Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How Our Culture Keeps Students Out of Science

An opinion piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education.


  • "the shortage of Americans holding or pursuing advanced degrees in fields like computer science defies conventional market explanations. The average annual salary in the field is more than $100,000. Meanwhile, we have a robust supply of high-IQ baristas and college graduates with jobs that a generation ago would not even have required a high-school diploma."
  • "Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market's demand for their knowledge and skills."
  • "Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study."
  • "on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as "whole persons" — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren't among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who "feel good" about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments."
  • "The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences."

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