The reason for natural science in general education
In preparation for college, I read General Education in a Free Society. This book laid out the philosophy of the college I would attend in terms of general education – distribution requirements. The college viewed its undergraduate education as preparation for life rather than professional training. Students were to gain the key lessons from the study of Humanities, Social Science, and Natural Science. The approach was to have students take courses in all three areas to gain an essential understanding of the fundamental core of each. This learning through examples of different topics of study was a reasonable approach and for me a great source of pleasure.
At this point in my experience, I view the essence of the humanities as communication and social science as understanding how we relate to each other individually and collectively. Natural science deals with our relationship to everything beyond ourselves and our relations to others, but it should also give us habits of mind for asking questions and examining answers. All three areas of study gain one a body of information and ways to think. In the humanities one reads and writes; in social science, one examines and experiences human interactions from the psychological to the societal. Natural science teaches rules for physical, chemical, and biological states and interactions and a method for understanding these through observation, experimentation, and analysis. Natural science uses the scientific method to develop rules for physical, chemical, and biological states and interactions and a method for understanding these through observation, experimentation, and analysis.
I find much natural science teaching lacking in conveying the scientific habits of thought. To remedy this is not hard. Students need to do science by taking a problem and applying the scientific method to reach a conclusion. The environment is varied and thus offers many possible investigations for student research. The lab is conveniently located outside. The concepts range in complexity including ones comprehensible by students with only basic literacy and numeracy as well as ones with more involved natures. The test of the utility for data collection is the ability to compare them over space and time. Many useful observations may be taken for free or using equipment of modest cost. As with writing and speaking, student research is self-assessing – the result of student learning activity produces a product that can be evaluated to assess what has been learned.
The educated individual is literate, numerate, can understand communications, and communicate clearly; can relate to others effectively, and can reason from observations to conclusions to answer questions about the natural world. The abilities and opportunities of individuals may vary widely but being educated equips them to contribute to a wonderful world.