Obstacles To Reform

In "Our Twin Mission: The Shoring-Up Of Science And Society" (The Scientist, Dec. 9, 1991, page 11), Bassam Shakhashiri makes a good case for the need to improve science education. However, he does not come to grips with the major barrier that will prevent the achievement of his goals. This barrier is the public attitude toward education, particularly precollege education. Nothing of any overall significance is going to occur in education until this barrier is removed, or at least lowered. Th

E Sherburne
Feb 16, 1992
In "Our Twin Mission: The Shoring-Up Of Science And Society" (The Scientist, Dec. 9, 1991, page 11), Bassam Shakhashiri makes a good case for the need to improve science education. However, he does not come to grips with the major barrier that will prevent the achievement of his goals. This barrier is the public attitude toward education, particularly precollege education. Nothing of any overall significance is going to occur in education until this barrier is removed, or at least lowered.

The simple fact is that while most Americans may say that education is important, they do not like it very much. The bright kid is a "nerd." It is the football star who has status, not the valedictorian. The high achiever in a class is considered to be a trouble-maker for the rest. Parents don't like to have to nag students about study.

The negative attitude toward education has an important impact on student motivation. For motivation is not just something that comes from the teacher. It comes from outside the school: from parents; from peers; from the community; from television, books, and newspapers. For more than 30 years, we have been trying to improve science education while ignoring the dismotivating impact of the real world.

Without a massive change in attitude on the part of the American public, not much is going to happen as a result of educational reform. This is because student motivation is even more important than the curriculum. There is not much point in having a good curriculum if the student is not motivated to learn. And we cannot expect the teacher and an improved curriculum alone to provide the necessary motivation for the majority of students. A substantial proportion of such motivation must come from society.

The time has come for scientists and others interested in educational reform to recognize that a change in the attitude of the American public toward education is the key to success. Attitudinal reform is essential to achieve educational reform.

E.G. SHERBURNE JR.
Washington, D.C.