Leadership Insights

Time to Cheer on Science Education

By The Room 241 Team August 30, 2011

By Atlas Westfield, Senior Education Analyst

Americans like to call our country “number one.” We think of ourselves as the strongest, wealthiest and most expansive country in the world, the last remaining superpower — and all that comes with it. And while many would argue that all this holds true in many areas, our country is changing. Our economy is struggling, and our entire financial system is going through massive reorganization as we watch.

U.S. is Lagging in Science and Technology

With all the high-profile news pouring from the TV, radio and online, it can be easy to miss some of the quieter issues, like our country’s floundering science, technology and engineering sectors. While California is home to the world famous Silicon Valley (with Google, Apple and Yahoo, among others), truly new innovation in technology has almost no presence in the U.S. Where are the latest world-changing breakthroughs that everyone has come to expect in microprocessors and software?

Japan is one of the first countries that come to mind, but there are plenty of others quietly, and heavily, investing in science and engineering research infrastructure. India, South Korea, and China have been pouring billions into their universities and research sectors — and it’s not just the latest computer that they’re trying to invent. They’re deeply investing in the development of almost anything science- and engineering-related. And it’s no coincidence that these three countries have the fastest-growing economies right now: science and engineering are vitally important to a country’s growth.

The truth of the matter is, the U.S has been on the forefront of a number of world-changing technological breakthroughs — a driving force for America’s meteoric rise over the past two centuries or so — and that was never more relevant than in the past few decades, when our financial and workforce investments proved themselves in inventions that changed the direction, forever, of human history. The automobile, the airplane, the computer, the Internet — all were conceived in the U.S. (though, granted, the first two were engineering feats, rather than specifically related to science).

The Case for Strengthening STEM Education

The U.S. is sadly, no longer the warmest and most inviting home for engineers, and the aforementioned countries are right there, ready to welcome them with open arms. Our international allies have made the financial investments necessary to educate their youngest, as well as attract those inventors who want to be at the cutting edge of innovation. What can we do about it?

The answer is simple, and also maddeningly complex, as one might expect with a problem like this. The simplicity includes learning from the successes of our Asian neighbors: more investment, more research, more vitally important attention paid to our faltering sector. What makes it complex is that America is steeped in a culture that casts a critical eye on the people that science and engineering attract. Nerds and geeks, right?

It has been an issue for decades, where the horn-rimmed heroes and pocket protector pariahs have been subjected to the derision and exclusion of their peers. It’s high time America embraced our textbook-friendly, code-competent friends as the most important resource for our future.

Let’s Celebrate Know-How, Ingenuity and Innovation

Our country’s best, brightest, most educated scientists and engineers are surely in dire need of some positive attention, both in terms of how they are regarded, and also how they and their efforts are funded.

America is a place that some of the greatest scientists, movers, and shakers of our time call home. With proper motivation (and quality education), our country can produce awe-inspiring feats of human ingenuity and innovation. But that means education funding, and dedication to math and science curriculum, and technology in the classroom, And, while we’re at it, an overhaul of how pop culture depicts the engineers, the scientists and the inventors in our midst. Those are the unsung heroes so integral to this great nation’s progress, and the ones to help us move forward to a future where America has solidified its position at the top, once more.

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