Eugene E. Garcia
In the recent movie ''Parenthood,'' Steve Martin portrays a father who agonizes over the indelible scars his actions may leave on his children. He is obsessed with the thought that a wrong move on his part during his children's early lives will wreak educational and social havoc during their adult years.
The movie rings true because so many American parents share his parental paranoia. From waiting lists at the "right" nursery schools to stores stocked with flash cards for preschoolers, many American parents are putting pressure on their young children to succeed. Parental anxiety once reserved for high school grades and SAT scores is trickling down to children in overalls. Schools, too, are placing greater emphasis on testing and tracking at an early age, labeling children as winners and losers before they even have learned their multiplication tables. Call it "academic trickle-down," which results in kindergarten stress.
Recently, at the request of the National Forum on the Future of Children and Families, I led a group of educators and scholars that examined this growing pressure on youngsters. We found that much of what is happening is misplaced and harmful. Although promoted with the best of intentions, it counters what research by psychologists, education specialists and others has shown to be the most effective techniques of teaching and evaluation.
The growing use of kindergarten screening and "school readiness" assessments provides a good example. Schools in most states now screen children prior to entering kindergarten and first grade. This may seem like a good way of protecting certain children from a situation for which they are not yet ready, but the tests present severe problems. Their validity for identifying those who are developmentally at risk is limited, at best. Recent evidence documents convincingly that between a third and a half of youngsters tested by widely used standardized measures are misclassified. Teacher-made screening tests used by many local school districts are of similarly dubious quality.
Despite this, the use of these tests is growing, with schools emphasizing drills and work sheets to help students score higher. The potential effect of this misuse of tests on how young children learn and develop is chilling.
The very concept of requiring young children to meet specified standards assumes that they should develop in a predictable pattern. Yet research has shown that the early years of human development are highly individualized, with children exhibiting unique learning styles. Tracking them into homogenous groups may make teaching easier, but there is no evidence that doing so is academically beneficial to the children. Recent evidence points in the opposite direction, particularly for children tracked into low levels from which there often is no escape.
Nonetheless, many schools have begun to assign children to new organizational configurations such as "developmental" kindergarten classes and "transitional" first grades. These exotic names do not fool parents, teachers or students; nor do they reduce the inevitable stigma that results. Research shows that making children take special classes or repeat a grade does not improve their performance. Most of them would catch up to their peers in academics and behavior if they were just treated like everyone else.
Flunking kindergarten or being placed in a special class or program may harm a child's self-esteem, motivation and attitudes toward school profoundly, since even first graders know if they have been placed in the slowest reading group. Parents get the message as well. Like Steve Martin in the
movie, they take little comfort from assurances that their child will show the right stuff eventually. His or her failure today is perceived as their failure as parents.
This anguish is largely unnecessary. Strategies exist that research has shown to be more effective in teaching reading and math to young people. These alternatives are more expensive and labor-intensive, but they also require less testing, tracking and grade retention.
Perhaps our own collective love and concern for our children is to blame, but the discrepancy between what we know to be appropriate and what we are doing as parents, teachers and policymakers is too wide. We are so concerned with results, accountability and efficiency that we have lost sight of the best way to educate our young people.
January 21, 1990
Eugene E. Garcia, professor of education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, chaired a panel that studied early school testing for the National Forum on the Future of Children and Families of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.
* * *
Abe Lincoln's Schoolroom
Philip and Phylis Morrison
Back in Abe Lincoln's rural Indiana school, two things were clear: what the students brought in preparation and what the school's task had to be. The students were from farm families. They came knowing firsthand about birth and death, about the full moon and the way cloth rubbed where the seam was too thick, about how to lever up a heavy rock, how to sharpen a blade, and how milk soured.
There was a lot they didn't know. They had seen few pictures and almost no books; they badly wanted to learn to read. The world outside was pretty much a mystery, like the past from which their language, laws and beliefs came. The school had to help there. It taught what was needed, and it did its best. It taught Abe to read, write and cipher, and a little about the Mississippi, about George Washington the truthful, and about the Bill of Rights.
Children still come to our schools with plenty to know. They bring a wide visual acquaintance with the world near and far, a flood of images, fact and fiction. They see print everywhere, too; signs, posters, even scrawls surround them; magazines and books are commonplace, with all their pictures. But wood-fired ovens and moonlight and mending are scarce. The staff of life is wrapped and sliced, not fragrant in the oven; the production of most everyday necessities has become either invisible or opaque.
