Ex Ducare

In a scene in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie", Edinburgh schoolmarm Jean Brodie is under attack from headmistress Miss MacKay.

The dialogue runs something like this:
Jean Brodie: "Education is from the Latin, ex and ducare, meaning leading out."

Miss MacKay: "I wish there were a little more putting in!"

(Maggie Smith won a well-deserved Oscar for her role in this Jay Presson Allen adaptation of the multi-layered play based on Muriel Spark's novel.)

The key point of the book/play/movie is encapsulated when Miss Brodie paraphrases the behavioral psychologists, "Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life."

Proponents of religion recognize this credulity and malleability of children when they campaign to insert religious teachings into the classroom or create dinosaur lie-oramas.

Modern education is, of course, probably more about putting in than leading out, yet both seem important at the university level. Critical thinking skills certainly seem particularly vital in an electronic age of unedited-crap-bombardment.

Although the US boasts some of the highest ranked universities in the world when comparisons are based on quality of research output, American 15-year olds rank dismally low in math (25th-28th), reading (12th-23rd), and science (20th-27th). The low rankings were reported for a 2003 comparison of more than 250,000 15-year old students from 41 countries. Why the discrepancy?

I have not found a posted explanation, but the answer probably lies in the mega-buck funding of America's top research universities. Take a look at the research scientists, post-graduate fellows, and graduate students of the top science research labs and you will quickly notice that the labs are heavily weighted with foreign-trained scientists. The US is draining brains from other nations because it has the funds to attract top scientists. This does not necessarily mean, though, that the quality of American university graduates stacks as high as the standards of research publications would suggest.

Another quality comparison can be performed by examining science course materials on university websites (.edu). The better American universities do provide high quality material, but many lecture notes from lesser colleges indicate that the courses for which they are posted are low in quality and informational content. By comparison, British (.ac.uk) websites suggest much more demanding undergraduate courses.

No wonder the usual inverse relationship between science education and religiosity fails in the US. It appears that many American universities provide a less than rigorous basic education in the natural sciences. Couple inadequate educational standards with the vehement creationism and anti-science machinations of religious fundamentalists and it is little wonder that the US has not progressed far since the ludicrous Scopes "monkey trial".

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