Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Let's take a cue from Professor Edwards and the Flint water crisis

The Water Next Time: Professor Who Helped Expose Crisis in Flint Says Public Science Is Broken - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Flint water crisis isn't the first man-made or natural disaster we've had to respond to but it is one of those unusual eye-opening events that elevates the underlying problem in plain view: we have a substantial problem in this country (in this world) adequately maintaining our natural resources and providing a healthy environment for everyone, regardless of levels of affluence.

As this interview with Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech points out, we have a national problem with science in general. I'm simplifying what he actually talks about so I encourage you to read the entire article and then come back to hear what else I have to say.

Politics aside (because I think this country also lacks a strong, ethical political system focused on the public good), we have a big need to strengthen our science programs beginning in the K-12 system and before any lame-brain ed-reformist gets ideas, I'm not talking about making curriculum standards tougher and testing kids more. Our science education programs should be place-based learning experiences where kids are exposed to the current, real-world problems and asked to help solve them. Not more memorization of easily retrievable facts and figures (I avoided a science minor in college to go along with my math major because I hated memorizing the periodic table of elements in high school - HATED IT), but hands on work in the community to analyze problems, develop hypothesis, design experiments, collect and analyze samples, design blind tests, synthesize data, and develop possible solutions. At a minimum, this rigorous and relevant learning should begin at the 5th grade but should be on steroids by the time kids reach their high school years.

Other content areas should join in wherever it is obvious that science is not separate from language arts, math, civics, health and physical education. In fact, the best schools would make it difficult to determine where one ends and the other starts. You wouldn't be able to find the "English classroom" simply by walking the halls and seeing a sign. The core classes would blend into a rainbow of real life.

So if we want to help solve a growing litany of mostly man-made problems, and at the same time convert our factory-model schools into laboratories of relevant learning, let's take a cue from Professor Edwards and the Flint water crisis.

And let's stop talking about it and start now. In every school.