Television has made the wide world familiar to the children. Los Angeles streets and Florida beaches and fearful dinosaurs are all to be seen in colorful image. What is deeply missing is an inner sense of the world's real constraints, of the difference between desire and performance. Pushing a button is not like leaning on a crowbar.
The symbols still need teaching; the three R's, the history, the maps, the tales remain urgent. But they lack any foundation beyond word and image. The schools have a big new task that they have not entirely realized: it is to bring in the hands-on world, the real thing that stubbornly resists or wonderfully confirms what one does. What the children need is to grow plants (and see them wilt for lack of water), to complete the cycle by planting the seed they themselves harvest from the plant they grew. They need to build bridges of soda straws that can hold up the weight of many milk cartons. They need to know which connections between bulb and battery produce light, and for how long.
It would be an error to blame schools for our growing lack of contact with the physical world, but an even bigger error not to do something about it. We are all in this bind together; it is the result of a maturing technological world where production is taken farther and farther from the con-
sumer. The pond is soured by smokestacks far away. Unless we change, our understanding too will escape into the distance.
The capacity to judge when things are right, when they work or when they don't work, doesn't apply only to circuits or other matters of science. It also applies to political programs or to buying consumer goods. What we need to know is what evidence can offer, what sort of hopeful answers leaders can seriously give, and what answers are all but empty. It is an understanding that begins with active experience with the natural and the technological world.
So let us teach our children how to read, write and cipher—but let us also help them explore something of how the material world works. They need to sense through hand, eye and mind the limits of what can be done, and how even within stern limits new opportunities can open.
February 11, 1990
Philip Morrison is a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Phylis Morrison is a specialist in elementary science education. This article is adapted from a talk they gave at the National Sciences Resources Center, a joint science education effort of the National Academy of Sciences and the Smithsonian Institution.
* * *
What School Volunteers Can Do
Gilbert T. Sewall
Volunteer activity in American education evokes heartfelt, nearly universal enthusiasm. An estimated 1.3 million adults give time to the nation's schools each year, and their
contributions are widely hailed. But the realities of educational volunteerism are more complicated than the image.
At a time of budget deficits and widespread concern about education, Americans need to guard against overestimating what volunteers can accomplish. Volunteers are not a substitute for trained teachers and staff. They are a supplemental resource to those who must carry out the central tasks of teaching and helping students learn.
This distinction is important. Well-meaning people outside education often assume that volunteers provide magical added benefits to schools and thereby ensure school improvement. According to this logic, the more volunteers, the better. In recent years, some congressional proposals have sought to expand school volunteer activity by forgiving student loans. However, an infusion of untrained and indebted young labor is not an educational panacea.
A recent review of volunteer programs across the country by a National Research Council committee confirmed that many volunteers are doing outstanding work. Their ranks have grown beyond mothers at bake sales to include an increasing number of college students, business people and older Americans. Although tutoring remains the most familiar activity, school volunteerism includes everything from the operation of special science programs to Latin instruction, dental services and after-school child care. All this activity constitutes a resource of potentially huge dimensions and one that has been barely tapped.
Yet volunteers alone cannot solve the many problems that face our nation's troubled schools. The schools that need the most help, in fact, generally are the ones least likely to have volunteer programs. At schools with large numbers of poor students, there are fewer two-parent families, families have less free time to volunteer, and human resources in the community are generally limited. Volunteers at these schools cannot be expected to shoulder all the tasks normally performed by social welfare agencies.
Many schools that do have volunteer programs, furthermore, could improve these programs. The committee agreed that the best volunteer programs:
Match the needs of the volunteers and schools and provide volunteers with adequate training so they can complement faculty efforts without impeding or confusing educational activity.
Provide rewards for students and volunteers alike. For students, receiving increased attention can itself promote positive feelings about education, improving self-esteem and encouraging performance. Volunteers—who usually find some private satisfaction in their work—must feel their time and effort are appreciated, respected and recognized.
Allow teaching staffs to make better use of time. Volunteers and paid aides should help trained teachers concentrate their energy and skills where they are needed most. Volunteers can conduct study halls, monitor lunchrooms, oversee field trips or patrol playgrounds. Those with appropriate education and teaching ability can assist with remedial instruction or homework.
Increase instructional time for students. Volunteer programs should try to increase the time students spend on lessons, homework and review.
