The need for a scientifically sophisticated electorate and how far we are from achieving this have received enough publicity in recent years to require no further explication here. But, of the little science that most people are exposed to-and that they choose to expose themselves to-astronomy forms a surprisingly large part. People trained in astronomy also form part of the general technologically-educated manpower pool.
Formal astronomy classes have their largest impact at the non-major undergraduate level. The college and universities with astronomy (or physics and astronomy) departments had 1.2 million undergraduates in 1988; 103,300 of them were taking introductory astronomy (Ellis 1988). This means that (integrated over a 4.5- year average curriculum) 35-40 percent of the graduates of these institutions fulfill their science breadth requirements with astronomy, generally as their only exposure to physical science. Astronomers typically make up 5-10 percent of the physical science faculties at these institutions.
There is also considerable demand for astronomy at colleges with no separate department of the subject. Each year the American Astronomical Society receives more than 100 requests for visits by research astronomers to these institutions through its Shapley Program. About 90 requests can be filled. The primary purpose is to talk with classes and student groups, but most visits include a public lecture and meetings with administrators well (C.R. Tolbert, University of Virginia, personal communication 1990). Text book sales indicate that a total of 200-250,000 students per year enroll in an astronomy course (M. Zeilik, University of New Mexico, personal communication 1990).
While taking these classes, students both increase their knowledge of the specific subject and change their attitudes toward science in general. A standardized test, administered as part of the planning for Project STAR (Section II.A.2), shows that those who complete an introductory class know about as much astronomy as the average secondary school teacher. Those just starting the class do considerably less well and score at about the same level as elementary school teachers.
Attitudes toward science were probed with an anonymous questionnaire given to undergraduates at Cornell University, University of Maryland, and University of Wisconsin at the end of one-semester courses. Table 1 shows the results. More than 70 percent of the 1260 students polled reported that they thought understanding science was more important than they had at the beginning of the semester. The majority also said that they were more likely to read about science and to vote for pro-science candidates for political office. All but a few percent of the rest reported their views as unchanged (some explicitly volunteering the information that they had been fairly pro-science to begin with).
Most university departments also offer adult education and extension courses in astronomy and report (e.g., from UCLA and Harvard) that these are among the most popular and successful of their offerings.
After prolonged near-absence, astronomy is beginning to reappear in elementary and high school curricula. The 1989 National Science Foundation's (NSF) grants for astronomy education included two high school student summer programs; one each for teachers in high schools, two-year colleges, and elementary and middle schools; and three projects to develop teaching materials for middle and high schools. Many other programs are supported by schools, colleges, and research organizations. A representative sampling follows.
The Astronomical Society of the Pacific ''Universe in the Classroom" one-week summer workshop for grade 3-12 educators has had 2500 alumni over the past 12 years. The Society also provides a catalog of educational materials to about 250,000 people world-wide; and a newsletter "Universe in the Classroom" goes to 22,000 teachers, with further reproduction by school districts and planetariums and translation into five foreign languages.
The Space Telescope Science Institute (StScI) currently supplies speakers on request to school classes in its area at a rate of about one per day. Astronomers at nearly every university, lab, and observatory talk to grade and high school classes and clubs on a regular basis.