Want U.S. to keep tech edge? Teach kids science
Dean Kamen
May 13th, 2011
09:30 AM ET

Want U.S. to keep tech edge? Teach kids science

Over at CNN Opinions, serial inventor Dean Kamen paints a troubling portrait of America's decline in the sciences. America's youth, he argues, aren't being encouraged to engage in the maths and sciences - to tinker, dream and innovate. This will weaken America's before too long, says Kamen:

Students in this country (America) now rank 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 developed nations. Fewer and fewer scholars are going to universities to major in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. And consider this: The average age of a NASA engineer at the time of the first moon landing was 26, meaning that those same budding technologists were 18 years old when President Kennedy made his famous call for lunar exploration. Today, the average age of a NASA engineer is nearly 50.As our technological prestige falls, it will become more and more difficult for the United States to sustain its economic competitiveness and wealth generation.

For more than 200 years, this country has been the birthplace of major technological triumphs that have revolutionized societies and cultures, from the wonders of Thomas Edison's laboratory to the Internet. However, these phenomenal successes will become distant memories unless America can re-ignite kids' passions for science and inventing....

The 21st century will present no shortage of great challenges for scientists and engineers. Which nation will take the lead in the search for new sources of energy? Who will lead the team that cures cancer? Where will the room-temperature semiconductor be perfected, an innovation that will fundamentally change our lives?

The future of America - its economic competitiveness, technological development, national security and military strength - depends on the next generation of STEM leaders.

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Topics: Economy • Education • Ideas • Innovation • Science • Security • United States • Youth

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. RAJ

    We have best Universities in USA with best technical education but few serious students. Why ? Good students can come from healthy family only where there is love and sensitivity in Parents for there children. Parents can give only what they have to there children. Each family as single unit is the main foundation for strong USA. Each family should create atmostphere in there home where there children do not feel lonely, do not get distracted towards pleasure and understand the value of harmony within that of mind and heart. Parents should see that there children spend more time with them, have dinner together, Parents should not drink or smoke in front of there children, do not keep themselves busy with TV. Parents should take personal interest in all activities of there children instead of just providing them shelter, clothes, food and education fees. With such healthy atmostphere at home, children will not get distracted towards pleasure and will focus more in there study. USA have everything, every needed support from government but we are failing at individual family level in most of the cases. Childern got to be aware, alert, energetic and must be engaged in any activities which can awakened there intelligence and less distraction for pleasure till they complete there higer education. By law of nature healthy mango tree will produce more good mangoes, healthy cow will give birth to healthy calf. Same Law of Nature do apply to all human beings. If we have healthy family then children will be smart, intelligent and less distracted towards outside pleasure and will focus more on study. Recent bad ecnomic cycle must have taught good lesson to parents, not to over use credit card, do not accumulate many things which are not needed, necessity of saving habit, do not wast more money on club, bar, drinking alcohol to escape from self-created life problems. Pleasure is must for every human being but when we cross the border of this pleasure then on other side of this border pain and misery are waiting to punish you. This pain and misery creates many other family and social problems and do effect the children badly. Parents in financial problems, busy with pleasure and friends do not have enough time for this children. USA is blessed with lots of good things, this economy is a warning to us, just we need to correct family background with love and sensitivity and everything will be OK again for USA. Then we will need more University to fulfill demand for higher education and more demand to go after higher technological education. Just providing facility for higher education is not the solution, tackle the problem at root level and this root is healthy family requirement.

    May 13, 2011 at 10:25 am | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    It's all about making money. One finds more young people studying law and economics at universities. Science is still popular. The least popular subject is philosophy. It explains why we have so many selfish and egoistic people around.

    May 13, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  3. MVLAE

    The US does need Engineers and Scientists but the market doesn't seem to support that argument. People with PhDs in the STEM fields are currently un- and underemployed. So until we figure out how to gainfully employ our current stock it makes little sense to encourage more oversupply.

    May 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Reply
    • james2

      George Bush slashed the heck out of the amount of money the federal government grants to scientific research to pay for the war in Iraq, so that is probably why. Stupid federal regulations on stem cell research are hampering scientific advancement and probably discourages people from entering the field of science. We also have seen a greater emphasis on teaching English in secondary schools lately.

      May 14, 2011 at 9:27 am | Reply
  4. femi Dare

    American is a nation whose foundation and founding fathers has deep root under God through our lord Jesus christ and that is why the founding fathers said IN GOD WE TRUST, this is the basis of their prosperity and overwhelming wisdom. Sad enough all this values had been eroded, the 10 commandment of GOD is being pulled down in all schools and the fabric that hold families together is gone, what do you have, a nation that will fast fall under the influence of pleasure,entertainment, sex,homosexuality and this definately cannot build better family that will build better nation that the founding fathers help to build. American must go back to GOD

    May 14, 2011 at 6:31 am | Reply
    • Someone

      And this has what o do with the above?????

      May 15, 2011 at 9:33 am | Reply
  5. Someone

    To cross post a comment from the original forum by another author – Mr. Kamen seems more interested in promoting FIRST than topics in general. Also, he talks about the ranking of the US in the engineers and mathematics areas. What does this number refer to? Quality or quantity? If it's quantity, it is irrelevant. We have compressed the number of engineers down since we can now provide engineers with simulation and calculation tools that were the stuff of science fiction during the Apollo days. Each person with a PC can now do the work of 10 working with slide rules and paper and pencil that wasn't all that long ago.

    The industry of the US also has stated it doesn't want more engineers. My former company has been systematically getting rid of all the older employees in favor of younger, less paid ones. My own PhD in chemistry is a now nothing more than a nice piece of paper hanging on the wall – I now work in retail. To be honest with you, my kid who barely got out of high school was actually making 2/3 of what I was working as a manger in a restaurant. SO what is the point of the long hours in school? What did I gain?

    May 15, 2011 at 10:06 am | Reply
  6. Really

    The captains of our industries outsourced our science and engineering jobs. I gave a lecture at a local university and at least half the students were from other countries. We educate our competition at our tax payers' expense while we lay off our engineers and scientists and move their jobs over seas. Why should a US student seek a graduate degree in science knowing that an MBA who couldn't care less about our society will move his job to Asia?

    May 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply
  7. Tom McDermott

    Assuming we can solve the education problem, it isn't simply about pushing more science... We FIRST need to find those students that are NATURALLY FASCINATED by science. The simple fact is, each of our minds naturally prefer to wander in different directions. Some of us are very, naturally fascinated by science, others by music, others by athletics, others by the human condition, others by government, politics or law, etc. So, instead of pushing kids/people to "learn more" science, or to try and get our kids to be more 'well-rounded" and "get interested" in science, we need to do a much better job asking our children much better questions. We need to ask them what they naturally wonder most about? Where do their minds naturally prefer to wander? What do they wonder most about in the world? What are THEY MOST CURIOUS about? What burning questions do they have? We want to find those that NATURALLY ponder the possibilities of the sciences and THEN encourage them to read. learn and wonder more! And stop trying/focusing on trying to make all of our children "well-rounded". They should be well-rounded, but that should not be the "primary" goal. The primary goal should be to help them find, follow and fuel their "Greatest Natural Fascination, their 'GNF'.

    THAT'S how we find and create better scientists, and that's how we find great doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. What's your GNF? http://thefascinationnation.com

    June 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Reply

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