Extend services that districts cannot provide. Volunteers should provide expertise or skills that schools lack. Computer instruction for students and teachers creates a special area of opportunity for the 1990s.
Strengthen bonds between schools and communities. Volunteer programs should recruit a broad spectrum of able individuals who otherwise might have no interchange with public education. In 1972, about 41 percent of U.S. adults had school-age children; today the figure has dropped to an estimated 25 percent. This trend makes schools less bonded to their larger communities, a situation exacerbated by the increased number of mothers who have joined the labor force.
In some school districts I have seen, administrators have become so defensive that they fear public inspection and the meddling of outsiders. They want any volunteers to carry out frustrating tasks without complaint. A few cynical school officials think of volunteerism as a way to reduce community dissatisfaction with mediocre schools. They seek cosmetic
programs to draw favorable press coverage and divert attention from structural deficiencies.
This kind of thinking is counterproductive, and it abuses the altruism that makes volunteerism so distinctive. Volunteers are not a panacea, but they can nourish our country's schools with their skills, commitment and enthusiasm. Their contribution is too valuable to exaggerate—or to squander.
April 22, 1990
Gilbert T. Sewall is president of the Center for Education Studies and editor of Social Studies Review. He served on a National Research Council committee that recently studied volunteerism in schools.
* * *
The Challenge of Numbers
Bernard L. Madison
"I never could do math. It was my worst subject."
We mathematicians hear these words often. Ignorance of mathematics is considered a badge of normalcy by many Americans. People may grumble about the teenager at the local fast food restaurant who cannot add a sum without a picture-coded cash register, or shudder at having to compute a percentage, but they tend to see such flaws as unremarkable.
Americans are in for a shock. By 1995, eight of the 10 fastest-growing jobs will be based on mathematics, among them scientists, engineers and statisticians. A majority of the 21 million new jobs created by the U.S. economy overall during 1985–2000 will require mathematics skills and a postsecondary education.
As our country faces the task of educating workers for jobs that cannot even be imagined yet, mathematics is more
important than ever before. The world is changing so quickly that people can no longer rely on a static set of facts they learned in school to get them through the rest of their professional careers. Instead, they must have a strong enough command of the fundamentals so they can adapt constantly. Clerks must learn to become keypunch operators and then systems analysts. Those who cannot learn new skills risk unemployment.
No competency is more fundamental in this emerging world than numerical reasoning, problem-solving and other basic mathematical skills. Informed citizens must be able to cope with economic indicators, census data, environmental risk factors and weather probabilities. College curricula require mathematics and statistics courses. High technology has invaded the workplace.
How well is the United States positioned to meet this increased need for mathematics education? Not very. An expert committee of the National Research Council that studied the situation concluded earlier this month that the nation's supply of mathematically skilled teachers, scientists, engineers and others is actually shrinking.
The number of bachelor's degrees awarded in mathematics in the United States was lower in 1986 than in 1966, which helps explain why so many school systems across the country cannot find qualified mathematics teachers. More than half of the new doctorates in mathematics are now awarded to foreign citizens, up from only about one-fifth in the early seventies. By the end of this decade, the number of new doctoral graduates taking academic positions will be insufficient to replace retirees. Even this dismal state of affairs assumes a continued heavy reliance on foreign citizens and makes no allowance for a projected increase in demand for mathematicians from private companies and others.
One reason for the shortage of mathematically trained Americans is that the college-age population as a whole is declining. However, the equation is more complicated than that. Notably, despite some encouraging trends, women, blacks and Hispanics still participate in mathematics-based classes and occupations at rates far below their numbers. Since two-thirds of new workers will come from these groups, the supply of mathematically educated workers is diminishing as the demand grows. That is, unless things change soon.
Mathematics teaching in our country has been hampered by too few resources, lack of a national imperative, a highly decentralized system, unimaginative courses and curricula, and no clear understanding of what is important. At the collegiate level, mathematical sciences have passed through three roller coaster decades since the Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957. During the '60s, the study of mathematics and science was equated with supporting democracy, and expanded accordingly. In the '70s, in the face of increasing college enrollments and an emphasis on social problems, the job market for many science and math graduates declined. This past decade, concern about economic competitiveness spurred a partial recovery.
