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Science, Peace and Understanding

Preamble


These are trying times. Yet amidst all the confusion and mistrust, most of us are seeking peace. We have had enough wars already. Do we really have to have more to awaken and learn to actualize through our humanity May be if we looked at the causes of the current state of mistrust and looked at ourselves through the eyes of those who mistrust us, instead of mistrusting them in return, we might find some common grounds for understanding and thereby bringing peace.

In my opinion, much of the mistrust stems from the belief that we are not sharing our knowledge, especially our knowledge of Science which brought us from darkness into the area of enlightenment and knowingness about health and disease, thereby enhancing our quality of life.

These are not bombs they are seeking. They are seeking the same knowledge which improved our lives as we brought that knowledge from Europe to the USA in the early part of the 20th Century. The problem is that we did not conserve and perpetuate that knowledge. We used it and when our purpose was served, we discarded as we do with a spent rag.

The fact is that unless we revive and share that knowledge with those who desperately need it, we will be treating their maladies, making them dependent, instead of self sufficient, actualizing partners in the evolutionary journey towards unified humankind.

The following article written in response to the Editorial comments by Richard Gallagher appearing The Scientist of ___________, reviews the situation as it currently stands and proposes a new curriculum for teaching science which could bridge the ever widening gap between those who know and those who need to know. We then do not have to wish for peace, it will follow as a natural consequence of sharing and caring...


Riaz-ul Haque, PhD M/C 790

Associate Professor (Emeritus)

University of Illinois

835 South Wolcott, Chicago Illinois USA 60612

Phone: 312-996-7476

Fax: 312-243-2041

E-mail: haqueriaz@aol.com



Science, peace, and understanding*


Riaz-ul Haque, Ph.D

Associate Professor (Emeritus)

University of Illinois Medical Center, Chicago. Illinois, USA 60612

As long science remains outside the sphere of understanding of the common man, he is going to feel alienated by the society. No peace or understanding can result from this state of affair. Only mistrust, hostility, violence and blame will prevail because those who will remain on the outside of the mainstream of life, will rightfully believe, and can be readily convinced by the political rhetoric, that they are being left out on purpose. Their belief is: How come Science which made the West rich and technologically advanced, does not do the same thing to us. We are just as intelligent as they are. We even have few virtues and character traits conducive to learning such as our parents incessantly sacrificing for us and urging us on to learn, and nothing but learn which the western cultures, with both parents working giving rise to unsupervised “latch key kids”, do not have. Despite that we are not learning and are progressively falling behind. The only conclusion then that makes sense to them is that the western societies must not be giving us the right kind of science.

This belief gets further strengthened when people of the developing countries hear that they generally get shipped last year's left over medicines, then why not last years technology.

The truth is that we have no other kind of science to sell except the one we have and even though we know it is not working here, as is clearly evident from the quality of science education and the difficulty our students and our masses experience with science, we are still selling it.

The main problem with our kind of science is that students don’t understand it; they in fact are scared of it but no scientist is making any effort to look into the causes of this dilemma.

As scientists, we get too busy in high tech and patent pending struggles. Sharing is the thing of the past so much so that we are now locking our labs and ensure that the locks are changed rather frequently. Our time goes in writing grants and remaining alert to the direction that the science might take tomorrow so we could be the first one in line to put in our stake on that un-chartered but hopefully fundable territory. We have no time to look at why students don't learn science. In fact, when we get our graduate students, we try every move within our reach to see that they get out of taking courses so they could be more available to us for our research.



* This article was prompted by the Editorial remarks by Richard Gallagher appearing The Scientist,

Consequently, our graduate students get entrenched in the research of their mentors instead of becoming versatile scientists and thinkers which the society needs desperately if science is going to bring any degree of peace and understanding at home and abroad.

Some of us, however, have gotten off the beaten path and have looked into the causes of why science is so difficult not only to the beginning student and the public but to the scientists as well. The latter group being isolated into specialties and sub-specialties is much more estranged from science than we realize. His denial of this fact is unfortunately masked by the accomplishments he or she makes in his or her pet problem of science.

The main reason for this estrangement is the science curriculum. In fact we have none to speak of. What we have as curriculum is scattered, rather disjointed, bits and pieces of discoveries through which we either try to glamorize or mystify science as we teach it, or we make a magic show out of it by mixing liquids which change color or froth and fume to the amazement of the spectators. That is no science. It is not even a magic show.

