Three years ago, I posted about some disturbing trends in UK science education:
Instead of learning science, pupils will “learn about the way science and scientists work within society”. They will “develop their ability to relate their understanding of science to their own and others’ decisions about lifestyles”, the QCA said. They will be taught to consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the “social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions”.
They will learn to “question scientific information or ideas” and be taught that “uncertainties in scientific knowledge and ideas change over time”, and “there are some questions that science cannot answer, and some that science cannot address”. Science content of the curriculum will be kept “lite”. Under “energy and electricity”, pupils will be taught that “energy transfers can be measured and their efficiency calculated, which is important in considering the economic costs and environmental effects of energy use”. (The above is from John Clare’s article in the Telegraph.)
A couple of days ago, the Telegraph had an article about the Government’s new national science test and the unbelievably simplistic questions it contains. For example:
In a multiple choice question, teenagers were asked why electric wires are made from copper. The four possible answers were that copper was brown, was not magnetic, conducted electricity, or that it conducted heat.
This question can of course be answered without knowing anything at all about either electricity or copper. Demonstration:
Why is unobtanium used to summon the Gostak?
1)Unobtainum is purple
2)Unobtanium is not magnetic
3)The Gostak has a strong affinity for unobtainum
4)Unobtanium is attractive to gnomes
It’s pretty clear that the desired answer is (3), even if you don’t know what unobtainium is or what (who?) the Gostak might be. The question on the U.K. “science test” might be a test of the ability to read and perform very simple logic; it has nothing to do with the measurement of scientific knowledge or the understanding of scientific methods.
In my 2005 post, I wrote:
At least in the U.S., the vastly-increased spending on education over recent decades has been driven in large part by the conviction that we are living in a more scientific and technological society, and that schools must provide students with appropriate knowledge in order for them to be able to succeed in the job market and to fulfill their roles as citizens. I feel fairly sure that the same kind of reasoning has been used to justify educational expenditures in the U.K. So, the schools have taken the money on pretext, and are now failing to perform the duty that should go with it.
Melanie Phillips, in her post criticizing the new U.K science program, said “The reason given for the change to the science curriculum is to make science ‘relevant to the 21st century’. This is in accordance with the government’s doctrine of ‘personalised learning’, which means that everything that is taught must be ‘relevant’ to the individual child.” To which I responded in my post:
“There are so many things wrong (with the U.K.’s new approach to science education) that it’s difficult to know where to start. First of all: it’s a natural human characteristic to be curious about the universe you live in. Schools should encourage this curiosity, not smother it in the name of a fake “relevance.”
In A Preface to Paradise Lost, C S Lewis contrasts the characters of Adam and Satan, as developed in Milton’s work:
Adam talks about God, the Forbidden tree, sleep, the difference between beast and man, his plans for the morrow, the stars and the angels. He discusses dreams and clouds, the sun, the moon, and the planets, the winds and the birds. He relates his own creation and celebrates the beauty and majesty of Eve…Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests Satan. And that “one thing” is, of course, Satan himself…his position and the wrongs he believes have been done to him. Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament…
One need not believe in a literal Satan, or for that matter be religious at all, to see the force of this. There is indeed something Satanic about a person who has no interests other than themselves. And by insisting that everything be “relevant” and discouraging the development of broader interests, the educational authorities in Britain are doing great harm to the children put in their charge.