Various organizations are now working on better teaching methods and other promising ideas for the '90s. But the larger challenge exists outside the classroom in our country's offices, factories, shopping malls and homes, where many Americans continue to regard ignorance of mathematics as
routine. Such ignorance must be recognized, instead, as a sentence of obsolescence. Everyone, regardless of race or sex, can learn mathematics. Everyone should learn mathematics. Until more Americans get the message, our national well-being is very much at risk.
April 15, 1990
Bernard L. Madison is dean of the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and former chair of the mathematics department at the University of Arkansas. He was the study director of a recent National Research Council committee that examined the supply of mathematically trained Americans.
* * *
On Darwin, Bibles and Classrooms
Francisco J. Ayala
The Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional a Louisiana law mandating that creationism be taught in the public schools whenever evolution is taught. Its decision preserved the separation of Church and State, as mandated by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Did the decision also strike a blow against the cause of religion and religious education? Some critics have said so, denouncing the 7-2 ruling. They're wrong.
Creation science is a concept developed by Christian Fundamentalists that holds that the universe was created suddenly from nothing; that man and the different kinds of plants and animals were created separately; that there was a worldwide flood; and that the earth and living things are of recent origin, rather than millions of years old.
These are notions taken literally from the Bible's book of Genesis, not conclusions reached independently by scientists.
The Court was right to dismiss as a ''sham'' the pretense that they are scientific. Creation is a religious concept, and "creation science" is not science at all, but an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
When scientists talk about the "theory" of evolution, they use the word differently than in ordinary language. In everyday English, a theory is an imperfect fact, as in "I have a theory about why Gorbachev favors glasnost." In science, however, a theory is based on a body of knowledge.
According to the theory of evolution, organisms are related by common descent. There is a multiplicity of species because organisms change from generation to generation, and different lineages change in different ways. Species that share a recent ancestor are therefore more similar than those with more remote ancestors. Thus, humans and chimpanzees are, in their structure and genetic makeup, more similar to each other than they are to baboons or to horses.
Scientists agree that the evolutionary origin of all animals and plants is a scientific conclusion beyond reasonable doubt. They place it beside such established concepts as the roundness of the earth, the motions of the planets and the molecular composition of matter. That evolution has occurred, in other words, is a fact.
Not everything in the theory of evolution is equally certain. Many aspects remain subject for research, discussion and discovery. But uncertainty about these aspects does not cast doubt on the fact of evolution. Similarly, we do not know all the details about the configuration of the Rocky Mountains and how they came about, but that is no reason to doubt the Rockies exist.
The theory of evolution needs to be taught in the schools because nothing in biology makes sense without it. Modern biology has broken the genetic code, opened up the fastmoving field of biotechnology and provided the knowledge for improved health care. Students need to be properly trained in science in order to improve their chances for gainful employment and enjoy a meaningful life in a technological world.
Doesn't this pose a threat to religion or to Christianity? Many religious authorities do not think so. Catholic, Episcopal and other Protestant bishops joined Jewish organiza-
tions, educators, scientists and civil libertarians as plaintiffs against the creationism law. They saw a threat to their beliefs in statutes that make a mockery of both religion and science with the pretense that the words of the Bible are scientific propositions.
Pope John Paul II told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1981: "The Bible speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God."
The Pope says that it is a blunder to mistake the Bible for an elementary book of astronomy, geology and biology. Instead, it is possible to believe that the world has been created by God while also accepting that the planets, the mountains, the plants and the animals came about by natural processes. I can believe that I am God's creature without denying that I developed from a single cell in my mother's womb. There is no need for warfare between religion and science.
In short, those who seek a literal interpretation of every word in the Bible do not have exclusive rights on Christianity. Neither do they represent the views of most Christian churches.
Fundamentalists are entitled to their beliefs, but the Court was right to insist that the teaching of evolution belongs in the classroom while creationism does not. Evolution is science while "creation science" is simply a subterfuge to introduce Biblical teachings. As President Ulysses Grant said in 1875: "Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the Church and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and the state forever separate."
July 5, 1987
Francisco J. Ayala is professor of genetics at the University of California, Davis, and a member of the governing council of the National Academy of Sciences.
* * *
The Long Haul to a Doctorate
Universities are opening for the fall term, and young people who received their bachelor's degrees this past spring are coming face to face with their decision to either enter graduate school or go to work right away.
For many bright students, the choice was easy. They decided to spend two years in business school or three years in law school, an investment likely to yield a healthy starting salary and desirable career track.
