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    Only 34 Percent Of Students Have A Solid Grasp Of Science - So?
    By Hank Campbell | January 27th 2011 09:39 AM | 38 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone...

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    In the quarterly lamentation about the need for science outreach in the U.S., what often gets lost is that not everyone will be good at science.   Lack of science knowledge is regarded as some sort of defect, but it is never an issue with the child, instead it is society or schools.   We need more funding for cartoon characters and flashy animation to explain science because that is what today's kids 'need', we are told.   If you are in that camp, the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress will make you happy.   

    It shows that about a third of elementary- and high-school students have a good grasp of science.  Well, so what?   They may not get medicine or baseball either but this does not mean they won't lead productive, happy lives or that our science capability will evaporate in a generation.  

    Teachers have an explanation, though it is an odd one.    No Child Left Behind, the 2002 federal law mandating minimal testing standards, only includes math and reading.   Yes, they want science included in the program they said would not work.

    But it has worked.  For the first time in American history, there is no gender disparity in math scores since schools starting requiring minimal performance and started penalizing under-performing schools instead of giving them more money.  It may not make everyone happy but that was never the goal, reaching as many students as possible was.    

    That's not to say things are perfect or can't improve, but I am unconvinced kids today are dumber than they were in my generation or that we have somehow failed them if the percentage of those good in science does not go up every year - and there is no way to compare this year's assessment to prior years because they made too many changes.    The fact is, America is 5% of the world's population and produces 32% of the world's science output, without flashy animations or video games about science.     Is it sustainable?    Maybe.  It is true that China has better fundamental science scores among kids but that is because they use a No Child Left Behind approach and don't write letters criticizing their presidents during class time. India, the other Asian juggernaut, was last or nearly last in every category and plenty of critics are savaging themselves over that.

    We don't need funding for flashy videos and cartoon mascot to get kids interested.    For five bucks I have insured my kids will like science, because instead of giving them a cup and a plant and telling them to watch it grow, or making them sit through a video, we attached electricity to solid rocket propellant and sent things 400 feet into the air.   


    You don't need to spend money on videos about conservation of momentum for a 5-year-old after he watches this thing go up.



     Can schools afford $5 in the morass of bureaucracy and lobbying they have created?  Sure, but they won't.  In California 40% of the budget is Constitutionally dedicated to education and it is still not enough.   Yet that money is not reflected in performance.

    State national average public school science
    California would be in the top 10 economies for the world if it were a separate country, and spends a fortune on education, yet is in the bottom third of the nation in performance.    More money is not the answer.

    President Obama is a fan of science, math and engineering and has put taxpayer money into it though, to be fair, he put taxpayer money into everything so I am not sure he knows where money really comes from.  Regardless, if fewer bombs means $260 million to train 10,000 new math and science teachers, I would be all for it, except throwing more money at the issue hasn't  helped turn kids who like social studies and English literature into kids who like science historically.     Spending $26,000 more on each science teacher will not make kids want to learn science.

    Private school without virtually unlimited government money do better than public schools but educators say these are children of privilege rather than products of an education system free of union control, tenure and political correctness.    Where you come down on that issue usually tells me which political party you vote for and whether or not you work in education.

    Then there are environmentalists who think people should live in cities and drive less - but kids in cities score lower than kids in rural areas, who score the highest.   Yes, it isn't sophisticated city kids or well-heeled suburban kids but country kids who do best in science.   And the class sizes are not smaller in the country.    The Wall Street Journal is apparently on the 'more outreach funding, please' train and data mines the results to say that rural areas have lower scores, but that is not the truth.  Rural kids have fewer advanced students but basic and proficient levels are outstanding.

    rural schools science

    Let's not fool ourselves, kids from wealthier backgrounds do better than kids from poor backgrounds, on average.    Right about now, I will get someone using the 'white, male privilege' fallacy but it is simply that we can't social engineer wealth and expect all kids will suddenly exceed in science because it happens that smarter people tend to make more money and raise smarter kids, on average.   It is not transposable, though, so more money does not make people smarter nor do free laptops and any number of ridiculous problems touted as essential.

    It also happens that every kid is just not going to like science.  Some will like art, some will like music, some history, and some will, unfortunately, become post-modernists.    Are one third of children good at art or music?  Absolutely not.   They may dabble here and there but they are not proficient.

