this quick summary, I've focused on the problems and challenges
before us, in part because I wanted to give the realistic context
for those who set out to make contributions in astronomy education.
The task of improving science education and science literacy in
this country is a staggering one, and there is no single solution,
and no simple shortcut, no inexpensive pathway to getting it done.
Without picking on any project in particular, I would just note
that anyone who tells you that all the problems in education will
be solved if we (for example) teach all 10th graders the joys of
computer image processing, doesn't live in the real world, I am
good news is that I am not the only one speaking in occasionally
despairing tones about the situation. Throughout the country, scientists,
engineers, and educators in many fields are becoming concerned about
these problems and looking for ways we can change the six cultures
I've described and to focus more attention on education within those
astronomy these efforts are really just beginning, and those of
us involved in educational reform, whichever of the communities
that I've discussed we belong to, often feel isolated and overwhelmed.
At the present time, there is no effective network tying workers
in astronomy education together - no single journal or newsletter,
no organization, and no regular meetings. Thus there is little coordination
and exchange of information among people - even those with the same
job titles. The wheel is being re-invented over and over again,
good materials appear and disappear with unpredictable periods.
And, in some places, there continues to be strong peer pressure
against serious time-consuming involvement in astronomy education.
standards of work in the field vary tremendously, because people
drop in and out of being interested, often as their own budget or
time pressures dictate. Unlike research astronomy, where one generally
feels pretty ashamed to make a suggestion in a research field unless
one has studied the existing literature, in astronomy education
anyone feels that he can pontificate, publish, ask for a grant -
often without making any effort to acquaint himself with what has
already been done.
of us have suggested that either the American Astronomical Society
or the Astronomical Society of the Pacific actively create a Division
for Astronomy Education (which strongly encourages - by means of
lower dues - membership of active workers in all six of these domains),
but so far these suggestions have not born much fruit. The AAS has
recently recruited a paid Education Coordinator (in addition to
its unpaid Education Officer) in the person of Doug Duncan (U. of
Chicago), and is looking at how to bring about institutional changes
that may encourage its members to do more in astronomy education.
Rudnick tells me that at the University of Minnesota they have abolished
the undergraduate education major; each student preparing to be
a teacher must major in some other discipline. The University of
Arizona has offered a masters degree in astronomy for working school
teachers; many of their graduates are already leaders in astronomy
or science education. Sonoma State University is offering a bachelors
in astronomy for non-scientists: historians of science, journalists,
planetarium educators, etc. We need more such liberal arts degrees
that still offer rigorous training in science.
conclude, I'd like to make the simple suggestion that everyone in
astronomy devote a minimum of one percent of his or her time to
improving astronomy education for nonscientists: if we take a 40
hour work-week and 52 weeks in a year, one percent works out to
21 hours a year. That's seven three-hour sessions with a local teacher,
that's preparing or giving a workshop for all the graduate students
and postdocs in an astronomy department about recent developments
in education and things they can do to help; that's getting involved
with a campus committee to reform graduate requirements for students
who are going to be the teachers of tomorrow; that's spending several
afternoons with the staff of the local planetarium; that's arranging
a meeting of all the local community college instructors of astronomy,
urge everyone to do this not only out of a sense of duty or compassion.
The ominous news from recent developments in our nation's capitol
is that the unwritten compact through which the federal government
has supported science and universities for the sake of their value
to national security shows signs of breaking down. New generations
of our leaders (like new generations of our students) do not feel
immense loyalty or warmth toward science. And their apathy may well
allow very serious cuts in the budgets that support so much of our
Neal Lane (the NSF Director) said at the Jan 1996 AAS Meeting; "
If you don't take it as one of your professional responsibilities
to inform your fellow citizens about the importance of the science
and technology enterprise, then [it may well turn out] that public
support - critical to sustaining it - [one day] isn't going to be
crisis in the public understanding of science is like a disease
that has slowly attacked our country over the years. If it is allowed
to fester untreated for much longer, the body politic will surely
send its own antibodies to the source of irritation, and the resulting
"cure" may be worse than anything scientists can now imagine. Thus
the work we do today in science education may well turn out to be
the single most important thing that can be done to assure the continued
good health of the science of astronomy in the United States.
an annotated list of books and articles on astronomy education,
see my selective bibliography on this subject, on the web at: Astronomy
Education: A Selected Bibliography
would be very interested in receiving comments and suggestions for
future versions of this paper. Please contact me at the addresses
given on the first page.