Thursday, November 11, 2010

Change the Way We Teach Science

I have already written a post on the need to increase scientific literacy in the U.S. and the world.  I would like to briefly point out another reason for the unpopularity of science.

Our current level of scientific knowledge, useful though it is, doesn't begin to explain enough about the universe to satisfy human curiosity.  In a perverse way, scientific advancements are responsible for this by raising more questions than science has had time to answer.

I was always frustrated as a student by the way most of the science I studied seemed to be merely descriptive of physical properties rather than explanatory in a satisfying way.

Why was this my impression of science?  Because of the "just take notes and memorize the facts" approach to education.  I mentioned this in my post on religion and intelligence.  This method of teaching is best suited for students who are authoritarian, hard working, and not very curious or thoughtful.

For brighter students, however, the unanswered questions are themselves the key to teaching what science does already know.  Those questions engage the mind of the more intelligent the way a ball of yarn engages the mind of a kitten.  A teacher who gets those kids to wonder about the mysteries will motivate them far more than grades.

The amount of motivation given to students through a grading system is directly linked to the inherent competitiveness of the individual students.  Competitiveness is most definitely not the same thing as intelligence.  In fact, in my experience there is something of a negative correlation between the two.

Why?  Because competitiveness is linked to the ego and those who feel just slightly insecure about their performance are the ones most motivated by it.  The very bright students usually don't feel that insecurity with regard to intellectual matters.

What type of person is most likely to feel insecure and therefore competitive?  The same type of person who is too insecure about his or her intellect to ever dare have a thought that isn't in line with what the majority thinks:  the religious.

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