth-grade students, nine countries had better averages in science than did the United States. The study also showed that U.S. students’ performance in science essentially has been stagnant since 1995.
American technology and industry is built on the backs of our science programs. Yet increasingly, more and more of the top students in science and math come from other countries, who attend our schools, then take their knowledge back to their own counties. Places like India, China and South Korea. I’ve written about this in the past.
There is a pervasive sense of anti-intellectualism in this country, that makes the sciences and math unattractive to our students. I believe this is fueled by the religiosity of many Americans, especially among the fundamentalists, who find a conflict between their religion as encapsulated in their bible, and science, leading them to reject science as unimportant. The recent drives in many states to infuse creationism (Intelligent Design) into school curriculums is just one sorry example of this.
With this local study, albeit statewide, we should wake up to the reality that the next generations will be wholly unprepared to meet the challenges of the real world.