    So it goes with science.    Should No Child Left Behind include science?   I suppose so, given its success in math.  The intent of No Child Left Behind was to get schools, too many of whom had lost their way with outcome-based education under a variety of new code names, back to what was once called The Three R's - Reading, Ritin' and Rithmetic.    There is a lot more knowledge about science among the general population today than when I was young - far more, even if scientists don't think the public is smart unless they accept every one of today's science positions or have ethical objections to some science (biology to people on the right and agriculture for those on the left) but that will not be solved by more money either, it just takes persistence and time.

    And despite larger class sizes 60 years ago, that generation of scientists produced work that revolutionized America by sticking to the basics in school, teaching to the test and making sure as many students as possible had a basic foundation of knowledge.  What they achieved from that foundation was up to them; scientist, construction worker or cellist.     That's the kind of freedom we don't want government or schools social engineering out. Yet American kids did not score well on international tests even then.  How did America do on the first international assessment, given in 1964? 11th.  But out of 12 countries.

    Comments

    MikeCrow
    Hank, you keep writing stuff like this, and I might write your name in the blank in 2012.
    Never is a long time.
    Hank
    Awww shucks, thanks, but I don't need all that.   I'd settle for VP.   
    MikeCrow
    They don't have a blank spot for that job.
    Never is a long time.
    To put a spin on this discussion, there must be genetic permutations on "SCIENCE" ability, proclivity etc. My father was Czech and my mother was Slovak. At a family wedding I was delighted to hear that a cousin and second cousin, from a different family, on my mother's side had majored in physics as I had. A "grasp of science" may stem from genetic proclivity or other tendencies, but I personally was delighted to see that partial differential equations could solve brine solution mixing problems. Mathematics can open doors to manipulate and delve into chemistry and biology. Maybe stress on mathematics as well as english will pay some dividends. Bob

    Dear Hank,

    As an European, your 32% propaganda bothers me, so maybe is time for some hard facts.

    Here is the (american) NSF Science and Engineering Indicators: 2010, Academic research and development (chapter 5):

    http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c5/c5h.htm#s4

    Excerpts:

    In 2008, U.S. academic institutions spent $52 billion on R&D, and the higher education sector continues to account for the majority of basic research performed in the United States.

    Outputs of Academic S&E Research: Articles and Patents

    S&E article output worldwide grew at an average annual rate of 2.5% between 1995 and 2007. The U.S. growth rate was much lower, at 0.7%.

    * The United States accounted for 28% of the world total S&E articles in 2007, down from 34% in 1995. The share of the European Union also declined, from 35% in 1995 to 32% in 2007.

    * In Asia, average annual growth rates were high—for example, 17% in China and 14% in South Korea. As a result, in 2007 China moved past the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan to rank as the world's 2nd-largest producer, up from 5th place in 2005 and 14th place in 1995.

    The research portfolios of the top article-producing countries, as indicated by publication of S&E articles, varied widely. China, Japan, and eight other Asian countries (the "Asia-8") emphasized the physical sciences more than the United States and the European Union.

    * In 2007, S&E research articles in chemistry and physics accounted for just under one-half of China's total article production, 36% of Japan's, and 37% of the Asia-8's. These two fields accounted for 17% of the total for the United States and 25% of the total for the European Union.

    * Articles in the life sciences (biological, medical, agricultural, and related sciences) accounted for 57% of all U.S. S&E articles, compared with 49% for the European Union, 25% for China, 45% for Japan, and 34% for the Asia-8.

    * Country research portfolios also differed in their emphasis on engineering, with the Asian countries more heavily concentrated in this broad field (China at 16%, Japan at 11%, and the Asia-8 at 19%) than the U.S. or the European Union (7%–8%).

    Hank
    As an European, your 32% propaganda bothers me, so maybe is time for some hard facts.
    It's never a good start to label something propaganda because you happen not to like it.  If we cut the planet into thirds, Europe will certainly be nearly all the science in the old world and thus around a third.  You saying that would not make me claim you were issuing propaganda.

    I grant you the last time I looked was 2009 - but Thomson Reuters is the top company in the world at measuring these things so I have no reason to believe they are wrong.   

    To be propaganda, facts must be invented or spun in some way to drive home a tangential point - you are instead saying data are propaganda even if the world standard in impact measurement issued them.   One of us does not know what the word 'propaganda' means.
    I gave you data. You put words in my mouth. Your (partial) data is propaganda because you fail to
    mention that Europe has a significantly more scientific output.

    Moreover, (to my surprise also) there are several fields of science where Asia leads.

