I don’t agree with some of his view points/ opinion but there are a lot of gems. I also believe that what he says is applicable with almost all unglamorous exploits. Informed citizens are very hard to find in a world obsessed with celebrities.
The precipitous drop in American science students has been visible for years. In 1998 the House released a national science-policy report, “Unlocking Our Future,” that fussily described “a serious incongruity between the perceived utility of a degree in science and engineering by potential students and the present and future need for those with training.”
Let me offer a different explanation. Students respond more profoundly to cultural imperatives than to market forces. In the United States, students are insulated from the commercial market’s demand for their knowledge and skills. That market lies a long way off — often too far to see. But they are not insulated one bit from the worldview promoted by their teachers, textbooks, and entertainment. From those sources, students pick up attitudes, motivations, and a lively sense of what life is about. School has always been as much about learning the ropes as it is about learning the rotes. We do, however, have some new ropes, and they aren’t very science-friendly. Rather, they lead students who look upon the difficulties of pursuing science to ask, “Why bother?”
Success in the sciences unquestionably takes a lot of hard work, sustained over many years. Students usually have to catch the science bug in grade school and stick with it to develop the competencies in math and the mastery of complex theories they need to progress up the ladder. Those who succeed at the level where they can eventually pursue graduate degrees must have not only abundant intellectual talent but also a powerful interest in sticking to a long course of cumulative study. A century ago, Max Weber wrote of “Science as a Vocation,” and, indeed, students need to feel something like a calling for science to surmount the numerous obstacles on the way to an advanced degree.
At least on the emotional level, contemporary American education sides with the obstacles. It begins by treating children as psychologically fragile beings who will fail to learn — and worse, fail to develop as “whole persons” — if not constantly praised. The self-esteem movement may have its merits, but preparing students for arduous intellectual ascents aren’t among them. What the movement most commonly yields is a surfeit of college freshmen who “feel good” about themselves for no discernible reason and who grossly overrate their meager attainments.
The intellectual lassitude we breed in students, their unearned and inflated self-confidence, undercuts both the self-discipline and the intellectual modesty that is needed for the apprentice years in the sciences. Modesty? Yes, for while talented scientists are often proud of their talent and accomplishments, they universally subscribe to the humbling need to prove themselves against the most-unyielding standards of inquiry. That willingness to play by nature’s rules runs in contrast to the make-it-up-as-you-go-along insouciance that characterizes so many variants of postmodernism and that flatters itself as being a higher form of pragmatism.
The aversion to long-term and deeply committed study of science among American students also stems from other cultural imperatives. We rank the manufacture of “self-esteem” above hard-won achievement, but we also have immersed a generation in wall-to-wall promotion of diversity and multiculturalism as being the worthiest form of educational endeavor; we have foregrounded the redistributional dreams of “social justice” over heroic aspirations to discover, invent, and thereby create new wealth; and we have endlessly extolled the virtue of “sustainability” against the ravages of “progress.” Do all that, and you create an educational system that is essentially hostile to advanced achievement in the sciences and technology. Moreover, those threads have a certainty and unity that make them not just a collection of educational conceits but also part of a compelling worldview.
The antiscience agenda is visible as early as kindergarten, with its infantile versions of the diversity agenda and its early budding of self-esteem lessons. But it complicates and propagates all the way up through grade school and high school. In college it often drops the mask of diffuse benevolence and hardens into a fascination with “identity.”
That could be a good thing if the introspections were enriched by professors who could show students where Plato or Shakespeare had touched such depths, or who could startle them by showing where Hobbes or Tocqueville had seen them coming. But in a curriculum dissolved in the sea of minutiae and professorial enthusiasms, the opportunity to pass through moody introspection and back into the sturdy world of real people grows rare.