How Science Education Can Save the World

The recent Paris Climate Accord represents a major breakthrough in global climate collaboration. But at the same time, the Accord amounts to merely diplomatic blather – a small piece of paper – in the face of the many billions of metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted across the globe each year. Both the USA and China have committed to steep cuts in their carbon dioxide emissions, but what’s it going to take to make these commitments become reality? Some point to the need for breakthroughs in clean energy technologies, turning away from the business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels; others call for the skill and political will required to build clean energy markets.

However, I believe something even more fundamental is needed – I’m calling for a change in the way we teach science and math to produce citizens who are more informed and engaged, able to demand from our elected leaders what our nation needs for its very survival. If this seems like a leap, let me connect the dots by addressing the following two questions.

First, why do we make our roughly 15 million high school students across the USA take science and math? Only a small fraction of these students will earn college degrees in the science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) fields, so inspiring the next generation of STEM workers cannot possibly be the primary reason. If it is to beef up high school transcripts to make college applicants more competitive, this seems like a colossal waste of time for students and teachers alike. In the end, it must be to prepare an informed and critical citizenry – able to understand the magnitude of the task in front of us Americans to address problems like global warming, and to hold our leaders —> Read More