the u.s. education system and my daughter’s chances of becoming an astronaut

Professor Michael Shayer, at King’s College in England, announced yesterday that, according to his research findings, the brightest 14 year olds today have roughly the same cognitive ability as their 12 year old counterparts had in 1976. The professor suggests that the change may be attributable to “over-testing” in schools. According to Shayer, “The moment you introduce targets, people will find the most economical strategies to achieve them.” And apparently, at least in his opinion, that doesn’t make students more able to demonstrate a “higher level of thinking,” such as that required to comprehend abstract scientific concepts.

As schools, and teachers themselves, at least here in the United States, are increasingly judged and rewarded based upon the standardized test scores of their students, it’s not surprising that the majority of classroom time would be spent not examining abstract concepts, but, instead, “teaching to the tests.” And, in that type of environment, where so much emphasis is put on bringing everyone to the same baseline, it’s not completely surprising that the minds of more gifted students, like these 14 year olds in England, would wither a bit. I don’t know if Shayer is correct in his analysis, but I think it certainly warrants discussion.

Here in the United States, our problems go a bit deeper than just the teaching to the test that has gained such dominance in the era of No Child Left Behind. We also have a culture war to contend with that often pits religion against education. The most recent battle is being fought in Texas, where a panel has been convened to assess the state’s K-12 science curriculum. Three of the six seats on the panel will be filled not by scientists, or educators, but by creationists. One of these is Stephen C. Meyer, a founder of the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based advocacy group dedicated to pursuing what they call the Wedge strategy, which has as it’s central goal to “reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

It’s also worth noting that, in addition to championing young earth creationism, Meyer, and possibly other members of this panel, believe in “abstinence only” education, like that practiced so successfully by Bristol Palin and the girls of Ohio’s Timken High.

Having a young daughter about to enter school, I, of course, am concerned. Like most parents, I want her to be bright and develop critical thinking skills. I want her to learn that the earth is several million years old, and that sperm, which often comes out of a man’s penis during intercourse, is what brings babies about. I want her to understand the AIDS virus and how it’s spread. Basically, I want her to leave school prepared to be an adult and make adult decisions.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, kids here in Ypsilanti don’t seem to be getting the message, at least as far as AIDS and sex is concerned. According to a recent letter to the Ann Arbor News by Nicole Adelman, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan, “57 percent of this county’s new HIV cases among 15-29 year olds are in Ypsilanti (and) (l)ast year, 16 of the 28 new HIV cases among teens and young adults were in Ypsilanti.” Given this, and that fact that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that one in four teenage girls in the United States has a sexually transmitted disease, it’s hard to imagine that there would be any controversy, but yet it does.

I want my daughter to be an astronaut. Or at least I want her to have that option. I hope this doesn’t make me sound like too much of a pessimist, but one day we’re going to have to leave this planet of ours, and, it makes me sad to say it, but they aren’t likely to have seats available for regular office workers like you and me, let alone bloggers and artists. (I know this post has taken a lot of weird turns, and I’m sorry about that, but that’s how my mind is working tonight.) My point is that I want my daughter to at least have the opportunity to become a scientist, and I don’t see that happening in a dumbed-down America where we tell our kids that the world is only 6,000 years old and that humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and keep them from information about penises and vaginas that could save their lives. It’s absolute insanity.

There is good news, though. A solar system has been identified that could contain a planet capable of supporting human life… All I have to do now is raise a brilliant daughter outside the influence of creationists and Hannah Montana who, in addition to knowing physics and molecular biology, is also fluent in Hindi and/or Mandarin. Because, as we all know, our manned space program here in the U.S. is going to the way of the polar bear.

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  1. Paw
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I’m raising my son to be a survivor here on earth. He sleeps outside in a shelter that he built himself. I’ve been having him fight other neighborhood kids since he was two. At four he knows how to handle a gun and carry a razor blade in his cheek. He’s a bad mother fucker. Snake Pliskin ain’t gonna have anything on him.

  2. Jenny
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    You should join the Ypsilanti Reproductive Education Advisory Board, it is currently looking to recruit more parents!

  3. Curt Waugh
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Mark, please for the luvogod, teach your daughter that Earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.

    Don’t count out U.S. space exploration so quickly. This stuff is going private apace. We might not be scientists finding new worlds, but a vacation out there doesn’t sound too bad.

  4. Brackache
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    What does space have to offer us?


    Billions of different ways to die that are very pretty to look at from the comfort of our atmosphere.

    Fuck space.

  5. egpenet
    Posted October 29, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    What we are seeeing in the news from Wall Street to Washington is the direct result of dumbing down our educational system, public and private. Rather than having a system where “No Child is Left Unchallenged”, we have a system that promotes the lowest common denominator with “No Child Left Behind.” And adding insult to injury, it’s MANDATORY, but it’s underfunded. How appropriate.

  6. Posted October 30, 2008 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    Your in luck Mark. Increasingly, those professional astronauts are going to be displaced by paying customers. For a million bucks NASA will let you bump some qualified person and ride in their place. You have to do a bunch of stupid experiments the whole time you’re up there, but it still beats having to go through all that science and military training.

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