Friday, June 25, 2010

Uncovering the "Silent - E"

It seems that our society has placed a "silencing" cup on the word "Engineering" from pre-college levels downwards. This was the topic of Day 2 afternoon discussions led by BU Eng. Prof. Mike Ruane.

Focused on the importance of Integrating Engineering Design into pre-college STEM courses, RET expert and Medford biology teacher, Rocco Cieri, called on discovering new strategies and ways that could make Engineering an appealing career for teenagers, who seem to drifting away from such a highly demanded career path. In the discussion, RET experts and novices presented their concerns and suggested solutions for science teachers who recommend career paths to pre-college students.

As a teacher in a private institution, in a wealthy North Shore - Boston area, I think that there is a tendency today in the American society at large that appears to indirectly cultivate a fertile terrain for math and sciences withdrawal, generally speaking, and especially from careers in engineering. This is a serious concern and debated at many levels. It is also a very complex phenomenon. It has a multitude of agents and reagents, policy actors and decision makers, where individual students and families feel powerless to hold the societal pressure toward ‘’easy’’, but well paid careers! Individuals (think: students) bullied by internet ads that lure the young to quickly achieve degrees without the necessary, hard work in a connected way. Teachers, struggling for resources, lack motivation if underpaid or submerged in bureaucratic work.

Immigration policies, which in one hand try to fill in the shortage with readily made scientists from abroad, hinder the development of local internal growth. (At least, this is the way of thinking of politicians : buying comes easier than making!)

However, for me, personally, the main reason for the math-and-science current, student neglect are the media and the entitlement culture of the American student. We, educators, deal with it in our classes on a daily basis. Students seem to be more attracted by musical idols, multimillionaire movie stars and athletes than any other profession. The rest of their day is overbooked with piano lessons, baseball, hockey, lacrosse, and all kind of tutoring hours from MCAS to SSAT’s. Therefore, going to school has become the best place and time to “socialize.” And there’s nothing that could beat the hunger for socialization in a teenager! Math and science – by definition – are smeared with distaste by many students as an uneasy unlike-denominator, killing the fun time.

I am afraid that at the end of the teen-years, when it is time to call for a life vocation, the choice may appear more coherent to a life “vacation” than anything else.

Well, luckily, not for everyone!

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