The recent public debate has highlighted how different groups of Americans perceive science and how they trust it (or don’t trust it) to make important decisions about their lives and the lives of those around them. Issues that have now become largely political, such as climate change, contraception, evolution and the conservation of natural resources have highlighted the terrifying fact that large numbers of Americans are not fully acquainted with the basic consensus the scientific community has reached over these issues. What’s more, large tracts of the population seem to not be familiar with the basics of how science works. The fact that evolution is being called into question for being just a “theory” or the idea that climate change scientists would make up climate change in order to earn a living are both equally ridiculous and symptomatic of a nation who is struggling to teach science the way its citizens deserve. Scientific literacy is as much of a right as plain literacy ad the ability to perform basic arithmetic – it is indispensable to understand and competently navigate modern life and every high school graduate should be afforded the basic told they need to understand how science works and how it affects their lives. Moreover, scientific literacy affords protection from pseudo-scientific remedy peddlers who pray on the fears of the sick and the ill-informed.
One of the key issues hen talking of scientific literacy within the United States is that each State is allowed to set its own benchmarks for teaching science in schools. This leads to an awful amount of disparity between students who receive their education within different states. A recent investigation by the Fordham Institute has revealed that 26 states out of the total 50 deserved a D or F grade when it comes to how science is taught in schools, with many of them being so heavily influenced by the personal opinions of the elected officials involved in the process of setting educational standards that they barely deserved to be graded at all.
The overall scoring led to a map that is all but surprising, with wealthier states achieving higher grades and poorer, less developed areas performing less well. It is also not entirely surprising that the results of the last presidential election seem to somehow be aligned with the map above, even though there are several higher-grade states who voted republican such as Texas and Mississippi and lower-grade states who have voted democrat, such as Maine and New Hampshire. political considerations aside, the take-home message of the Fordham report is that the state of scientific education in the US is certainly troubling. on the bright side, much has been done over the last few years to develop more effective strategies to improve scientific literacy across the country. The future of science, and in many ways of the country, rests on these types of initiatives and ultimately on science teachers all over the country.