Bill Nye & Obama: Poor Education Will Hold America Back

The U.S. economy is a complex animal, affected by everything from foreign policy to housing demands. Another factor? What goes on in our classrooms.

The role of quality education was raised in two highly publicized events, just one week apart from each other: President Obama’s State of the Union Address and the Debate at the Creation Museum between creationist, Ken Ham and science educator, Bill Nye, a.k.a. “The Science Guy.” Both President Obama and Bill Nye stressed that America must focus on quality education if it is to remain competitive in the world economy.

In his State of the Union Address on January 28th, President Obama said, “Research shows one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high quality early education.” He implored Congress to help his initiative to make high quality pre-k available to children, but also insisted that he would not wait for Congress to act. “While congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists to help get more kids access to the high quality pre-k that they need. It is right for America,” he said.

Bill Nye’s statements about education addressed a more specific concern: whether or not creationism ought to be taught in schools. “For the United States to maintain its leadership in technology, we need well-educated science students,” Nye said in a statement on CNN before the debate. He continued to argue that children have a right to proper scientific education, that not only will education enrich their lives but will also ensure their success. “Without scientists and engineers to create new technologies and ways of doing society’s business, other economies in other countries will out-compete the United States and leave our citizens behind,” he argued.

On the one hand, this seems to be a common sense statement. Quality education will lead to skilled and innovative individuals who will comprise a strong workforce. On the other hand, some question Nye’s assertion that teaching new-earth creationism weakens America’s future workforce.

In a scathing review of the debate on The Daily Beast, Michael Schulson criticized Nye for posing new-earth creationism as an economic weakness. “It’s a shame that Nye pushed that point so strongly, because it was the one thing he said all night for which he did not have any actual evidence,” wrote Shulson. “Creationism in public schools may be a social disaster, but it’s hard to prove that it’s a financial one, too.” After all, he argued, Ham offered up several examples of scientific innovators who profess a belief in creationism.

This seems to me to be a short-sighted criticism on Schulson’s part, however. Simply put, teaching new-earth creationism weakens the quality of a child’s education.  Replacing scientific evidence with fundamentalist claims is just one way to cheapen our educational system.

Is it possible to believe that God created the world in seven 24-hour days only 6,000 years ago and also to be a successful engineer? Yes it is, as Ham showed. But allowing false claims to be taught in schools is sure to cause harm on a large scale. In fact, Ken Ham’s dogmatic answers and disinterest in basic scientific reasoning during the debate clearly illustrated the way people behave who do not care–or perhaps know–to innovate, to question, or to wonder. If students are to comprise the skilled, inquisitive, and successful workforce our economy needs to compete, educators have to teach them to think rationally first.


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