NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
Lately words like “accountability,” “common core” and “charter school,” have dominated the headlines of the debates surrounding public education. While these are easy buzzwords to throw around during election campaigns and debates, they do not address why we have public education in the United States.
The dream of public education is to provide a basic level of education to all citizens. This not only benefits the individual but the society as a whole. When farmers were educated about soil conservation, the Dust Bowl was controlled. When education about the importance of seat belt use was unrolled across America, deaths from traffic accidents decreased dramatically.
Over the years, science education has been relegated to the textbook and pre-printed lab sheet. It is rare to find a cohesive department in any school — much less school district — that can continue the curious exploration that is the basis of all scientific inquiry. Filling in the correct bubble on a Scantron sheet has become equivalent to using scientific reasoning.
Likewise, most households in America do not have leisure time that affords delving into inquiry about the world around them. According to a recent study by Hofferth and Cain of the University of Maryland, children spend an average of at least 13 hours of their leisure time watching TV and only five hours in outdoor sports activities. There is nowhere for the Thomas Edisons of tomorrow to tinker in the garage or the Neil Armstrongs to play with their telescopes.
Unfortunately, the practical science education that improves the lives of our children and society has been lost to the mandates of testing and lackluster support of science education. The growing public health problems of Oklahoma all have roots of inquiry from the science lab.
According to the United Health Foundation and the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Oklahoma is ranked 48th out of 50 states in terms of overall health. Half of us are overweight or obese. Lung diseases from smoking kill more Oklahomans than any other cause of death.
Despite Mayor Mick Cornett’s aggressive campaign to improve fitness rates, obesity and diabetes continue to grow in Oklahoma. But understanding the management and prevention of these conditions is complicated and loaded with scientific concepts.
Cell metabolic processes, blood sugar levels, digestive enzymes and metabolic rates are not just abstract theories found in textbooks. When understood, the knowledge of health and wellness are imparted to the individual — and Oklahoma’s overall public health. What a calorie actually is a measure of (the energy to raise a cubic centimeter of water 1 degree Celsius) and how that relates to nutrition is a complex topic that requires critical thinking and inquiry skills found in science classrooms — not just a number on a bag of potato chips.
When children are given the tools to understand the world around them, they are able to help make decisions that make all of Oklahoma better. Teenagers who understand how cancer cells grow better understand the risks of smoking. Children who understand how the body uses food have information to make better choices.
The rigor of science is not just knowing the facts of the world, it is learning how to understand, question and test our world to make it better — even in Oklahoma.
AMY THIESSEN, PT, MEd, NCS