Schoolchildren have embraced environmentalism with much enthusiasm but little knowledge, writes Henry Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, in Forbes.
For last year’s Earth Day, for example, sixth-grade students at a tony private school near San Francisco were given this bizarre assignment: Make a list of ways Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates’ fortune could be spent on environmentally friendly projects. There was no hint that systematic market-based incentives for people and businesses could protect the environment–merely that it is OK to appropriate wealth from someone as long as it’s for a good cause.
At a public school north of San Francisco, fifth-graders studied the disappearance of honeybees: U.S. colonies have declined by two-thirds. “They made graphs and charts, created pamphlets in English and Spanish and wrote letters to dozens of local and national politicians.”
The kids became particularly concerned about the effects of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the technical name for the bees’ wholesale disappearance from hives, a subject that would have created an excellent teaching opportunity about biology, agriculture and logic — if only they had been given sufficient and accurate information. “Nobody’s sure what’s killing them,” summed up one of the students. “Mites, pesticides, radiation from cellphones, humans, global warming and not enough wildflowers. We’re not sure. There’s a lot of probable causes.”
In fact, the student’s “probable” causes aren’t probable at all, Miller writes. No scientific evidence supports mites, pesticides, cellphones, etc. CCD is associated with an infectious fungus called Nosema ceranae. Students could have discussed correlation and causation and learned how scientists designed experiments to figure out if the fungus was destroying hives and what to do about it.
Too often the objective of student projects seems to be “empowering” the kids and giving them a feeling of accomplishment instead of getting the right answer and learning scientific principles.
How many elementary teachers know enough about science to teach scientific principles? I’m leaning more and more toward training math-science specialists for upper-elementary grades.
In other news, an Iranian cleric says that women dressed in sexy clothing cause extramarital sex, which causes earthquakes.