Our school district is providing H1N1 shots to any students whose parents request it. It's an easy way to build some so-called "herd immunity" in the age group most vulnerable to this particular flu strain. In fact, my 7-year old was the very first in the district to get his shot since he was lucky enough to be at the school we identified as a pilot. "Only one more shot to go!" he says.
While that's all well and good, our vaccination program, along with the entire H1N1 debacle nationwide has exposed just how little science many people really understand. This is hardly limited to our very typical community. People rely far more on Fox News than they do on a solid foundation of science education. Reactions run the spectrum from hysteria and fist fights at local clinics (fortunately nothing like that at our school-based clinics) to fear of this "unknown" vaccine.
These visceral and extreme reactions say far more about our educational system than we do about anything else. Intel released a report last week showing that showed many Americans believe that we're headed towards an also-ran status on the world stage of innovation because we lag in math and science education. China is more than happy to take the lead and yet, since their math and science education is quite rigorous already, identified creative thought and entrepreneurial skills as keys to their success. Check out my post highlighting how to add value in education with technology, especially the section on what 21st Century Skills really are.
Let's stick with the flu, shall we? How many people really know that you don't throw up with the flu, or that a "stomach flu" is a misnomer? How many people realize that H1N1 is really just a flu? How many people realize that H1N1 vaccines are prepared in the same way as we always prepare flu vaccine? How many people understand the testing and quality control or why pregnant women need to receive a shot without preservatives?
OK, enough flu talk. Let's talk about the way we teach math and science. So many of our students are taught procedure after procedure with drill after drill. How many times can we repeat a skill so that students memorize it? And the minute they memorize the skill, a problem requiring a little bit of creativity crushes them because it doesn't fall within the rote technique that they learned? Go ahead: ask a typical 6th grader to walk you through some fraction manipulation problems. Or ask them to estimate what an answer to a problem should be. Some will have no problem. Many will struggle.
We're falling behind in science and technology because too few are willing to drastically change their approaches to teaching, fund schools to hire the best and brightest (regardless of educational background), or provide serious teacher training and development to move into a new era of instruction.
It's time for a change folks. It's time for the unscience (seriously, click the link - listen to what Kirk Cameron has to say...oh boy) to end and it's time for our education in hard skills to be so fundamentally rigorous that we can focus some more on those soft skills that China is aggressively pursuing.