"WHAT IS YOUR QUESTION? ... WHY?"

2002


"Is it conceivable that the standard curriculum in science and math, crafted in 1893, will still be maintained in the 26,000 high schools of this great nation?"

The world is caught up in a paroxysm of change. Key words: globalism, multinational corporations, ethical influences in business, explosive growth of science-based technology, fundamentalism, religion and science, junk science, alternative medicines, rich vs. poor gap, who supports research, where is it done, how is it used, advances in cognition science, global warming, the disconnect between high school and college....these and other influences are undergoing drastic changes and all will have some impact on science, mathematics and technology and therefore on how our schools must change to produce graduates who can function in the 21st century...function and assume positions of leadership. Is it conceivable that the standard curriculum in science and math, crafted in 1893, will still be maintained in the 26,000 high schools of this great nation?

This is a question that obsesses me in my daily activities. I have been agonizing over it along with a few colleagues around Fermilab, University of California, and the students, staff and trustees of the Illinois Math Science Academy (IMSI), a three year public residential high school for gifted students, I was involved in founding some 16 years ago.

Is not our nation even more at risk now than ever? Are not our 2 million teachers even more poorly trained now, even less respected, hardly better compensated than when we were A Nation at Risk? Some 13 years ago, the collected Governors of the United States under the leadership of the President made six promises, all starting with: "By the year 2000 all students will....".

The rhetoric varies from high comedy to dark tragedy. Today, the Glenn National Commission summarizes its dismal study of science and math education in a succinct title: Before its Too Late. Alan Greenspan mesmerizes a congressional panel on Education and the Work Force with the warning that if we do not radically improve our educational system, there is a danger to the future of the nation. Words carefully chosen. Rhetoric. We have no national strategy to address this question. In a war on ignorance and on looming changes of unknowable dimensions, shouldn't we have a strategy?

Leon M. Lederman, the director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has received the Wolf Prize in Physics (1982), and the Nobel Prize in Physics (1988). He is the author (with Dick Teresi)of The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

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