I recently discovered that the state universities where we live now require physics and a math course beyond algebra II as admission requirements, so we’re scrambling to make that happen for our oldest daughter in case that is the route she ends up taking. On the other hand, they only require one course of American History and one course of something else vaguely resembling history (i.e. world history, sociology, economics, etc.). They do require 4 years of English, but it seems like a lot of English “literature” at the high school level is far from the classics that engage the mind and heart and often downright vile.
The added math and science requirements in the last few years are, I suppose, intended to help with the fact that America has been and continues to be so far behind so many other countries in math and science. The term, “American ingenuity” has disappeared from the world’s vocabulary. Therefore, in order to help with that, colleges now require more math and science. Makes sense, right?
I don’t think it does. I am reminded of the old professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when C. S. Lewis has him demand, “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?” I believe the reason we are behind other countries in math and science is not so much because of a lack of math and science but because schools do not teach children how to think.
Moreover, severely reducing the amount of history taught in high school is certainly not going to help. In fact, a widespread and in-depth knowledge of history may be the single most important factor in remaining a free country. History, studied as it should be after grammar school, should include not just the “whats” and “whos” but the “whys” and “hows,” the connections, the ideas that led to the actions that make up that “whats” of history. Studying the classics in literature provides an understanding into the nature of man that no amount of psychology or sociology can equal. Studying logic directly is also enormously helpful in learning to think.
The trouble, I think, is that while a teacher of physics reasonably has no problem in a secular society stating the rate at which objects fall, the teacher of literature has a terrible time saying what the nature of man is, the teacher of history can make no judgments as to the morality of a given act, and the teacher of logic…oh, wait a minute, there’s no such thing in most schools.
So forgive me while I rant and rave about the problems with education in America today. I do not think they are likely to be solved by adding the requirement of physics to every student (and thus dumbing down physics to a level accessible to every student in America) or by adding the requirement of calculus to every college-bound student because truly, the perennial question that students often ask, “When are we going to use this stuff?”, does not seem at all unreasonable to me in this case.
The solution is the same as it has been for several thousand years: a liberal arts education that teaches one to think, to understand, to ponder, and to love. The founders of our nation were fairly universally products of a liberal arts education, and their ideas created something almost totally unique–a truly free nation (although even their ideas sadly took almost 200 years to include everyone). The answer to the problem of American education is not universal physics and calculus as a requirement for getting into college (with the obvious exception for those who will be obtaining degrees that require physics and calculus). Rather, the answer to the problem of the general mediocrity of American education is to provide the type of education that makes a free man–the education that teaches one to think. Once that is learned, future mathematicians and scientists in America will soar, and the words “American” and “ingenuity” will once again be linked throughout the world.