U.S. science and math education ranked 48th

A lot of Americans are hostile towards science. With political parties like the Republicans and Teabaggers, it isn’t any surprise. (Of course, the Republicans are a contributor to the hostility; the Teabaggers are a result.) But at the root of these ugly movements is, naturally, religion. It’s fair to place a lot of the blame on religion because, for starters, it teaches that faith is a virtue. Of course, faith most certainly isn’t a virtue and it has only been made into one by the religious out of necessity, but the idea that it’s good to believe without evidence is ingrained into many American minds via religious rhetoric.

We’ve always been a religious nation, but there were times when we managed to lead in science and math. We can attribute a lot of that to economic superiority or importing scientists from elsewhere or, especially during the Cold War, nationalism. But I think we can also attribute a lot of it to the fact that historically it hasn’t been obvious to a great many people that there is a deep conflict between science and religion. Without people being widely aware that God is not only not evident but also not needed for the Universe and for life, there’s little reason to view science with any great hostility. Unfortunately, while science has been the tool man has used to make the greatest achievements ever seen on Earth, it has also revealed that a lot of people are just plain stubborn. People will favor their long-held beliefs over accepting a conflicting fact from science. (In fact, it’s 64% that will do that in America.) That’s why we have religion to blame for results like these.

Stagnant scientific education imperils U.S. economic leadership, says a report by leading business and science figures.

Released Thursday at a congressional briefing attended by senators and congressmen of both parties, the report updates a 2005 science education report that led to moves to double federal research funding.

Nevertheless, the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” review finds little improvement in U.S. elementary and secondary technical education since then.

“Our nation’s outlook has worsened,” concludes the report panel headed by former Lockheed Martin chief Norman Augustine. The report “paints a daunting outlook for America if it were to continue on the perilous path it has been following”:

•U.S. mathematics and science K-12 education ranks 48th worldwide.

•49% of U.S. adults don’t know how long it takes for the Earth to circle the sun.

•China has replaced the United States as the world’s top high-technology exporter.

One of the most interesting facts in the research, though a bit of an outdated one, is that in 1999, 69% of 5-8th graders received instruction in the physical sciences from teachers lacking a major or certification in any physical science. It makes me wonder how many high school students are also receiving their education from un- or low-qualified teachers. We know they’re out there (which is one reason D.C. fired a bunch of them recently), but I’m not sure on the stats. I think there would be interesting implications for Paul LePage’s plan to give away degrees.