At the school science fair, the hamster on a diet caught my eye, but it was the energy of three dozen 4th and 5th graders that really impressed me. On their posters, they asked questions about how objects behave in the world around us; light, water, electricity, critters under stress. One girl learned that orange juice would actually rot out your teeth more than Coca Cola. Conducting experiments is the antidote to standardized exams; it's about testing your hunches and learning from mistakes.
Science education has been shortchanged in this country, in no small part due to No Child Left Behind's myopia on testing a few core subjects. California may be home to Silicon Valley, but its science scores rank at the bottom. Facing this challenge, our Golden State is one of 26 developing the Next Generation Science Standards. Instead of swallowing more facts in isolation, students are asked to apply the core ideas they learn in science and engineering. And they're building models, like those at the science fair.
Recently I worked with Caleb, a young man who went on from our biotechnology program at City College to work for a company doing cutting-edge research on viruses. Coming from the Hunter's Point in San Francisco, he knows that many black youth have been left behind or behind bars. Caleb was lucky. He had lots of hands-on science and a leg up in math. But he thought all the discoveries had been made -- until he found biotech. He could do experiments for a living, and inspire the youth around him this was possible. I saw glimmers of that spark at the science fair where kids of all races held a magnifying lens to the world and took charge of their learning.
We need to bolster science education, not cut funding as Governor Brown has attempted to do. What can you do? Weigh in on the new science standards. Build school-to-community partnerships. Let's stop putting education on a diet.
It doesn't take a stressed rodent to show that we need plenty of brain food for the next generation of scientists and problem solvers.