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Ian Weiss

Student , Bard College

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Should educators place greater emphasis on how scientific advancement has contributed to human flourishing?

Margaret Mead famously said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Inspiring as this idea may be to those who have devoted their lives to political activism, it is nonetheless lamentably false. Small groups of citizens, or even "civic engagement" as it is normally conceived, are not the only sources of social/humanitarian progress that lead to increased human flourishing. The alternative source that jumps out at me is science. Indeed, it was the development of simple technologies and knowledge of agriculture that allowed for humans to spend less time chasing down dinner and more time developing more complex collaborative relationships with each other and mastering additional technologies which eventually led to the emergence of the New York CIty Skyline. We can all think of examples of scientific advancements that have changed the world for the better, yet most of us are not nearly as familiar with the details of those events as we are with events like the Civil Rights Movement. How many Americans know who Norman Borlaug is, or how the Green Revolution saved millions of people from malnourishment and starvation? People are so attracted to moralistic stories of righteous and virtuous heros who fought injustice that they tend to overlook the tremendous humanitarian value of humble, rigorous scientific research and discourse.*

And that's a crying shame. Because if people were more aware of how important science is for human flourishing, they would support it more, they would encourage the government to fund it more, and they would be more likely get involved in it, thus accelerating scientific progress. So shouldn't high-school history classes and other educational programs place greater emphasis on it?

*I stole this example (indeed, pretty much this entire idea) from Steven Pinker. See http://bigthink.com/ideas/4647,

progress indicator