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Saturday, February 27, 2021

On science in a "democracy"

From a Science Magazine editorial:
Science, civics, and democracy
   Michael J. Feuer

Will the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—a transition made “orderly” with barbed wire, National Guard soldiers, and the closure of downtown Washington, D.C.—be remembered as an inflection point? After 4 years of boorish incivility, incendiary nativist extremism, a crippling pandemic, resurgent racism, and riotous mobs incited to attack the Capitol, can the United States rebuild its civic and moral infrastructure? To repair the damage and prepare the next generation of citizens and leaders requires a new spirit of cooperation between the science and civics education communities.

About 30 years ago, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, the publisher of Science) recommended major overhauls of science education. The drive for reform confronted partisan conflicts along the way, but the good news is that more students today benefit from stimulating instruction in many subjects. Now the country must sustain this momentum for progress in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) while heeding the call for more attention to civics, the humanities, and the foundations of democratic pluralism.

This is not a zero-sum competition...
What ingredients should be included in this recipe for reform? Policy-makers and legislators must acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on educational outcomes and invest resources to protect disadvantaged youth. Research on disruptions caused by the pandemic shows that, on average, American students in K–12 experienced less “learning loss” than anticipated, but for disadvantaged and minority children, the setbacks were substantially worse. This is no surprise to researchers who study the effects of poverty and racism on achievement. A strategy to raise average performance in STEM while shrinking the variance would help instill an ethos of the common good—a core aspiration of civics.

Good science education means equitable science education... Research on the origins of bias and its effects is bringing new ideas into the development of methods to combat discrimination in K–12 schools, colleges, and universities. Again, good science and good citizenship are mutually reinforcing...

Certainly, not every young person will become a practicing scientist, but every student should appreciate the processes of scientific inquiry and its uses. In the United States and other countries, relations between the scientific community and government can be tense. But today, the United States is suffering from years of distrust for evidence—about the pandemic, climate change, racism, immigration, and the economy. Let's integrate into hands-on STEM education some hands-on learning about objective inquiry as a cornerstone of American democracy and the preparation of a well-informed citizenry.

President Biden says he is determined to restore dignity to government and trust in science. Miguel Cardona, the nominee for Education Secretary, is a seasoned educator whose path from poverty to leadership exemplifies the possibilities even in the nation's fractured system. The country must work with them toward the inseparable goals of scientific excellence and fulfillment of our noblest egalitarian dreams.
To that end...
LinkReport (pdf).

Is Something Happening Here?

In 2016, The Economist’s Democracy Index downgraded the United States from “Full Democracy” to “Flawed Democracy,” a disturbing demotion that has not  reversed. In the 2019 edition of “Freedom in the World,” the United States earned a disappointing 86/100 score in the leading indicators of democracy and freedom, placing 52nd of 194 countries – significant slippage compared to just a few years ago. The report cites “partisan manipulation of the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, flawed new policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity, and political influence” as  evidence of democratic decline…

Lawrence, Susan. Grown-up Civics: Important Things You’ve Forgotten Since High School (p. 7). Kindle Edition.
$1.99 Kindle price, well worth ii. Extremely well written. A great refresher resource—for us old coots and gen-z'ers alike. Focused on the US polity, but "civics" has a long multinational cultural history, one going well beyond "democracy."

I'm about 2/3rds through the book. Beyond a thorough explication of the structure, mechanics, and history of US governance, she does not shy away from illuminating, cogent commentary.

The forces that sort American society are not hard to  identify. They are what they have always been: race and  money. Weaponizing the former and monopolizing the latter maintained social cohesion throughout much of  American history. Today, the “cultural warfare” being waged by those who traditionally benefitted from that social order and those who are challenging it is generating blistering friction.

While the United States has never been an ethno-state, it is accurate to say that historically, government operated in the interests of the white (particularly male) population. From colonial planters to 19 th century robber barons to the office suites of “Mad Men,” the political and economic dominance of white males was secure and WASP culture prevailed. While this social arrangement left out large populations, it unified the majority. It still does, but the  push-back by outliers is growing bolder and the white majority is shrinking.

The disruptive “culprits” are immigrants and racial minorities principally, but also groups that deviate from historical norms or are seen as their allies (feminists, the LGBTQ community, non-Christians, the “politically correct”). White nationalists talk of race suicide and “replacement” and accept conspiracy narratives that claim orchestration by Jewish masterminds (thus, the chant “Jews  will not replace us!” repeated ad nauseum at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia). Predictions of impending “civil war” play on the same resentments. Rage of this magnitude is a minority view, but is amplified by social media and is taking a heavy civic toll. Is this new? Not at all. Is it disruptive? Most certainly. Is it damaging to American society? Absolutely. Is it an existential threat to American democracy? It is. If we allow it to be..
. [pp. 82-83]

Finished the book Highly recommended.

Exigent in a time of overlapping, "Concurrent Pandemics."
See also

"The most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy"

A few noteworthy recent cautionary reads. BTW: How do "civic norms" fit into this topic?

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