But for other top graduates, those interested in science and engineering fields, the decision was more agonizing. For them, getting a doctorate takes about seven years, followed by up to three years in a postdoctoral appointment.
Little wonder that many of these graduates are saying, "Thanks, but no thanks." There is a growing decline of Americans pursuing doctorates in scientific and engineering fields, and one reason is that it takes longer and longer to earn a Ph.D.
This is a dilemma not only for the students themselves but for any American who wants new medicines, better transportation, a cleaner environment or new consumer products. A steady supply of doctoral recipients is essential to teach, do research and create the knowledge that private industry uses to develop new products and services. Although graduate enrollments are rising in the sciences and engineering, most of the increase is now due to foreign students—and many of them return to their homeland.
In 1967, it took about five years to earn a doctorate in technical fields. Now it takes two years longer. Since many students take time off during their studies, the mean total time between receiving a bachelor's and doctoral degrees actually is 10 years. During the past two decades, this "total time to the doctorate" has increased by as little as four months in economics to nearly three years in the health
sciences, with increases of at least two years in mathematics, psychology and the social sciences.
For students, this means more debt, less income and perhaps postponing the start of a family. Although most scientists do love their work, few are so single-minded as not to consider other career options. If they choose to become lawyers, investment bankers or something else, their skills and insight probably are lost forever to science.
We also are missing the opportunity to diversify the scientific work force by widening our country's traditional pool of technical talent—white male doctoral students. As the number of these students declines in physics, chemistry, earth sciences, mathematics and engineering, more women and minorities are acutely needed to fill the ranks. But their talents, too, will be lost as many of them size up the current situation and head elsewhere.
Taxpayers also suffer. Graduate students pay only about 12 percent of the approximate $25,000 annual cost of their education. The rest generally comes from federal research grants, the budgets of state universities and other public sources. Adding a couple of years to the time required of 13,000 American students adds up to "real money" that otherwise might be spent on financial aid for minority students, new research facilities or other pressing needs.
Some have suggested that this disturbing trend is the result of the additional time needed to cover the explosion in scientific knowledge. After all, there is much more to learn than there was in Thomas Edison's era. Yet this justification fails to explain why students in the same field take such varying lengths of time to complete their degrees. Those with fellowships or research assistantships usually complete their degrees more quickly than others. In fact, students paying their own way often need five or six years more to complete their doctorates. In other words, the problem is not scientific complexity so much as financial inadequacy.
The problem goes beyond money to include market forces, university policies, student readiness and other factors. Whatever the reasons, the road to the doctorate has become too pro-
longed, both for students and for society generally. If our nation wants continued technical advances, it must make it easier for its sons and daughters to get the advanced training they need.
September 9, 1990
Susan Coyle, a project officer with the National Research Council, co-authored a study with Howard Tuckman and Yupin Bae on the increased time needed to complete doctorates in science and engineering.
* * *
The 'Mommy Track' in Science
The well-publicized problems of the "Mommy Track" exist not only in the corporate board room, but also in the laboratory. Science, that most rational of pursuits, is making it irrationally difficult for women to succeed.
The science and technology (S&T) community in our country desperately needs to attract more women to help develop medicines, invent products, clean up the environment and improve our industrial potential in the years ahead. Our S&T ranks are now populated primarily with white and foreign-born males.
Most universities and research centers do not actively discourage women from entering technical professions; on the contrary, many of them have admirable recruiting programs. Yet, despite these efforts, the S&T community as a whole continues to make such stringent demands on the time and energy of young researchers that it is extraordinarily difficult for them to raise families while pursuing their careers.
Some Americans may think scientists spend their time
sitting under trees watching apples fall, but the reality is often 60-hour work weeks and all-night experiments. It is a tradition—and an unofficial test of seriousness—that harkens back to a time when husbands worked in the laboratory with wives who raised the children and served as unrecognized, unrewarded lab assistants.
The demands of keeping up a career in science are intensive. The sociologist Robert Merton described more than a decade ago the fierce competition among scientists throughout history to be recognized as "the discoverer." The urgency of original discovery creates a work environment that encourages one-upmanship rather than nurturance, a construction of life built around the devotion to the pillar of work.
Several years ago a Macy Foundation study found that most young scientists of both sexes believe that domestic life is incompatible with productive science. A majority of the male scientists agreed with the view that motherhood marks the end of productive careers for their female colleagues, that "a scientific vocation, like religion, is a calling demanding superhuman (i.e., superman) dedication."
