Nanotechnology taught in Mexico schools, but not U.S.

Nanotechnology will soon be taught in Mexico’s public schools, but Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post explains that it’s a different story in the U.S.:

Scientist Robert P.H. Chang of Northwestern University had no trouble persuading education officials in Mexico to introduce the burgeoning field of nanotechnology to schools there, but it’s been a far tougher sell in the United States…

Multiple factors make it tough for new fields such as nanotechnology — manipulating matter at the smallest of scales to create new materials — to get introduced in classrooms in a broad way, educators say…

Part of the goal, Chang said, is that young people will become interested enough to want to enter the field, which he said needs tens of thousands nano-literate workers. Helping kids understand how science directly applies to the quality of their lives is crucial to attracting more workers, he and other scientists said.

It is unclear whether the current array of educational efforts will be enough to accomplish their goals. [Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association] said he doubts it. Supplemental materials and many professional development programs are helpful for some teachers but often don’t reach far enough, he said.

“The alpha science teacher does look forward to these new things and finds a way to get the subject into his or her classroom,” Wheeler said. “But they really can’t put a lot of time into that because of the standards and the testing.”

In my view, the U.S. public school system is so fundamentally broken that little tweaks and add-ons won’t make much difference. Radical change is needed, and the American public is in denial about it. Until it’s fixed, we’d better make sure our importation of non-U.S. talent is working robustly, if we want the U.S. to keep its current position in nanotechnology. If you’re in doubt on this point, just check out the graduate student lists for the top U.S. academic nanotech labs.

As always, your views are welcome! —Christine

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