[If you cannot see the You Tube video below, you can click here for a high quality mp4 video.]
Interviewee: Leon Lederman, Physics Nobel laureate
Last week I had the opportunity to hear physics Nobel laureate Dr. Leon Lederman field questions from high school students at the World Science Festival in New York City. These hand-picked aces asked about neutrinos, the “God particle“, and what it’s like to win the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Lederman was warm and unassuming in addressing their questions. However, he had a stern message for the U.S. educational system as a whole. In a recent ScienCentral interview, he expressed concern that students and future citizens are growing up ill-equipped to function in a world increasingly enmeshed in science and technology.
Dr. Lederman is currently Director Emeritus of Fermilab. On another front, he is actively fostering improvements in U.S. science education through several outlets, including his Project ARISE: American Renaissance in Science Education. ARISE emphasizes teaching physics as the foundation science in high school, followed by chemistry, and then biology.
He was also invited to be on the National Science Board’s Commission On 21st Century Education In Science, Technology, Engineering And Mathematics (STEM), which resulted in the National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. STEM Education System.
Transcript of video/interview:
University graduates emerge from colleges very often as ignorant about things scientific as they were when they entered high school in some sense.
I think the universities bear a lot of responsibility for some of our problems. For example, they’re in charge of training teachers, and especially primary school teachers; and yet primary school teachers all over the country emerge from these teachers colleges totally ignorant about mathematics and science. And they, when they have to teach it as a requirement in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, they install their own insecurities in the minds of the children. And that’s terrible. That creates an attitude and will speak with great danger to the future flow of not only scientists and engineers, but also a public that is comfortable with science, and that has a role to play in how science evolves to help the nation in many ways.
You only have to look at the technology of cell phones and internet and the vast array of things that have emerged from a technology and from a scientific understanding of the world in which we live. And you have to say, ‘Are we teaching students the right things?’ And clearly we’re not.
We have to raise teachers’ salaries, we have to improve the curriculua. These are things we must do. We must have the same priority for these things as the nation had when it perceived the threat of a Soviet satellite, Sputnik, and acted to create NASA, which of course became a very successful agency, doing exactly what it was expected to do.
Our recommendation was to create a new entity which would sit in Washington, which would not be a federal institution, but it would play the role of collecting together the best minds devoted to education to pick on the things that we thought were important and to get the legislation not only written and discussed but then passed by the Congress.
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