The Homeschool STEM Advantage

We often hear bad news about Americans and science. The litany may include such things as:Americans are woefully ignorant about science;Americans do not trust scientists;American kids don’t want to get into “hard” subjects, and not nearly enough of them train in the sciences;The thing is... none of it is particularly true!

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) recent study revealed that a whopping 90% of the American public claim that they do respect scientists, and the same percentage say that they are interested in hearing the latest scientific findings. Most see scientists as people who are “helping to solve challenging problems,” who are working for “the good of humanity.” About one third of respondents think that science and technology should get more funding.

Studies also show that, although, of course, there is room for improvement, American adults lead the world in scientific literacy. Lead the world! Also, Americans’ scientific literacy scores are improving; one source says that they have tripled since the mid- 1980s. And studies show that this “more knowledgeable” thing starts young; there is evidence that American kids—the same kids that so many hand-wringing articles have been written about—know more than they have at any point in the past.

Also apparently inaccurate is the oft- repeated claim that America has a shortage of science and engineering college students and graduates. The government tells us that only 16% of high school seniors are “proficient in math” and interested in Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) careers, but other statistics tell us that only 5% to 9% (depending on what you include) of Americans work in STEM fields. According to “risk ecologist” Robert N. Charette, a number of studies show that there is a surplus, not a deficit, of trained STEM workers—so much that most people with STEM diplomas end up going into non-STEM careers because there aren’t job openings in their fields of choice. He also says that leaders in other nations—England, India, Brazil, just to name a few—beat the same “we’re behind the world” drum.

I was very intrigued by the tail end of several articles about the NSF study; they mentioned that America tends to be relatively good at “informal” science education. Most of us get to visit the occasional zoo, aquarium or science museum, and we learn cool stuff about science and technology on the internet and on television.

When I read that, I thought, “Yes! We’re deschooling science!”

Again, don’t get me wrong – there’s room for improvement in the general public’s knowledge of science. Lots of room for improvement! But finding that those societies that are more knowledgeable about science are also those that more often partake in informal learning environments is confirmation that unschooling works and that learning is lifelong.

There have never been so many ways to learn so much about science, math, engineering and technology; and there have never been so many ways to participate in, and even contribute to, STEM fields.

Homeschooling families, with their ability to be flexible and cater to individuals’ interests, are especially well positioned to grasp these opportunities. We often hear bad news about Americans and science. The litany may include such things as:Americans are woefully ignorant about science;Americans do not trust scientists;American kids don’t want to get into “hard” subjects, and not nearly enough of them train in the sciences;The thing is... none of it is particularly true!

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) recent study revealed that a whopping 90% of the American public claim that they do respect scientists, and the same percentage say that they are interested in hearing the latest scientific findings. Most see scientists as people who are “helping to solve challenging problems,” who are working for “the good of humanity.” About one third of respondents think that science and technology should get more funding.

Studies also show that, although, of course, there is room for improvement, American adults lead the world in scientific literacy. Lead the world! Also, Americans’ scientific literacy scores are improving; one source says that they have tripled since the mid- 1980s. And studies show that this “more knowledgeable” thing starts young; there is evidence that American kids—the same kids that so many hand-wringing articles have been written about—know more than they have at any point in the past.

Also apparently inaccurate is the oft- repeated claim that America has a shortage of science and engineering college students and graduates. The government tells us that only 16% of high school seniors are “proficient in math” and interested in Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) careers, but other statistics tell us that only 5% to 9% (depending on what you include) of Americans work in STEM fields. According to “risk ecologist” Robert N. Charette, a number of studies show that there is a surplus, not a deficit, of trained STEM workers—so much that most people with STEM diplomas end up going into non-STEM careers because there aren’t job openings in their fields of choice. He also says that leaders in other nations—England, India, Brazil, just to name a few—beat the same “we’re behind the world” drum.

I was very intrigued by the tail end of several articles about the NSF study; they mentioned that America tends to be relatively good at “informal” science education. Most of us get to visit the occasional zoo, aquarium or science museum, and we learn cool stuff about science and technology on the internet and on television.

When I read that, I thought, “Yes! We’re deschooling science!”

Again, don’t get me wrong – there’s room for improvement in the general public’s knowledge of science. Lots of room for improvement! But finding that those societies that are more knowledgeable about science are also those that more often partake in informal learning environments is confirmation that unschooling works and that learning is lifelong.

There have never been so many ways to learn so much about science, math, engineering and technology; and there have never been so many ways to participate in, and even contribute to, STEM fields.

Homeschooling families, with their ability to be flexible and cater to individuals’ interests, are especially well positioned to grasp these opportunities.