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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

No room for slackers in UW science curriculum

Yesterday I was embarrassingly duped, and it felt worse than getting Rick- rolled. Outside of Walgreens on State Street someone handed me a copy of Darwin's ""On the Origin of Species."" The initial act took me completely by surprise, since normally people are pedaling miniature bibles rather than books on scientifically verifiable theories of how the world actually came to be.

The catch was that the ""Origin"" being distributed had an introduction by notable creationist Ray Comfort (best known for his YouTube presence as that guy with that theory about bananas and monkeys). The introduction itself is laughable, as Comfort brings noted biologist and evolutionary theorist Stephen Jay Gould into the conversation—a conversation Gould would most likely have abstained from. Comfort's erroneous use of Gould is highly unethical, and it also highlights a major issue that we have in the ways ideas surrounding science are communicated. Of course, scientists can be more clear and forward with their ideas, but we as the public must take some responsibility and become more aware of the basic scientific laws that govern life on this planet.

Here at UW-Madison, we are known for our dedication to science and research. The campus seems to be growing at an exponential rate, adding new buildings for research and discovery. The university holds its science students to incredibly rigorous standards, which is beneficial to both the university and society as a whole. The problem is that the faculty in charge of curriculum seem to forget that a significant portion of the student population are not science majors, and the science requirements for nonscience majors definitely reflect this.

There is this laundry list of science classes that people go to when they don't want to learn any actual science. Geology 100, ""Physics of the Arts,"" ""Age of the Dinosaurs""—these are classes meant to trick people into thinking about things in a scientific way by presenting them with an interesting twist. Unfortunately, they invariably end up becoming known as the go-to classes for students who want to satisfy requirements without actually learning anything.

A lot has to do with our education system in general, a system that is steeped heavily in rewarding correct answers rather than actual knowledge and learning. We seldom take the time to build the learning communities that are integral to success, and it shows. It's sad to think that we are still playing these games at this level, but we are limited by the amount of time we have to consume the information we are presented. This rapid-fire philosophy of education is a big issue, but we cannot confront this attitude without first setting adequate standards for our science curriculum on campus. If curriculum directors really care about the education students are receiving, they will either bring the science requirements up to speed with the rest of the curriculum or get rid of the requirements altogether.

As students deemed smart enough to attend this university, one that promotes endless ""sifting and winnowing"" for the sake of truth, we are definitely up to the challenge of a more comprehensive science education. It's important for a well-rounded education, especially for those people who think they can't do science, though they probably haven't really tried.

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Good examples for what an intro-level science education should be are the Integrated Liberal Studies courses offered. The ILS courses present science in a way that all majors can learn from rather than teaching on an irrelevant level of scale. The emphasis is placed on how we understand our connection to science and the world rather than it being a list of facts in a vacuum. Professor Tim Allen's class on the life sciences, ""Plants and Man,"" gives students a good idea of the problems science faces. It highlights science's imperfections and that science, as we know it today, is more democratic than we see it. We all can contribute to science and benefit from it, as long as we bring our own perspectives and think about it in a constructively critical manner.

The emphasis of this more rigorous science curriculum should be placed on the relationship between us and science. We need classes that generate genuine interest in science and explain how theories like evolution and relativity shape the world and in many ways society. When David Byrne was with the Talking Heads, he pointed out that life is always the ""same as it ever was,"" a cycle of growth and development and death, the evolution of the planet. For this reason, it is imperative that we try and meet the communicatively challenged scientists halfway so we can all help the planet.

Anthony Cefali is a senior majoring in biology and English. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

 

 

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