    A friend told me once that (some years ago) there was a big sign, somewhere in France, near the border
    with Spain, claiming that "only here you can still find gas at X euros/liter". So he bought the gas from
    France, as many others, just to find that in Spain the gas was CHEAPER.

    Do you see the parallel?

    Hank
    Not really.  You have some kind of nationalist pride so you choose to dispute that 5% of the world's population produces 32% of the science, despite it being a fact.   

    Asian students have better science education than both Americans and Europeans (*gasp* PROPAGANDA!) and my point was clearly that it doesn't mean the end of the world at the high end, where key science is done, to not have as many students at the base level that Asia has.
    Hank
    Education is serious business.  This mom was jailed for trying to put her child in a better school district.  The rationale by local officials is that she was not paying taxes there so already there is a certain amount of heavy-handed ghetto-ization that goes on.   The government will win.
    One of the most boring lectures I ever attended was on rapid oxidization. Then in my late teens, bored with explosions?

    Now if someone had produced a rocket, I would have definitely been interested. If you are teaching air pressure, is a 5 liter can so expensive you cannot afford to see one heated and crushed?

    Recently I heard about a group of primary school students who studied how butterflies are attracted to different colored squares of paper and with the help of a practicing scientist published a paper. Those students are likely to remain very interested in science.

    So Hank when did you learn most about science? When you spent all those years studying, or afterwards when you started doing science? Watching is so much better that hearing about, doing is so much better, but doing it for real is true learning.

    Hank
    It's hard to say when I took up an affection for science - for young people in a chaotic world science makes sense, so I am more surprised young people don't like science.   But they do.  If you read the entire assessment you can see science understanding drops as students get older.

    Now, science is hard, just like baseball - and the higher you go the harder it gets, just like baseball, so only the best will get famous, but anyone can go to a baseball game and enjoy it whereas watching it on TV can be dry.   Just like science.
    UvaE
    Now, science is hard, just like baseball - and the higher you go the harder it gets, just like baseball, so only the best will get famous, but anyone can go to a baseball game and enjoy it whereas watching it on TV can be dry.   Just like science.
    Excellent analogy!
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    Well I once went to a baseball game in San Francisco and I couldn't find anything to enjoy about it!
    My latest forum article 'Australian Researchers Discover Potential Blue Green Algae Cause & Treatment of Motor Neuron Disease (MND)&(ALS)' Parkinsons's and Alzheimer's can be found at http://www.science20.com/forums/medicine
    Please Hank, give here the numbers from your source for the other (big) parts of the world.

    Where I dispute that 5% of the world population produces 32% of the science? (or 28%, NSF surely is
    more objective)

    I also understand that you don't trust the data from the National Science Foundation.

    "Nationalist pride"? Come on, you can do better! Surely if there is a nationalist pride here,
    is not mine, but yours.

    Europe has 11% of the world population, not a third. (Nevertheless, the scientific productivity
    is another issue, we could continue like this forever, but I am already bored)

    Yes, I agree that Asian students have better science education than Americans and Europeans.
    (The question is what to do about this?)

    Hank
    You're making my point and accepting one set of numbers and dismissing the others, which could be just as correct (or not) as propaganda.    My entire point was that if we divide the world into thirds, Europe would acct for nearly all in the old world just like America would count for nearly all in the new.  It is still about a third each but your nationalism seems to make you incapable of reading anything except "Europe is better in everything".

    I don't think we have a serious issue the way some do.   While it may be that Asians create a broader base of people with basic science understanding, the creative - I use the word liberal in the classic, not the political sense - culture of America and Europe means we are likely to retain leadership at the high end.    Science takes creativity and that takes a certain amount of cultural freedom.
    In the popular culture, so to say, it is almost never stated that "Europe is better in everything", therefore
    the first part of your argument is nil.

    Now please relax, this is only a verbal sparring, for fun, mostly.

    As for "Science takes creativity and that takes a certain amount of cultural freedom", that is so true. And the accent is on CULTURAL. But I would not take for granted that "we are likely to retain leadership at the high end".

    Anyway, probably the most important thing that we witnessed in our lifetime is the appearance of the
    www. If the US is somehow a historical effect of the Printing Revolution, then what will be the effect of
    the www? Surely much more significant.

    Compared to that, probably the education, as it is now conceived, is only a collateral victim.

