Education is not schooling, grades, chartered schools or college prep schools. Education is learning ideas and skills humans learned over the past five thousand or so years of recorded human history and using those ideas and skills to live a tranquil, fulfilling and productive life.
Science is a big part of that human knowledge. In fact it is the glue which connects all knowledge making it meaningful to us.
Although science has been around for a long time (any inquisitive thought that any one ever had, was and is science), it began to blossom around the 17th and the 18th centuries, giving rise to the period of renaissance and eventually becoming on its own around the middle of the 19th century.
During this period science moved beyond the thinking and the speculating stage as it ventured into making instruments to aid our senses to see and detect more of the mysteries of Nature.
This was the open period of science for science and its various discoveries were accessible to everyone, educating and enlightening the masses and the intelligentsia alike. The common practice of the time was to perform the experiments in the public square and also demonstrate their outcome in public.
As a result, the humanity worked together as a whole instituting changes and implementing guidelines, such as the public health standards and guidelines for hygiene, thus creating a healthy and a prosperous society.
In subsequent years, this new knowledge, and the more that was being added to it, continued to be available to the masses via the press and the educational institutions of the time which kept the public just as knowledgeable, inquisitive and creative as the intelligentsia. In fact many of the newer discoveries were coming from the lay public and not from the intelligentsia and the society as whole was growing and prospering.
This prosperity and the sense of well being continued as long as the knowledge remained viable within the public and the knowledge also remained whole and understandable, i.e., it did not get broken down into subjects and sub-subjects and was talked about and discussed in simple everyday language.
This trend continued until about mid fifties of the twentieth century even though by that time science was broken down into subjects and specialties but as long as the various subjects continued to be taught to the public via our educational system, the society as a whole remained in sync with the evolving knowledge.
A change, however, began to occur after mid fifties and early sixties of the twentieth century when our colleges and universities shifted their emphasis to new areas of research such as those based on the discovery of DNA and the yet unknown areas of our immune system and its functions thus away from teaching.
These new research areas required new tools, ideas and concepts which were now developed within the academia, away from the masses. Much of this developing knowledge also could not be taught coherently in the classes as the concepts and ideas were still emerging and therefore raw.
This is the point when a separation occurred between the knowledge base of the academia and that of the masses; the latter becoming less and less knowledgeable thereby developing a sense of awe instead of the sense of “know” that the public once had about science.
This is the stage our society is now in and since the separation began around mid fifties of the twentieth century, the gap is now fifty years or three generations wide making the public totally out of step from the forefront of today's science.
This gap is also affecting our science and non-science teachers who are just as much behind as the general public. This simply means that our public and the society cannot advance unless we bridge this gap by bringing forward and teaching all those skills and concepts we left behind fifty or so years ago. This is the task the Science Skills Center is designed to perform.
It is doing that by first sifting and sorting, what looks like a hodge-podge of science, and then separating the essentials from the minutia and the redundant. Until this was done, science was so spread out that it overwhelmed even the scientists who kept on fragmenting it more and more to deal with it instead of figuring out ways to contain it.
Fortunately, the sifting and sorting helped as it began to contain science within a small number of essential concepts, skills, and procedures which turned out to be only 150 not the hundreds or thousands that a cursory look at science had us believe.
These also turned out to be the concepts and skills that scientists subconsciously use to do science but never found time to put them together as a functional curriculum so science could be taught to almost anyone much like we do for music, art and sports all of which have a functional and sequential mode of teaching the uninitiated.
For instance, we do not start teaching music by handing the beginning student the score of clare de lune and expect him or her to perform on a piano which they have not yet learned how it works and what its various keys do.
Likewise in art also we first make a person familiar with the tools of the art such as pencils and the paper, where they learn to make lines and the circles, later adding to this the paints, brushes and the canvass. We do not start them on duplicating Mona Lisa from day one!
We have a similar step by step system for sports where a child begins by learning to dribble the basket ball or catch the baseball in the mitt. We do not expect him or her to be Michael Jordon or ________from day one.
Now we can finally do the same for science and start the beginning students by teaching them step by step the tools, the instruments and the rules of science.
Here also, like any form of learning and teaching, the three rules of learning apply which are: (1) What it is? (2) How it is? And finally (3) why it is?
And these have to be brought in the above sequence. The mistake we are now making in our educational system the world over is that we start our beginning students with step three, the abstract of them all, asking them to explain what they do not have the slightest idea about yet.
This approach does an unforgivable things to our children; it robs them of their self confidence. As a result, they button up inside feeling they are not good enough.
The three step learning and teaching format does just the reverse, it gives them confidence.
That, besides teaching science, is the main aim of the Science Skills Center and its companion institute, the Center for General and Applied Education.