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Andrew Alden

Why Earth Don't Get No Respect

By March 10, 2013

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It's a common complaint among teachers I've talked to, especially at the secondary-school level, that geology is an underdog subject. We all cheered when the state of Texas added an Earth-science requirement to its curriculum a few years ago. That was an exception. Probably the best thing would be for teachers of other subjects to use geologic problems as teaching moments and lab assignments. Doesn't happen.

I think the reason geology doesn't get enough respect from teachers of other sciences may be because Earth, in the broadest historical sense, is such a difficult subject. My belief is that geology is a mother science, because Earth is just where we live. Physics and chemistry arose in the effort to make sense of minerals—their weird transformations and optical effects, their power to affect plants and animals. It took centuries of technique to purify substances and figure out their deeper nature in laboratories. That process has advanced so far that today we are an indoor species that teaches chemistry in principle, using pure chemicals, and clean Newtonian physics in sterile classrooms.

The practice of real science is not an exercise but is messy and uncertain. Classroom lessons ought to be more like reality. We're like people who only learn cooking from cans and powders instead of raw foods. And when science is in the news, as it is in connection with natural threats and natural disasters, that schooling does not serve us as a society.


March 10, 2013 at 10:57 am
(1) Ryan says:

Don’t despair, there are winds of change coming with Common Core State Standards and the Next Gen Science Standards. The geosciences will play a much more essential (and deserved) role as a gateway science for freshmen and sophomores that will provide students with the place-based learning they need to analyze, comprehend and appreciate the world in which they live. I will say, however, that in our ten years of geoscience teaching in the Central Valley that my wife and I have run across very few secondary geoscience teachers with degrees or credentials in the geosciences. It tends to be an afterthought taught by a chemistry or biology content expert and thus lacks the passion and deep content knowledge required to make the class spectacular. My wife and I (she a one time environmental geologist and I a degree in geoscience) have worked tirelessly for the past 10 years to elevate the subject from what used to be the basic science dumping grounds into a flourishing, respected and sought-after science course. We went from teaching three sections of geo a day seven years ago to 13 sections on each of our campuses, having to hire and inspire four new teachers along the way. The next challenge is to get the stuffy UC Board of Regents to classify the class as a lab science. For some ridiculous reason our almost daily activities and inquiries in class are only onsidered labs in the CSU system. If you know of any secondary teachers in need of curriculum, encouragement or fresh ideas, send them our way and we’ll be more than happy to help. It should also be noted that Geotripper played a very influential role inspiring us to teach. He’s been the keystone geology educator in the Central Valley.

March 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm
(2) mining engineer says:

When TV’s premier Physicist (Dr Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory) responds to the mere thought of funding Geological Sciences with “No! Not the dirt people!” you know you have an uphill climb. I’ve drank many, many a beer with PhD physicists over the years and the collective disdain for the earth sciences is not over-played.
Sadly such a situation is a current reality at the College of Science within a certain not-to-be-named University of No Response …

Geo-science; where the elastic material meets the non-Newtonian surface.

March 10, 2013 at 6:59 pm
(3) Geology Guide says:

I’ve just finished reading a post from February 2013 on GeoBlogy by Prof. Iain Stewart of Plymouth University, who told of a great success story from Western Australia where geology educators revived interest among students and parents by rebranding geology under “Earth and Environmental Science.” Geology in schools is also fading in the U.K. and even in Scotland, and the comments bring out a lot of information.

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