30 March 2008

Get educated, man

An excerpt from Nicholas Kristof's newest op-ed column, "With a Few More Brains...":

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"Then there’s this embarrassing fact about the United States in the 21st century: Americans are as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution. Depending on how the questions are asked, roughly 30 to 40 percent of Americans believe in each.

A 34-nation study found Americans less likely to believe in evolution than citizens of any of the countries polled except Turkey.

President Bush is also the only Western leader I know of who doesn’t believe in evolution, saying “the jury is still out.” No word on whether he believes in little green men.

Only one American in 10 understands radiation, and only one in three has an idea of what DNA does. One in five does know that the Sun orbits the Earth ...oh, oops."

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I believe in aliens. That is, I believe in the statistical probability that there is life out there, but that we will probably never find them and they will never find us. Not so much flying saucers, although the X-Files geek in me would like to believe there is a conspiracy. I'll try my best to be accepting and understand how you might not believe in evolution because it contradicts your religious beliefs. But how can you believe in flying saucers, based entirely upon speculation, and not believe in something supported by empirical evidence? Maybe Bush thinks we ourselves are aliens--not that that contradicts creationism at all.

I can understand ignorance in general, because I'm guilty of spending the last two weeks festering on YouTube in a newfound obsession with the actor James McAvoy (he's incredible!) rather than doing anything productive. I understand the tendency toward ignorance because it's so easy to surround yourself in impractical knowledge. But the fact that I am surprised and depressed by these statistics makes me feel very naive. If only I could expect more; I don't want to be a cynic just yet.

I can also understand the lack of knowledge about DNA and radiation, because science education positively sucks in the U.S. All the "street-talk" TV shows that portray the average American as someone who confuses Iraq and Australia on a map point to an egregious problem with our education system. This is what makes me want to get out there and teach my future students what DNA and radiation are so that they don't join the ranks of the average American. I can expect more.

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