Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pew on Science

A new PEW study on America's state of Science standing in the national psyche is complete.

I find the study to be flawed and misreported in a number of ways. One section of the study asks respondents fairly pedestrian questions about science which Americans largely answer correctly and another section that asks so-called textbook questions. Unsurprisingly fewer respondents get the textbook questions correct. The commentary of the report implies that the textbook questions are "more complex science topics", a dubious characterization. One could argue that the textbook material is last century's idea of complex (nuclear age vs information technology questions).

In fact, the most profoundly disturbing aspect of this report is the utter lack of recognizing the importance of computing to science (a topic for another blog).

In Scientific American, the study is handed down without any critical thinking and that becomes an invitation to bash American public school science education.

Given that American science is still the envy of the rest of the world one has to wonder why Americans still accept and perpetuate the idea that American science education is in crisis.

As this blog has repeatedly pointed out, American business interests have used science and math bashing as a public relations ploy to pass legislation to exploit foreign workers at the expense of American workers.

The latest such insulting allegation came from a broadside from Vineet Nayar, a so-called respected CEO of yet another IT services outfit from India.

The official wanted to know why HCL, a $2.5 billion (revenue) company with more than 3,000 people across 21 offices in 15 states, wasn't hiring more people in his state. Vineet's short answer: because most American college grads are "unemployable." (In fairness to HCL, the company recently announced plans to open a delivery center in another state, North Carolina, and invest $3.2 million and hire more than 500 employees there over the next five years under a Job Development Investment Grant.)

Many American grads looking to enter the tech field are preoccupied with getting rich, Vineet said. They're far less inclined than students from developing countries like India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Ireland to spend their time learning the "boring" details of tech process, methodology, and tools--ITIL, Six Sigma, and the like.

As a result, Vineet said, most Americans are just too expensive to train--despite the Indian IT industry's reputation for having the most exhaustive boot camps in the world. To some extent, he said, students from other highly developed countries fall into the same rut.

In an interview following his presentation, Vineet said HCL and other employers need to have a greater influence on the tech curricula of U.S. colleges and universities, to make them more real-world and rigorous. For the most part, he said, those institutions haven't been receptive to such industry partnerships.

More broadly, Vineet echoed the concerns expressed by other CEOs, including SAS Institute's Jim Goodnight and Cisco's John Chambers, about the failure of the U.S. education system to prepare the country's next-generation tech workforce (a subject Goodnight and others will dive into at the InformationWeek 500 Conference, Sept. 13 to 15).

Beyond the need to bolster competencies in math, the hard sciences, and basic problem solving, U.S. schools at all levels must place a greater emphasis on global history, foreign languages, and other subjects that prepare students for jobs and life outside this country. How many grads of U.S. colleges are ready or even willing to work abroad? Vineet asked rhetorically. "We need to define the American dream to be more global in nature," he said.

The unholy alliance of corporate greed teamed with offshore job pirating firms has over-saturated the American democracy to the degree that American public education has been thrown under the bus along with the American worker.

With American science STILL, AS ALWAYS leading the world in innovation and progress, Americans continue to be denigrated, demeaned, and insulted by the corporate global job raiders.

The truth is that American students continue to shine in math and science at all educational levels and the proof is in the pudding. And American students continue to pursue the American dream of freedom, prosperity, and personal happiness with the same vigor of their forefathers. They have nothing to apologize for.

American workers have the right to earn decent wages in their own country from the fruit of their own ingenuity. It is not Americans who are out of line here, it is incivility of the those who lecture us instead of working to create self-sustaining opportunities in their own countries.