They cover whatever cool science is the flavor of the moment, they cover disasters and the science behind them, they cover scientists but they don't cover the kids who are going to replace them and what they're being taught. Call a science publication land ask it to do a story on science education - they'll tell you they do something once a year. Read them - you'll see what I mean. Read the regular national press and you'll find very little too.
Science writers say the education writers cover that. The education writers say that the science people cover it. So who actually is covering the next generation of scientists and engineers and how they are learning about science? The answer is almost no one.
We are marketing a huge first time science and engineering event that occurs in Washington, DC in October 2010. The USA Science&Engineering Festival is on the National Mall and multiple sites throughout downtown DC. More than 550 science organizations are exhibiting. It's our first national science event held in Washington, DC. There's the science of Avatar, chocolate, Thanksgiving dinner, baseball - you name it - they have it. So many cool things are happening that I can't even get my arms around them. Go to www.usasciencefestival.org for more information. And I can't get most science writers to even report that it's happening. What's with that?
This is not a huge surprise to me. I helped promote the Department of Energy's National Science Bowl a couple of years ago and it was a total bear of an assignment. Luckily we had 67 regional events to promote that we could market to local writers and producers. There was news - there were winners. The national finals in Bethesda, MD we got people to write about but I had a team of six people and we spent monumental amounts of time on the phone trying to get media to come. In year two, we had the first African-American all girl team and we hit pay dirt. And that's before the economy fell apart and media like the Washington Post cut half its staff and threw science, health and technology into one section.
I'm not just complaining as a science communications person but also as a parent. I have a 14 year-old son and an 11 year-old girl. The five years my son was in a Montgomery County, MD elementary school I saw no science come home - well that's not really true there was one build an electric circuit project in there somewhere.
All I saw was math and reading, neither of which my kid really needed. He was in the Math Olympiad and started reading the Harry Potter books in second grade. My daughter was in a math and science magnet program. Every year there was a science fair. She did lab experiments all the time. The difference is huge. In middle school, my son complained that all they did in science was watch videos. He was bored to death. Now he is in a high school program for media but it's also a science and math magnet school and nationally recognized. Finally, he has a real
science class. Thank you Montgomery Blair High School.
A few years ago I did a project with a federal agency where I went out and looked at urban public schools that they had invested millions of dollars in to improve science education programs. I'm not saying the schools didn't try - and that the Feds didn't have the best of intentions - but after the program ended there was no more funding for the schools. What do you think happened?
So if we're not teaching science in elementary school, and the science writers aren't covering it and the federal government hasn't made it a giant national priority, where is our next generation going to come from? Why do you think the average age of a NASA scientist is 60-plus?
I know the science writing profession is shrinking. At the AAAS annual meeting last year several of the science journalists who won awards also said they had just been laid off. This year there was a huge number of freelancers.
To be fair, science writing has shifted partly to blogs and other Internet based resources. But they are not writing about science education either. If I was a science teacher, I'd be tearing my hair out.
So what are we supposed to do? As a parent, I am appalled. As an educator and communications professional I just don't get it. Science, engineering and technology are the future of our nation. Technology is covered all the time. There are plenty of technology reporters. Where are the science writers who take up the mantra of science education - and why don't they speak up?