All of the last three women to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences were childless. One of them, Rita Levi-Montalcini, who shared the prize in medicine, wrote in her autobiography that she deliberately chose to forego marriage and children for the sake of her career. Three scientists are too few to constitute a meaningful sample, of course, but their experiences are instructive.
As I discovered recently when carrying out a study of 20 dual science-career families, the women scientists reported a "no-win" choice between family commitment and a "serious" science career. The women, from early 30s to mid-60s in age, held degrees in fields such as Medicine, chemistry, mathematics and astrophysics. Like their scientist husbands, most of them reported working at least three evenings a week and often on weekends. However, their work histories and those of their husbands revealed striking differences in job conditions, financial rewards and social support:
Most of the women reported being actively discouraged
from entering science by a parent, teacher or peer. All of the men said they were encouraged to become scientists.
Women who had the same occupational ranking as male colleagues reported earning fewer prestigious awards and research appointments. Nationally, women scientists earn 5 percent to 18 percent less income than men scientists of an equivalent rank.
All but one of the women scientists surveyed reported multiple experiences with discrimination, the most common being sex discrimination, sexual harassment and age discrimination. No male scientists reported such experiences.
Most of the women scientists reported moving geographically to help their husbands' careers, often more than once. The men reported moving to help their wives' careers far less often.
Women scientists generally were expected to take primary responsibility for their children, either providing care themselves or "making the arrangements." None of the husbands reported taking primary care of family needs.
Science careers should not be so difficult for women. If the United States fails to attract more women to the sciences, especially in the high-growth fields of math and computers, its economy and society will lose a vital source of innovation.
The S&T community cannot solve this continuing problem simply through recruitment efforts, as worthwhile as these are. It also must confront the hurdles women face in their work lives. The community must develop its own new scientific equation, one that provides a better balance between the challenging work of home and the laboratory.
December 10, 1989
Paula Rayman is research program director at the Stone Center of Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
* * *
Dr. King and Blacks in Science
Willie Pearson, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr., is being remembered this weekend for his historic contributions to civil rights. Another of his accomplishments, however, was that he was a black American who obtained a doctoral degree.
That achievement stands in sharp contrast to the situation among black students today, particularly in the scientific and technical fields likely to shape the future. In 1988, for example, of all the doctorates awarded in mathematics and computer science in our country, just one of each was awarded to a black U.S. citizen. That is a discouraging commentary on the challenges still facing our nation more than two decades after Dr. King's assassination.
Black American scientists have a proud tradition that ranges from Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver to more recent examples like Ronald McNair, the physicist who died in the Challenger explosion. Yet the number of black U.S. citizens earning doctorates of any kind has declined since 1978, and the trend is especially pronounced in the natural sciences and engineering. In 1988, black U.S. citizens earned only 95 doctorates in these fields, or 1.1 percent of the total. By comparison, blacks comprise about 12 percent of the U.S. population.
The irony is that our nation's need for this neglected source of brainpower has never been greater to help solve problems in industry, space, the environment, agriculture and other fields.
Our country faces serious shortages of U.S. citizens with doctorates in natural science and engineering disciplines. A growing percentage of these degrees are now awarded to foreign-born students. Between 1962 and 1987, the National Science Foundation reported, the share of doctorates in chemistry, physics and other physical sciences awarded by U.S. universities to American citizens declined from 85 percent to 61 percent. In engineering, U.S. citizens now earn only four of
every ten—or fewer than half—of the engineering doctorates at our universities.
Among those Americans who do receive these doctorates, the great majority are white and male. Yet white males comprise a diminishing share of the total college population, and a decreasing percentage of them express an interest in science and technology.
Blacks and other racial and ethnic minorities, together with women, must fill this gap. By 2010, minorities will comprise nearly 40 percent of Americans under the age of 18. The need is unprecedented to put aside prejudices and draw upon this pool of talent.
Failure to do so will leave the nation little choice but to increase its dependence on foreign-born students. Of course, many foreigners do remain in the United States and make valuable contributions, as Albert Einstein and others have done in the past. Yet this supply source could evaporate quickly as a result of political developments or changing employment opportunities abroad.
Helping more black Americans obtain doctoral degrees also would promote a more secure balance of occupations within the black community itself. As the National Research Council reported in a recent study, a disproportionate number of black Americans currently work in jobs that are threatened by automation or are likely to decline in the future.
