U.S. needs to graduate more scientists

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Bloomberg View columnist, Cass R. Sunstein, recently commented on the concern by many Americans that we have a low number of science major graduates from the nation’s colleges and universities.  Graduates in science and engineering in the U.S. have been considerably lower than those in China and Japan while math and science testing has U.S. students below those of students in Australia, England, Finland, Israel, Russia, Singapore and South Korea.

You may already know that science majors can contribute to economic growth while many of them end-up with secure, high-paying jobs after graduation.  Nevertheless, some say we now have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) crisis here.

President Obama has lamented that, “Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job.  Think about that: Openings at a time when millions of Americans, especially among our youth, are looking for work.”

Many among us ask, “Why is this?  Are young Americans not interested in science?”

It’s has been determined through data gathering  that at the time of college entrance, students view science as an appealing major.  A study by Dr. Bruce Stinebrickner of DePauw University found that while entering students (at the rate of nearly 20 percent) believe they will study science, only slightly over seven percent follow through by majoring in it.  So, many who enroll with a science major intent demonstrate a high propensity to later leave that field of study.

Is there something wrong with college science teachers?  Are students enrolled in science courses bored in their course work?  What has gone amiss?

Well, as the world in college turns, a considerable number of enrollees turn out to be unrealistically optimistic about their performance ability.  Also, receiving low grades in the courses discourages a commitment to stick them through four or five years of possibility to fail to complete to a degree award.

When these students who change their major or drop out entirely are interviewed, it turns out that they were not adequately prepared for college level science course work.  Hence, lack of adequate high school preparation is blamed.

However, it is the view of this writer that there is much more to this matter than the mere laying of blame on our high schools.  Also in the mix of what’s not right by college freshman who entered the hallowed halls of ivy with science in mind but soon departed that interest, is the responsibility of parents to start their offspring thinking a lot and often about the seriousness of putting a great deal of time and effort into their high school classes as well as providing them with a place at home to study that doesn’t include constant distractions, like TV and video games.

Then, too, there are the social dimensions of the American culture which must be challenged.  Sports participation is good as is involvement in music, vocal or instrument, as a balance with academic pursuits.  However, the social side is viewed as a huge imbalance for teens in high school which takes them away from their studies, setting the stage for inordinate time spent in non-academic-related pursuits.

Do you, as a parent, value a college education and recognize the advantages of a degree in some science field?  If so, it means communicating that view to your child from ‘day one’ or as soon as reasonably possible after birth.  Then there’s working with your child’s elementary and high school teachers and administrators, volunteering in your child’s school whenever possible, and asking about, helping and keeping up with homework assignments.

Meanwhile, although economic times are hard and very tough for many, parents are advised to set aside money every month from their child’s birth as a family trust fund, enabling your child to set his or her realistic sights on going to college.   For their child’s part, achieving good grades, being an active community member, and participating in school functions will mean a very good chance of securing scholarships and other academic awards to help defray the initial high costs while keeping after-graduation debt as low as possible.

There is the other side of the proverbial coin: the need for jobs for all unemployed Americans and jobs after college graduation. Another major issue is the way Oregon’s governor is influencing the spending our tax dollars that could otherwise go for real education reforms: No one need look further than the Rudy Crew example to view caution-less spending of precious taxpayer dollars.

Then there are the corporations that our state and national leadership are allowing to take over public education for profit, the totally outrageous salaries of professional athletes and celebrity types while our teacher ranks are cut.

With considerable help from the Bush (43) and Obama administrations, they have nosed their way into the preparation and distribution of national exams from which they are realizing huge profits and seek further inroads.  Teachers in public school are forced often nowadays to teach to the test rather than help youth learn to think and problem-solve  Thereby, teachers are too frequently test monitors rather than teachers.

Only those among us who are organized in great numbers can change what’s going on.  Caring parents throughout the world recognize that strong, sustained family support and encouragement in concert with schools dedicated to a positive learning environment are two of the most important factors that make for youth success.  Oregon should be no exception.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)

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