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Teach Dick, Jane to Reason

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It's not just math and science this nation of Nobelists and techies is shirking. Logical thinking suffers.

NO, not again! Ever since the Russians shocked the United States by zooming first into space in 1957, Americans have been promising to improve math and science education.

Promising and promising. First, new math. Then, new physics (a k a PSSC). And, four decades later, a rather unrigorous set of new standards for teaching science.

Last year, as part of the latest reexamination of where the US stands in comparison with other nations, American parents learned that at the 4th grade level students were doing quite well, thank you. But, by the time they took comparative exams at the 8th grade level, they had begun to lag. Now, the rest of that study involving more than 40 nations shows that at the 12th grade level even advanced students trailed significantly behind their peers in other lands. And the tests didn't include sci/math powerhouses in Asia. Even in Europe it wasn't just whiz Scandinavians and Swiss out ahead, but Cypriots and Lithuanians.

As Michigan State University's William Schmidt, coordinator of the US testing, ruefully concluded: "Our best students in mathematics and science are simply not world-class."

Why sci/math matters

Alfred E. Newman's nonchalant "What, me worry?" may be the response of many Americans. Isn't the US leading the world in software, computers, telecom, space exploration, etc.? Aren't the Nobels still rolling in? Anyway, won't we keep on braindraining top scientists from India, Pacific Asia, and Europe?

The answers may be yes, yes, and yes. But not forever. And leadership in technology and research today isn't the only goal of sci/math education.

America is in danger of letting its best and brightest students (and many others) don mortarboards without rigorously learning to reason. That's a major point of learning to be at ease with the scientific method. Not all graduates are slated to become engineers, rocket scientists, and software writers. But any major nation needs business leaders, shop foremen and women, farmers, legislators, savvy consumers, and voters who think logically and critically about their professions and the issues facing family, community, and the nation.

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