A few years ago I was staying at a hotel in Phoenix. It was the cheapest centrally located place I could find. The sheets were clean and the air conditioner worked, but when I got up in the morning and tried to go down to the lobby I found out that the elevator was messed up. It kept taking me up and down the shaft, stopping at random floors, where the door would open to find nobody waiting. Becoming more and more frustrated, I finally got off and walked down the stairs. I found the concierge and apprised him of the situation. “Yes, sir; I apologize for that, but I’m afraid that elevator is haunted.” He went on to explain that a young starlet threw herself off the hotel roof back in the ‘20s and has haunted the hotel ever since, recently focusing on the elevator.
He said this with a straight face. All I could do was stare at him, too stunned to speak.
To be fair, I don’t know much about elevators, other than that they’re essentially boxes attached to cables, lifted and lowered by electric motors that are controlled by electronic switches. But I do know that elevators are never controlled by ghosts, because ghosts don’t exist. I know this because I understand science, and science has not found any evidence of ghosts or any other supernatural beings.
Science is all about accumulating accurate information about the world in which we live. Scientists use the scientific method to learn things. They make hypotheses which they test with investigations and experiments. As they accumulate knowledge in this manner, they communicate it to one another and to the rest of us. That’s how we learn about our world. If science can’t find evidence for something, it doesn’t exist.
As teachers, we have an obligation to pass this knowledge on to our students. Frankly, it doesn’t seem like we’re succeeding.
According to recent polls:
-25% percent of us think the sun orbits the Earth. (It doesn’t)
-31% don’t think there’s “solid evidence” of climate change. (There is)
-33% of Americans don’t believe humans have evolved from other animals. (We have)
-45% of us believe there are ghosts. (There aren’t)
That is pathetic. In fact, scientific understanding has gotten so bad that science educator Bill Nye was recently reduced to debating Ken Ham on the merits of evolution vs creationism.
Much has been made recently about STEM. And that’s good, since it addresses an important and emerging job sector. But STEM is all about applied science. My concern is basic science; the understanding of the world we live in. And when a hotel manager can blithely blame a broken elevator on a woman who died ninety years ago, we’ve got cause for concern.
Fortunately, things are looking up. Washington recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. Over the next three years, they should be fully implemented from top to bottom. And perhaps by then we’ll have the Common Core and TPEP under our belt to the extent that we’ll be able to focus on something as important as science. If we successfully implement these standards, the scientific ignorance I’ve listed above will become a thing of the past. Children will grow up understanding their world and the way in which knowledge about that world is gathered. And perhaps more people will do better on simple tests like this. (I got all of them right!)
Sadly, however, only twenty-six states have thus far signed onto these standards. Arizona, by the way, is not among them. And that worries me.
Almost as much as that haunted elevator.