    Hank
    Luckily for us, science is not something like the Flemish wool industry of the 13th century, where spreading knowledge and technology meant places which could do it cheaper due to more people can overrun an industry.     Creativity remains paramount. Math says the odds are against both Europe and the US but that same math says Brazil should have been a world leader in science by now, and they are not.
    Not everyone will be good at science because science is difficult to understand in most cases. Science is a wide category. It's a multidisciplinary subject. A student might be interested in some parts and not in others.

    I completely agree that teachers have a responsibility to show practical applications in science that have meaning in everyday life. However, even if included in no child left behind, there is no guarantee that would do so. It takes a good teacher to realize what works and what doesn't work.

    I asked my 11 yr old daughter (who has excellent marks in both science and math says proud papa) how a cell phone works the other day. She stared at me, agape, and after a little stuttering walked off muttering to herself (don't worry, I explained later). It is somewhat confusing to me that both kids and adults take technology for granted and have little idea how far we have come in electronics, medicine, chemistry, engineering and other disciplines in a relatively short time.

    Hank: any comments on the belief that other countries (mostly non-European for national pride guy) have sent many people to the US and Europe over the years for college so that they could return with knowledge they would not have gained in their own country?

    Hank
    You make a fine point, both about the commoditization of knowledge (how does a dryer work?  It is an appliance, like a computer, but we don't insist we have to buy dryers for all school kids) and about why America may slip in the future.

    Student visas are ridiculously easy to get, but a protectionism scheme to artificially try and boost wages in the 1990s (and renewed in the 2000s, so both Democrats and Republicans are to blame) have made it onerous for foreign nationals to get jobs in the US after they graduate.  So we educate very smart people and then force them to return home and be our competitors.  It could be that the greatest minds elsewhere in the future were trained here and wanted to stay.

    Rather than spend more money on outreach to turn Americans into scientists we should allow more scientists to become Americans.   Let's let people who want to work, work.
    Very refreshing to see an article that prefers correctness to political correctness. I think part of the reason we hear so much complaining is that we *expect* that Americans should do extraordinarily well in science because the U.S. has done extraordinarily well in it. But we forget that the previous century was miserable for most countries. Asia, Africa, and South America were (and are) dirt poor and Europe was ravaged by war. Meanwhile the U.S. sat on the other side of the planet protected by the oceans and weak nations on all sides so that it hasn't had to fight a war on its own soil recently. So of course the worlds the intellectuals and students came here, where there's stability and wealth. That's a zero-sum game as it has the effect of both increasing our output and decreasing everyone else's, making us look even better. But we never trained most of those scientists and engineers at the primary and secondary education levels. This is a good read: http://rothkopf.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/01/25/the_myth_of_the_innov...

    Americans think that there's something special about the culture that led to all of our success. That we're inherently 'entrepreneurial' or 'creative' while those Asians are math robots that can't think outside the box. The funny thing is that Asians dominate U.S. S&E graduate schools doing research, which by definition involves thinking creatively to do what hasn't been done before. Perhaps a conductive culture made a small contribution, but I think mostly it was just that the last century was kinder to us than it was to the rest of the world.

    We do well in S&E because we've been importing smart foreigners to supplement our own base. It's a perfectly legitimate strategy (though only sustainable for as long as the rest of the world is poor/unstable). I don't think these results are anything to freak out about as there was never some mythical era where our kids did really well at science. It's a difficult subject that only interests some people and that's fine.

    Hank
    You make an interesting point about war and science.   I have discussed that science takes freedom and people have noted that Nazi Germany produced good science - but 12 years of Nazi power got to see fruition of a lot of work prior that.   Certainly after WW2 the rush to get German scientists and engineers was on, but, because of the better culture here you say never existed, the Germans with a choice came to the US rather than the USSR.

    Science is hard and in the rush to make kids who don't like it or aren't good at it, we tend to neglect smart kids because 'they're already smart and will do well anyway' - AP classes will be cut before anything.   So rather than continue to penalize smart kids while throwing lopsided amounts of money at the ones who will never get science, we should put an end to anti-elitism.
    What is meant by culture? In this context, I was referring to attitudes toward science, hard work, risk-taking, etc. Not whether we are democratic or not. I wouldn't contest that freedom is important for science, especially since the private sector has dominated U.S. innovation for a long time. But also, at the end of WWII, the U.S. had 50% of the remaining world GDP and no decimated cities. That certainly played a role in immigrants' decisions.

