The overview we need in elementary school

Every child should have the right to understand the world. To get a overview glimpse of mankind’s knowledge of how everything works. When you have a basic understanding of how the world around you actually works, it increases your chances of adequately handling the way you live in.

Sadly, there are many ways the nations of the world can fail to deliver this empowerment to our children. As I see it, there are three main failures in this area: Failing to provide education, failure to give natural science it’s proper place, and finally failing to give a comprehendable overview of what natural science knows.

Failing to provide education at all
In some countries, girls get executed for wanting to go to school. In other countries, many children don’t have access to school. Either because public schools doesn’t exist, or because they are actually not available for all the children.

Failure to give natural science it’s proper place
In many schools around the world, children are fed the lie that physical reality is a matter of opinion. A matter of what you believe, or who you believe. Thus, the physical world itself also becomes a matter of loyalty. Are your parents fundamentalist Christians who believe in Creationism? Very well then: The Universe is 6.000 years old, and if you say otherwise it means that you are disrespecting your parents. Telescopes around the globe are picking up starlight that has spent billions of years traveling from distant galaxies, but these teachers believe that it would be ”disrespectful” to allow the children to know such truths.

Knowledge about culture and religion is important, but it needs to be kept separately from science. They are different fields, different kinds of knowledge, and they are about different levels of reality in the first place.

Children has to the right to know what physics, chemistry and biology tells us about the world. They have a right to know that this knowledge is based on evidence and research, not on belief and opinion. They also have a right to know the meaning of concepts such as evidence and research: It should not be empty words.

Finally, teaching about natural science must be about understanding: It must be about giving all the kids a basic understanding of the world they live in.

Sadly, many seem to miss this basic goal of physics, chemistry and biology. Instead, they see it as a mere tool for turning some kids into useful engineers, doctors and scientists. Based on this worldview, teaching the rest of the kids about the physical world looks like a waste of time. However, this worldview is inhumane, antidemocratic and self-defeating.

Inhumane, because it deprive the children of their rightful chance to understand the world. Antidemocratic, because democracy is not merely about the procedure of voting. For democracy to truly flourish, we need informed voters with a good understanding of all levels of their situation. This requires good education as well as a free press and so on. Self-defeating, because if you fail to give the children the spark of curiosity in science, much fewer of them will grow up with a true passion for these important fields.

Failing to give a comprehendable overview
What the children need is a basic overview. To understand the big picture, how the whole thing works. They don’t need to comprehend the details. Sadly, science class is often about pushing the kids into details that are boring and bound to fail anyway. Children don’t need to try to calculate physics equations, what they need is to learn what these equations are and what they does.

Earlier today I was shown a very beautiful youtube video. It was ”The Universe in a Nutshell” by Dr. Michio Kaku. This video is what physics class should be like. Actually, this is what physics class should be! Let the children see the video, or at least the first 30 minutes of it, and discuss. That would be well spent time. This particular video may not be perfect for children in itself, but it has the perfect attitude. They can get the general idea from it, an overview of how things work. Videos and books in the same spirit, made for children, could be even better. The Magic Of Reality is probably one such book. I would like to read it. Judging from what I have heard about it I want all schoolchildren in the world to read it as well.

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