Monday, October 17, 2005

Faith-based reality vs. reality-based faith

As noted by Thomas Friedman in a recent New York Times column (October 14), a bipartisan committee of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine have released a report detailing America's poor showing worldwide in science and mathematics, and proposing ways to reverse our race to the bottom of the heap. The report was requested by Republican senator Lamar Alexander (TN) and Democratic senator Jeff Bingaman (NM).

Fewer American undergraduates study science and mathematics than in almost any other developed nation (about half as many as in China). American 12th-graders perform below 21 other countries in math and science testing. In 1999 only 41 percent of U.S. 8th-graders had a math teacher who had majored in mathematics at the undergraduate or graduate level or studied the subject for teacher certification -- a figure that was considerably lower than the international average of 71 percent. And so on. If the trend is not reversed, by mid-century this nation could be an economic backwater of Europe and Asia.

The National Academies make sensible and practical proposals on how to buttress teaching in math and science, and senators Alexander and Bingaman will introduce legislation based on the proposals. What the report does not address directly is the fact that America is being driven into the science education hole by a growing fundamentalist Christian political constituency with a profound antipathy to empirical science.