    I'd choose America too if I knew that less than 2% of all German POWs survived in Soviet Union. The Germans weren't dumb; those who were captured knew that America was far more appreciative than the SU was. By and large, the SU wasn't interested in capturing scientists for knowledge's sake, they were interested in vengeance. The Americans, howver, upon seeing how advanced Nazi technology was, knew they needed that scientific know-how to stay ahead. The Nazis were putting out jet fighter planes made out of wood, invented the world's first stealth fighter, had the most advanced tanks, had rockets reach low earth orbit, produced the best firearms, etc etc. What doomed them was being outnumbered 20:1 against the Russians.

    It's of note that given the chance to flee Nazi Germany in the early '30s, before Hitler consolidated power, scientists, by and large, chose to stay instead of leaving. Those who left are famous precisely because they were in the minority.

    MikeCrow
    Hank, I have to agree with you it's American culture that provides the spark of our creativeness. I work with a lot of very smart people from all over the world, the local developers in China and India don't seem to have the same spark as the Chinese and Indians who have become Americanized. And I haven't gone through the numbers, but I find when there are great increases in the percentage of most anything some one is bragging about, the sheer numbers are still small. Like I said I haven't looked at the numbers to see if that's the case this time or not. Also, American companies put a lot of effort into training their Chinese contractors and remote offices on our technologies, I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or not, on one side, once they become the consumers we are, they'll be busy supplying products for local use, on the other I suspect you could find a cd of our latest products in most open air markets for the price of a live chicken. As automation reduces the need for people in manufacturing, society will be made up of the creators of the new, and service jobs. I'm not sure what else there well be.
    Never is a long time.
    There's a huge lag time associated with scientific output. The people producing science in China were trained 15-20 years ago. In ths US, something like 50% of all PhD students come from another country. Even more post-docs are foreign born.

    What will be the outlook in 20 years? I suspect that the US will have a precipitous fall off in science produced because the scientists simply won't be there to do science. Despite what we say, we in the US do not value scientists. We scarcely value engineers. Both of these professions form the bedrock of any advanced country. China is in it to win it in the 21st century. Every action they've taken is to ensure global dominance in the 21st century.

    MikeCrow
    Omar, I suspect that many of those foreign born scientist will do all they can to stay in the US.

    While the public doesn't seem to care, employers do, and high tech workers in India and China also seem to care, as many try to move here, we've added 2 or 3 to my department at work the last 6-12 months.

    I am disappointed that there aren't more Americans to take those spots though.
    Never is a long time.
    yea, this is true. I can't find good numbers on how many post-docs/graduate students stay in the US after graduation. I suspect it'd be pretty high, around 65-75%.

    Hank
    Many more foreign students would stay if work visas were not such a headache for business, supposedly to protect jobs we clearly do not have enough interested Americans to do.   
    Gerhard Adam
    An interesting question to ponder is:

    How many scientists have a solid grasp of science (outside of their own specialty)?
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank wrote: "California would be in the top 10 economies for the world if it were a separate country, and spends a fortune on education, yet is in the bottom third of the nation in performance. More money is not the answer."

    Well, not really a fortune, because it's per student spending that counts. California is number 16 in that regard, spending $2534 per student (total of K-12 and higher education). Other states range from less than $2000 (Florida) to more than $3000 (Vermont). These are 2004 figures, by the way, so California has probably dropped in the rankings by now.

    Just for fun, I calculated the mean and standard deviation for the states in your map that were either above or below the average performance. Those below average states included California, and they spent $2270 +/- 233 per student for education, while the above average states spent $2502+/- 366. Not quite statistically significant, but maybe a little more money per student would help!

    Hank
    Dave, thanks for calibrating the numbers more precisely.   Obviously I was writing in response to the more exaggerated 'we are doomed' newspapers and bloggers who seem to take everything at face value.   34% must be bad because it is not 70%.   How many engineers write well?  34%?  Not a chance.  How many scientists are proficient with a musical instrument?   That is unclear (whereas I know the bit about engineer writing is accurate) but I think any occupation desiring to show it needs more funding can state that fewer than half understand it because that is why so many people are in different fields.
    As a high school science teacher who appreciates the importance of hands-on learning activities, I have to report that your simple rocket demonstration would not even be allowed in my school district. The threat of lawsuits has paralyzed the school system. We can't even do the old "Egg-Drop" activity (build a craft to protect an egg dropped from a balcony) in case some student is allergic to eggs! Instead of excusing the 1 child out of a 1,000 who couldn't participate in an activity for legitimate reasons, all students are deprived of that learning experience. It's sad, and the restrictions tighten each and every year.

