Anton Aylward

Dumbing Down Science Education

The BBC is not normally a hotbed of high standards, but it offers this report on the dumbing down of science education in the UK: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6038638.stm

The new GCSE science curriculum has been branded “sound bite science” which takes a back-to-front approach.
Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College London, is among the scientists to attack the core qualification, in which pupils discuss topical issues. Sir Richard told BBC News: “If you wish to have a dumbed-down syllabus for the general population that’s fine.

The article goes on to quote Ethicist Baroness Mary Warnock:

“What counts as an issue to be debated in class is largely, as David Perks points out, dictated by the press.
Far too much teaching at school has already degenerated into this kind of debate, more suitable for the pub than the school room.”

So it would seem that in the UK science is being discarded as Latin and Greek and the grammatical analysis and critical thinking that went along with them is being discarded.

Why?

The reason is both subtle and obvious. The obvious one is an effect that has perniciously infiltrated much of Western society – obsessive liberalism and a misunderstanding of what democracy means. Like a science-fiction world gone mad we are confusing “democracy” with a lowest common denominator form of socialism where its not OK to be smart and outstanding. Lucky, yes, but to work hard and apply yourself and achieve success that way is “un-democratic”.

We can see this in schools where it is no longer permissible for students to get a failing grade – it would hurt their self esteem! Very different from my school days when succeeding against fierce competition did wonders for your self esteem and falling back was an incentive to try harder.

But the “subtle” is more so. Like so many things it is not “just one thing” – it is many factors acting towards social control. I mention some of them in my posting about John Gatto and the education system. Lets face it, intellectuals, people with a tight focus on ideas, especially in science and engineering, are disruptive influences on society.

One of the themes I hope to explore in this blog is how technic civilization arose when it did. Its clear that the “Pristine States” — as social anthropologists call them — The Nile valley, The Indus Valley and the Yellow River valley, were very dependent on a stable society. So too was much of the mediaeval western world although for different reasons. In many ways, the Industrial Revolution succeeded because there was the foundations of mercantile and commerce to make use of it. But why so in western Europe and in England in particular, and not in the very mercantile world to the east?

Perhaps because of another aspect of anti-intellectualism. England of that time was faced with an aristocracy and privilidged class that were loosing their basis of wealth. While science and engineering – getting one’s hands dirty – may have been declasse, it was acceptable to employ such people to come up with methods for pumping water out of one’s mines or harvesting one’s fields more cheaply. Even then, the height of the the Industrial Revolution, the English Speaking World “dumbed down” and compartmentalized science and engineering.

Engineer = Geek” ?

I find it interesting that the social connotation of “Engineer” in English is that of a lower class worker, a “grease monkey”, some who drives the train. I’m told that in other cultures “Engineer” is a highly respected profession and even a protected title – you can’t call yourself an “Engineer” unless you have an engineering degree and are a member of the appropriate professional society.

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