Science at the White House: An Oxymoron?

Science at the White House.  This is not a contradiction in terms.  This is not an oxymoron.  For the first time, the President of the United States brought to the White House award winning science projects, much like bringing the championship football or baseball team to take pictures with the President.  Yet, this event was much different.  The winning science fair projects were set up in the State Dining room, and the President, as well all of the invited guests spent more than hour perusing the science projects, and in the case of the President, talking with the students about their projects.

Here is a video of the President’s talk to the science project winners, and the guests at this important event.

Progressive science teaching would acknowledge this event as significant, but would also use the event as a reminder that the direction that education is heading today will not result in an educational environment that will see student innovation, creativity, and problem solving as the centerpiece of educational reform. Instead, even when President Obama agrees that the kind of research that these students are doing is fundamental to the long term prosperity of the country, and indeed the world, we don’t see schools embracing this innovative temper. Bubble testing, and page after page of standards written in behavioral terminology by grade level compromises creative and innovative teaching and learning.

President Obama involving himself with one of the student science projects at he first ever White House Science event, October 18, 2010.

Science education ought be be humanistic, and ought to challenge students to be problem solvers, and willing to take risks with their thinking. We should be encouraging students to reach the outer limits of their abilities and knowledge, rather than boxing them into a set of standards, written, assessed, and funded by a very small group of corporations and for-profit organizations that have a vested interest in the “standards” movement.

We ought to use the Science at the White House event to ask serious questions about how we can move education away from a path that claims that one set of goals and objectives is good enough for every child. There ought to be a way for students to be involved more directly in their own pathway, and for schools to facilitate this process.