Miscellaneous Musings on Science Education

In a word, I think science education should be rational. I think that one of the primary goals of formal education should be to teach children how to speak, write, and think clearly. And science is supposed to be the shining example of the power of thinking in human civilization — of the power of intelligent inquiry, evidence, and reason in human life on earth. Children should be taught science not only as a way of making them aware of how the world works, but just as importantly as a way of making them aware of how thinking works, and the great power that you gain by thinking well. Science education should help children learn how to think in an orderly way, starting from obvious clues or “evidence,” and following steps that make sense.

I don't expect that many people would disagree with this. I imagine many science educators share similar goals. But I don't think that the way most science educators are going about education is producing these results. I think children should be taught to think in the same way they are taught any other skill — by being shown how to do it, and by being coached as they practice it. Children should not be “taught” science by unsubstantiated assertions about invisible things. Children should learn science by getting to see many examples of good thinking in the discovery of scientific truths from evidence. They should see examples of how to notice interesting patterns, how to ask sensible questions, and how to go about trying to answer the questions. The historical development of science can be an enormous help here. I don't think that teachers should attempt to re-create the entire journey of discovery by which mankind rose from complete ignorance, through thousands of years of mental effort, to an understanding of the smallest atoms and the farthest galaxies. But children should at least witness the major steps of the historical journey, they should see that it was a journey, and they should see that all valid knowledge comes from observation and careful work. (And I find, to my fascination, that children often have the same questions that original scientists and scientific critics had. Rather than ignoring ancient points of view — like the theory of the four elements or of the geocentric universe — because they are now “outdated,” and we now “know better,” these questions and puzzles of early scientists should be embraced. They should be accepted as natural and plausible, and then they should be questioned. It’s fun and natural to chew things through, as long as you start from things that a child can actually see and ponder and find interesting, instead of starting from what we “now know” as given facts handed down from on high.)

This blog represents my own outlet for writing about miscellaneous topics. The articles below contain a few miscellaneous thoughts of my own, mostly on the nature of science education and on how we should be teaching science.