Summer/Fall 2007, Vol. 10, Nos. 1 & 2

Religion in the News

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Articles in Special Supplement

Contents of

Education & Secular Values:

The Congruence Between the Scientific and the Secular

Science Education and Religion: Holding the Center

The Competition of Secularism and Religion in a Science Education

Scientific Literacy in a Postmodern World

High School Students Speak Out


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A Special Supplement to Religion in the News:

High School Students Speak Out
by Ariela Keysar


A solid grounding in science is widely considered to be crucial for the next generation of American adults. Yet studies show that although students are taking more science courses than in the past—at the prodding of teachers and guidance counselors—they aren’t absorbing much. The average science score at grade 12 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test in 2005 was lower than in 1996, and showed no significant change from 2000.

To learn why, Trinity College’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) sponsored an essay contest open to students in all Connecticut high schools—public, private, and religious—whose question was: Why do so many young Americans today show little interest in science education?

The contest enabled young people, who are generally not heard from directly on issues of educational policy and practice, to offer insights into the frame of mind of their own generation. Unlike an opinion survey, the essay contest was not intended to gather a representative sample of students’ feelings about science education.

Indeed, far from being representative, the 81 students who chose to enter the essay contest were unusually enthusiastic about learning. Many asserted a strong belief in the value of science education. Nonetheless, all of them accepted the premise of the contest, which is that many young Americans show little interest in science education. In answering the question they did not mince words.

A large number placed the blame on students themselves. “[Y]outh have grown lazy and decadent, and refuse to put forth the amount of work necessary to excel in science,” one essayist wrote.

Part of the problem, according to a number of essayists, lies with American culture generally. “Today all that Americans want to do is watch some mindless TV, and play videogames, with stimulus responses every 5-10 seconds,” wrote one. “The problem with this is that it creates a society with a very short attention span.”

Several blamed their peers for taking technology for granted. Dependent as they are on cell phones, computers, and iPods, young people aren’t curious about how they work. As one student observed, “When one can connect to a virtual world with the flip of a switch, the incentive is lost to go out in the backyard and build rockets.”

But few said that students shy away from science because it conflicts with their religious beliefs. One went so far as to describe science as a way to appreciate the glory of God, writing, “Personally, I find the view science gives us of the universe as intriguing as I do because I love my God, the creator of this universe.”

A recurring theme was the difficulty of science, which was described as “complicated, confusing or intimidating.”  According to the essays, today’s students expect everything to be “fun stuff.”

Many of the high school students also criticized the way science is taught, emphasizing their desire for more learning by doing. “If there were fewer lectures and more hands-on experimentation and research where students were interactively involved, there would be an increase in science…among students,” one wrote.

Others attributed the lack of interest in science to the belief that careers in science are relatively low-paying. “What do you do with a science degree?” one asked. “There aren’t too many people in this world getting rich off the science industry.” Finally, the mass media came in for blame for not providing an appealing image of science and portraying scientists as boring “geeks.”

“Hollywood has portrayed many nerds as lovers of science,” wrote one essayist. “When most people think of a scientist, they think of a man in a white lab coat with hair that is sticking out with electricity going through it holding a beaker that contains a crazy concoction in it.  This isn’t exactly appealing.”


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