In a recent speech (delivered Sept. 22, 1988 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.), Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan la mented the extended and dramatic downward trend in science, education, and literacy among U.S. schoolchildren and, perhaps correctly, pointed out what he believes to be the major reasons for the decline of science literacy. Sagan’s explanations include lack of publicity, poor teaching in the elementary and high schools, and the negative but well-publicized influence of astrology and science fiction.

These explanations for declining test scores of U.S. children are probably correct as far as they go, but Sagan and many others may be underestimating the “bread and butter” intelligence and values of American youngsters. For example, when I’m asked to talk about my research and science to young students, one of the first questions I’m asked is: “How much money do you make?” The next questions usually focus...

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