Last, President Obama spoke of America’s “Sputnik moment” and vowed to hire 100,000 new science and math teachers. Nice. But he had better hurry up. Yesterday the Nation’s Report Card (National Assessment of Educational Progress) came out, and it showed terrible results: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/main2009/2011451.asp The report writers suggested some caution — the tests are different than in the past, so we cannot measure change. But we can say that just 34% of fourth graders, 30% of eighth graders, and a shocking 21% of twelfth graders — those about to be our so-called world-class, innovative, work force of the future, are “proficient” in science — in other words, this is not a test of excellence, it is a test of basic mastery. The great accomplishment of our educational system and our society is that one-fifth of those kids who reach 12th grade actually know the basics of science. Want to know the one area where 12th graders are even worse than in science?…..history. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/26/education/26test.html?ref=education.
I have been writing about this since my very first blog here two years ago. We can blame society for not funding schools well enough, we can blame NCLB and the focus on testing, we can blame the media for being more concerned (pro or con) with Skins on MTV or the latest buzz about American Idol than anything in the classroom. But anyone who reads this blog is in some way involved with kids, reading, writing, books, and, often, school. And it has to matter to us. It has to matter to create books on science and history that kids will read. It has to matter to us to reach out to teachers and half convince and half help them to use our books. It has to matter to us that, when we meet anyone involved with kids and that person says — I hate math, or History is boring, or I just love story I can’t stand facts and figures — that we make sure that person realizes that, while those may be private feelings, they are public failings. Teachers, librarians, authors — content matters. It matters that we as adults know science and history. We have to know enough to pass it along. Otherwise what we communciate to young people is that ignorance is bliss, science is for geeks, history is dull and dead — lets read another novel.
I recently met a retired college physics teacher who told me thought it was a waste of time for high school teachers to take graduate classes in science. They don’t need that, he said, they need really good undergraduate classes — they have to have a deep, secure, knowledge of the kind of science they need to share with kids. So he convinced his education school to add undergraduate science classes for graduate-level teacher-in-training. Maybe that is what we need in history — in Ed School make sure you take one really good year of US history, and one really good year of World History — so you go out into the schools with some deep, secure, knowledge. If you are motivated add more — but start from a solid base. How’s that for a plan?