Letter: Pandemic shows need for science education

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To the Editor:

For those of us who understand COVID-19 to be a real threat, the thinking of our fellow citizens who deny its menace or think it's a "hoax" is hard to understand.

We believe that their thinking results in part from the fact that many COVID-19 nonbelievers received their K-12 education in the Reagan era and onward — during which school boards have been infiltrated by anti-evolutionists working successfully to dismantle science education. We are in this situation to some significant degree because our public education system no longer teaches the rudiments of scientific reasoning and processes.

Research by developmental psychologists shows that up to half the human population never achieves what is called "formal operational thinking": the ability to follow a logical argument that remains in the abstract realm. Without knowing how to engage in that specific kind of thinking, people are reliant upon political leadership to interpret data for them — suggesting that scientific education and democracy are closely linked.

Formal operational thinking requires nothing more as a starting point than average intellectual ability — but for people of average (rather than superior) intellectual ability, achieving this capacity requires certain kinds of practice be provided by our environments. It can be taught to those who do not achieve it on their own, and much is made in the field of education of the pressing need to teach kids this skill (now called "critical thinking").

The situation we find ourselves wrestling is the result of decades of the undermining of our public education system. This undermining was purposeful, and our response should be just as purposeful. It is essential for the safety of all of our citizens — and for the health of our democracy — that science education be restored in its entirety. Meanwhile, those of who don't question the need to wear masks should be patient with those who do — for they know not, literally, what they are doing.

Joan Dornhoefer,

Naomi Miller,

Shaftsbury

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