My name is Seth Giles. I live in Phoenix, AZ. I ran across your website and found it interesting. It provoked some thought and a line of inquiry I thought I might run by you and see what you think. I sounded like you are open to some conversation.

If science education has not progressed as it should over the past 50 years, perhaps we need a different approach. You mention that the schools (classroom facilities) are not what they should be, and that the educator’s expertise is generally lacking due to the focus on teaching skills rather than content knowledge. That seems to be true. I have a son who is in high school and at home he plays video games with other people around the world at the same time that he is texting friends, emailing, listening to his IPOD, eating, and ….. But in the classroom he is expected to read quietly or put his head down– and this is at a high-performing high school.

Perhaps the traditional institution/classroom/teacher model is the heart of the problem. What if we lessened/changed the teacher’s role in education and instead fed the students with ideas that they could pursue with the help of a mentor/instructor, but got out of the way. I don’t mean Montessori, but instead of institutionalizing students, break a rock. Legal and environmental concerns also seem to have put a damper on what schools are willing to try out of fear of a lawsuit.

Scientific discoveries are not made by timid people who are afraid of getting laughed at or being sued. Flying a kite in a thunder storm, risking yourself with a disease to find a cure, strapping yourself into a plane that will exceed the conventionally accepted limits, or sitting on top of a rocket to be blasted off into space is not the mindset we allow or promote in education today.

It seems difficult to change education in America today because there is so much investment in the way things are. Buildings, tax structure, teacher unions, school boards, textbook companies, etc. It would seem that the solution has to be something like the Netscape or Google approach. Offer an alternate approach to the outcome and let em at it. The face of business has changed from the Sears catalog- to downtown- to the mall- to the internet. Farming has changed from small local producers to global international producers and hydroponic facilities for year-round output. Party lines to cellphones, Facebook, and email communication. Everything has changed, but we still expect our children to sit still.

When I was a kid, I could order fuse in bulk from the back of Popular Science and buy chemicals for my chemistry set from the local hobby shop. Today, I would be surprised if the science teacher could purchase those same chemicals without an environmental impact report and if you bought fuse, you would probably be considered a national security risk.

My mother grew up on the homestead and the horse took her and her brothers to school. They filled the basement with snow for an icebox, brought water in from the well, and cooked on a coal stove with coal they dug up from the basement floor in wintertime. Today, she can microwave a cup of coffee in one minute and fly across the country to visit family in three hours. She doesn’t own a horse anymore.

Teachers always say, “Think outside of the box.”, but education doesn’t seem able to do that. Everything has changed, but the educational system. It seems as though the solution to significant science interest and growth has to come from outside the existing educational system or from a catalyst that has such an impact on the system that it forces dynamic change like the Soviet space race did for technology.

What kind of out-of-the-box event/approach do you think it will take or is possible to accomplish the needed change and how could we allow it to happen?

I would be interested in your thoughts.

Seth