    Hank
    That's a sad commentary but it may explain why rural students do better - in rural communities teachers are part of the community in an obvious way and, because rules are local, they are allowed to do obvious things like experiments.   Or were.   We did the rocket thing when I was little but parents had to buy the rockets.   My family did not have the money for a rocket, even the cheapest one, so I did not get to do it.

    That was simple reality and I was not the only kid who could not shoot one off, but I still learned a lot watching them.    Aside from legal issues and allergies, the self-esteem problem would be tough to allow in kids today who had no money.   It doesn't seem to have hurt me overall.  I can buy as many damn rockets as I want now.
    Hank wrote: "We did the rocket thing when I was little but parents had to buy the rockets."

    When I was little, maybe 30 years before you were little, we could go down to the hardware store and buy dynamite fuse. We could also buy saltpeter (used as fertilizer) sulfur (used on plants to control fungus) and powdered charcoal (used as a black pigment). As young chemists, we learned to mix them together in a certain ratio, and the mixture could be used to propel rockets, of course. Mostly they exploded on the launching pad, but once in awhile they soared majestically into the sky. Now THAT was a learning experience!

    But I must agree with the astronomy teacher that the threat of lawsuits is affecting how and what kids learn. Fortunately, there are plenty of safe experiments that can teach some basic principles of chemistry, physics and biology in a hands on fashion. Creative teachers can still let kids discover Newton's Third Law without resorting to rockets.

    Hank, I didn't read all the comments in their entirety, so I don't even know if this has been brought up yet.

    I'll make an assumption here, and ask that you go with it:

    To me, the lack of proficiency in science - whether it's 34%, or higher, or lower, or if proficiency is even measurable - becomes an issue to address when those wielding great influence can convince a significant portion of the population that accepted science is to be debated or even denied. Government officials and entertainers can, without any attempt at understanding the science, convince their "audience" that climate change is perhaps occurring but has nothing to do with human activity. The audience - they of the non-proficiency in science and who also are willing to not make any attempt to understand it - take it as truth.

    Some percent of us don't buy evolution - that doesn't have much effect besides making us look stupid. Some percent of us don't buy human activity having an impact on climate - that can have more of a tangible effect.

    Is that a reason to be concerned about a lack of ability in science? I guess I think so. Will attempts to right the ship have an effect on the example I give? I don't think so, but that's mostly because society isn't willing to fully put forth the effort. But then, you probably know by now that I'm a bit of an idealist.

    Hank
    The issue is that it's a floating number with no calibration or reference.   By putting only in front of that number, people out to get grant money and media companies out to sell stories make it sound bad.   Is 34% science proficiency bad?   Is 34% of society proficient in math?  No.   Are 34% proficient in geography?  No.    The only people truly concerned about that number are those who think that it is lack of acceptance in science on some issues that is the problem (like climate change) rather than lack of belief in the agendas of some climate scientists.

    Heck 34% of biology teachers in high schools are not proficient in actual evolution so expecting it of students seems a little much.  Instead, what detractors of today's students seem to want is regurgitation of facts, which is in in defiance of the scientific method.

    I am more of an optimist and instead think that children today are better at problem solving than my generation.  What facts they have memorized in order to take a survey or pass an impromptu test does not really concern me because in the future there may not be any need to memorize anything at all - but in a world of unlimited data, finding and creating meaningful answers will be key.
    Hank,
    I sort of agree that problem solving is more important than a dry listing of facts, But it is more than a little disconcerting when the checkout operator does not realize three three dollar something items could not possibly be around $100. When you see random people asked where is Egypt and three in a row do not know it is North Africa, scary.

    It carries into all aspects of life. George Bush's definition of aiding terrorists was so wide that I could have been in trouble if I mowed the lawns at a mosque. Yet few could see a problem.

    Problem solving does not come into a situation if there is no recognition of a problem. Thinking is becoming a lost art.

    Hank
    I agree with you but there are plenty of times I have argued both sides so that doesn't mean much.  America does own the high end of science because of creativity but in modern times we are clobbering young people because they can't recite facts on tests.  China and India produce a ton of engineers and scientists so, statistically, they should take over the high end of science but it takes more than numbers.  I have argued that true democracy - not just a brand on a government type - is essential for the kind of creativity it takes to own the high end of science.  We have it built in culturally but the current funding model for science (government controlled) may be suppressing it and replacing it with a grant treadmill.