Well into her second year, Ms. Fredericks felt her worst nightmare was coming true. She was becoming one of those science teachers who taught her students only two things: that they didn’t like science and that they weren’t any good at it.
Science has become a cornerstone of 21st-century education. This is evident in the provision that the No Child Left Behind Act calls for assessments in science, along with reading and mathematics, starting in the 2007-2008 school year. Apart from the law, there are many other reasons why it is important to teach science well in schools.
Science is a powerful enterprise that can improve people’s lives in fundamental ways. Teams of scientists participate in developing treatments for diseases, technologies for distributing clean water in arid environments, building systems for enhancing national security, and building computer models that help track the impact of human behavior on the environment. These issues, and many others of equal importance, will continue to require attention now and far into the future. Generating scientific productivity requires a workforce, not only of scientists, engineers, medical and health care professionals, but also of journalists, teachers, policy makers, and the broader network of people who make critical contributions to science and the scientific enterprise. It is imperative that we teach science well to all children, as science is a critical factor in maintaining and improving the quality of life.
Science can also provide a foundation for continued science learning, as well as for the study of other academic subjects. Students who learn to talk with peers in scientific ways, for example, tracing logical connections among ideas and evidence and criticizing ideas constructively, may employ those skills in other subject areas.
Science is important for another, often overlooked reason. To the degree that we actually know science, we have knowledge and strategies with which to examine evidence systematically, interpret, and control our surroundings. Knowledge of science can enable us to think critically and frame productive questions. Without scientific knowledge, we are wholly dependent on others as “experts.” With scientific knowledge, we are empowered to become participants rather than merely observers. Science, in this sense, is more than a means for getting ahead in the world of work. It is a resource for becoming a critical and engaged citizen in a democracy.