Tom Friedman of The New York Times recently wrote that in Germany, 36 percent of undergrads receive degrees in science and engineering; in China, 59 percent; in Japan, 66 percent; and in America, only 32 percent. And how about the fact that US 12th graders recently performed below the international average in math and science? Not to mention, without foreign enrollment at the university level, the paltry six percent we graduate in science and engineering would be an even smaller number.
Quoting from two recent reports, "Some of America's Best Minds" and "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," Friedman offers solutions for the educational upgrading of our country and its students and teachers:1. Annually recruit 10,000 science and math teachers by awarding four-year merit-based scholarships.
2. Strengthen the math and science skills of 250,000 other teachers through extracurricular programs.
3. Create opportunities and incentives for many more middle school and high school students to take advanced math and science courses.
4. Increase federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent a year over the next seven years.
5. Annually provide $500,000 science research grants to American universities and colleges.
6. Grant automatic one-year visa extensions to foreign students who earn PhDs in science, engineering, or math.
Other experts add that able students as young as junior high need to be carefully nurtured. Parental encouragement is the first way, followed by placing students on a special science track as early as seventh or eighth grade, and lastly, through the venerable (if not P.C.) solution that Americans often deploy in sports: competition among schools.
Is it nerdy to prize scientific and economic progress? In a commentary published in The Los Angeles Times, David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, warned that our standard of living and future as a world power are in jeopardy because we are locked in a "fortress mentality"—we aren't making the essential investments. He also says that there's a new and worrisome change in attitude, where "anti-intellectualism and the cult of the sound bite" are held out to be the cool modus operandi. No surprise Bill Gates is looking over our lackluster performance in technological innovation and predicting the decline will continue.
The combination of vocal anti-scientism exhibited by the anti-stem cell, anti-Darwin camps, and anti-post-partum treatment ethos of Tom Cruise, and the unbridled ambition and apolitical embrace of science and technology by our Asian and Indian friends, should have us concerned about our global economic future.