Sunday, October 04, 2009

A truth about math and science education in the U.S.

There are constant campaigns in the U.S. trumpeting the power of math and the need for science education, even as music and art has been on the chopping block time and time again. You'd think from seeing these advertisements on busses, posters, and occasionally billboards that we really respected science here and appreciated the natural world. But even before the ascendency of Christian fundamentalists who disbelieve in evolution this was not the case. Instead, I think that the push for science and math education in the U.S. is motivated by much more mercenary objectives, namely money.

Much of the science emphasis started in the post-war era as part of the space race with the Soviet Union, where folks promoted science education as a patriotic thing to do in order to fight Communism. But there was a problem there and that was that while all the scientists and engineers in the Soviet Union by necessity worked for the State and for State issues, not everyone who graduated with science related degrees in the post-war period worked for the Department of Defense. Defense contractors didn't absorb all of the graduates, and the percentage of folks going on to pursue pure research was likely low as well. Instead, lots of people then as now found work in the private sector designing new products for corporations.

While people who love science and math and are good at it may see a good physical and intellectual challenge in their work, corporations see dollar signs. Engineers mean new products and that means more money. Engineers are good cash cows for people who honestly don't give a fuck.

The thing, my belief, is that the business people only care about themselves. Science is just a tool to make money, get rich, and to grow their company with. If English literature made as much money as science there'd be posters telling us about the necessity of studying English too.

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