One of the most prominent figures in our Nation’s history that may have been destined in their youth to become a naturalist/scientist was Teddy Roosevelt. His childhood was dominated by exploring and collecting specimens from the natural world around him for his personal museum. When he entered Harvard in 1876 his intent was to study science. Once there he found a program dictated by lecture, reading, and tests. There were no field experiences and limited to no laboratory experimentation. As a result of his disappointment Roosevelt lost interest in pursuing this academic course although he retained his avid pursuit of knowledge of the natural world. The rest is history.
This same sense of disappointment faced by Roosevelt is affecting students in many of our public school systems today. In a time when we hear that America is dropping further behind other countries in academic achievement in science and math we need to engage students’ interest. Partially to answer these concerns politicians developed a solution requiring standardized testing to measure student knowledge and evaluate schools and teachers.
One of the consequences of these tests scenarios is that educators are forced to teach students what they need to know to pass the written or on line tests. In the area of science this process has challenged time for laboratory and or field experiences where students have the opportunity to see the principles of science in real world situations. The reduction or elimination of such experiences prevents students from learning to make connections and see the influences of causes and effects in life.
Add to these conditions cuts in educational budgets and the reductions in the numbers of teaching positions and I do not see our schools having the ability to provide future experiences to many students.
This is where the importance of National, State, and Local Parks, Nature Centers, and other Non Profit environmental education sources can fill the gap in this important aspect of our children’s education. These special places and organizations provide an incubator to develop our future leaders in science, the environment, and leadership. Experiences in the outdoors if even for short periods of time can serve as a catalyst for selection of careers and academic pursuits.
All of these sources of experiential education are affected by the recent decline in the economy by the reduction of grants and government funding made available to keep their education programs going.
How are we to maintain or improve the science education of our next generation of citizens and leaders if we are not providing adequate hands on experiences? Will we continue to turn kids off to science by making it more and more important to memorize a text book and pass a test? Or should we get involved and support our schools and other organizations to provide opportunities for more practical interconnected science based experiences?