What can be done to attract more black students to careers in science and engineering? The answer begins in the earliest grades, with improved pre-school and primary education. As they get older, minority students need encouragement to enroll in advanced math and science courses rather than stopping after introductory algebra or biology. More funding would help historically black colleges and universities, which have been more successful in training blacks for scientific and technical careers. Blacks at other institutions also need increased financial aid, as well as protection from possible racism.
Recent statistics do offer cause for hope. In a survey taken in the fall of 1988, blacks accounted for 11.5 percent of the freshmen at U.S. four-year colleges and universities who were planning to pursue majors in the physical sciences. Yet it remains to be seen how many of these students will fulfill their dream or go on to graduate study. One of the best ways to honor the birthday of another dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr., is to act much more decisively as a nation to help more black students join him as holders of a doctoral degree.
January 14, 1990
Willie Pearson, Jr., is professor of sociology at Wake Forest University and co-editor of the recently published Blacks, Science and American Education.
* * *
The Civilized Engineer
Samuel C. Florman
When I was 21 years old, I found myself on a faraway island in the Pacific Ocean with the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. In the evenings we sat around drinking beer, playing cards and talking. We were engineers, and mostly we talked about engineering—also about baseball and girls.
The only officer who was not an engineer was the chaplain. One night he joined us at cards, and between hands the conversation was carried on in the usual way. Several times the chaplain tried to introduce a new topic with some intellectual substance: What did we think about the morality of dropping those atomic bombs on Japan? What were our thoughts on religion, art and literature?
Instead of responding, we invariably went back to engineering, baseball and girls. Finally the chaplain slammed down his cards, looked upward and said in a loud voice, ''Dear Lord, I know that I am unworthy. I confess that I have sinned, but why did you have to abandon me on this island with nobody for company but these boring, boring engineers?''
I'm sorry to say that the chaplain's view of the engineering profession is widely shared. Many problems in our country, from ugly factories to environmental pollution, are blamed on engineers. Although such difficulties are actually the responsibility of the entire community, it is true that our country's engineers could play a more active role in creating technology that is more noble—aesthetically, environmentally and even morally—than what we have now.
Our country also would benefit if its engineers were more active in helping to solve social problems. For the most part, the United States is now run by lawyers and business people. Yet many issues, from national defense to the trade deficit, have a large technological component.
There are, to be sure, a handful of engineers, such as Chrysler
Chairman Lee Iacocca and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, who are influential in contemporary society. Yet far too many engineers in our country are outside the intellectual, social and cultural mainstream, unable to "speak the same language" as their fellow citizens. That is bad for them; more important, it is bad for society.
It was not always so. Engineers were once among the giants, the leaders of our society. Consider the Roeblings, father and son, who more than a century ago designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge. John Roebling studied philosophy under the great Hegel and wrote essays reflecting profound spiritual concerns. His eldest son, Washington, was a masterful writer of English prose, fluent in French and German, and an accomplished violinist. Although the Roeblings were outstanding individuals, they were not unique.
Many things happened to cause American engineers to become more narrow in their interests, but the most important was the decision a century ago by educators to make engineering an undergraduate field of study, consequently pushing aside liberal arts studies in the curriculum. Before long, most faculty and students came to view the few non-engineering courses as a bothersome waste of time. Certainly, engineering itself is a wonderful manifestation of the human spirit and a vital part of the academic enterprise. But excluding the humanities in this way diminished the benefits that engineers were capable of bestowing upon society.
Happily, there have been some recent signs of enlightened change in engineering education. The Thayer School at Dartmouth College remains the only American school that requires its students to obtain a bachelor of arts en route to a bachelor of engineering, but efforts are under way at many American engineering schools to enrich the liberal arts element of the engineering curriculum.
Realistically, only a select few American engineering students will, in the near future, make their way through these enriched educational programs or attain new leadership roles in society. But maybe a select few is just what we need, at least for a start. In my imagination, I see a day when an-
other chaplain shares an island with a new group of engineers. But these will be Renaissance engineers, and the chaplain, thinking about being in their company, will be thanking the good Lord instead of complaining to Him.
February 25, 1990
Samuel C. Florman is vice president of Kreisler Borg Florman Construction Co. in Scarsdale, N.Y., and the author of several books on engineering. This article is adapted from a longer version that appeared in Issues in Science and Technology.
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