This lack of curriculum clearly reflects in what we do to our students in the 9th grade. They leave the 8th grade full of enthusiasm for science. Up to that time they had taken part in science fairs bringing home blue ribbons or honorable mentions. Undoubtedly, they had enjoyed and did well in the General Science of the Grade and the Middle school years. That kind of science was sensible and the students could not only relate to it but get excited by it.

This picture, however, changes drastically and unexpectedly in the 9th grade. Science at that point becomes the dreaded subjects of chemistry, physics and biology with abstract concepts the students were never prepared for. This experience is so belittling to their fragile egos that the sane thing they find to do is to run out of science, saving their face as early as they can. Look up the report about the State of Science that President Jimmy Carter commissioned during his administration. It squarely places the time of exodus from science during the 9th grade. It, however, does not reflect on the reasons.

The reasons are what I have mentioned above. Science suddenly becomes incomprehensible and unfathomable. Students also get bits and pieces of science spread over quarters or semesters. And since they do not know how these pieces fit together, they can't put them together into a "meaningful whole". Isn't this dandy of a feat that not many of us can do, yet we expect our students who have just barely learned to crawl to accomplish it? And if they don't we do not hesitate to flunk them adding insult to the injury.

Compared to science, students in Arts and Music have it easy. These disciplines have a structure that a teacher can use to bring young students into the fold.

In music for instance, sitting a student on a piano bench and showing him or her how the keys and the notes make rhythm which goes with the words of a song, turns a student on. I have seen so many ah-ah moments when a child "feels and knows and connects" how the words of "old McDonnell had a farm" go with what the fingers were doing with the piano. This is knowingness on which the child then builds upon, and with or without learning to read the music, cultivates in him or her that "sense of flow, rhythm and improvisation."

Same can be said of Art. After learning to draw lines, circles, squares, and adding different degrees of shades, shadows, and colors, he or she begins to see how figures and landscapes begin to take shape on the canvass. Slowly but surely, this experience leads from the real to the surreal and eventually to abstract expression of what he or she sees with the inner eye.

In both of these instances, it was the sense of knowingness and connectedness with causality which enabled a student to learn and develop and eventually excel generating self esteem in the process.

We cannot say this of Science. Here we are teaching fragments never bringing the thread of connectedness into the arena. Since our minds function through making connections, lacking such connections, logical and honest minds have no choice but to stop computing and high tail out of the whole nightmare.

But we can change all that for science does have a structure. It is not cohesive for no effort was ever made to put it all together. It is actually a reflection of the sporadic and haphazard route that science has taken over the past 500 years.

Science moves like a herd from pasture to pasture and from one watering hole to the other. And when the scientists have had their fill, they just move on, leaving no cohesive catalogue of the skills, techniques and concepts they uncovered. They merely end up publicizing the results and the conclusions and almost none of the methodology. This they leave to the business sector of the scientific community where the methodology gets nit picked, elaborated, extrapolated and eventually marketed with a built in obsolescence. Also simple concepts which belong in the public domain get guarded as trade secrets. Couple that with the PR hype and you have the making of an Easter egg hunt, never knowing whether you are going to find the right tool for the job.

Those of us who have spent hours going through mountains of free catalogues know how strenuous and stressful this chore is, yet we have no choice but to go through the agonizing search to find just the right tool, apparatus, equipment or reagent in the ever changing, almost amoebic, world of science marketing.

Introduce now the scientific jargon and the passion for using abbreviations and you have left the entire human race on the outside. Under these circumstances, the only reason science gets funded is because of the hue and cry of the environmentalists and the threatening, almost scary, statistics gathered and publicized by the pubic health departments about the next disease that is going to get you.

I strongly believe that the business will end up boosting its sale if it popularized science instead of cloaking it into mystery.

After realizing that science has to have a cohesive curriculum similar to Art and Music if science has to become as popular as the former two, I embarked on gathering those techniques and concepts that scientists use or have used to do science. Imagine my amazement when the list turned out to contain only 150 items!

Isn't true that we subliminally believe that science, being so complex, has to have at least 10 times that many concepts and skills and that no one person can learn them in one's life time. The truth turned out to much different and the reality much more manageable.

This list of 150 concepts and skills then became my curriculum for science. Using this curriculum I have trained approximately 3,000 students from all walks of life, both genders, various ethnic groups, including high school and college drop outs as well as those who were physically or emotionally challenged including hard of hearing.

The first group of 25 which went through this program was recruited via an ad on the local WLS radio which read: "We are looking for people to work in our lab, we will train you but we are looking for people without science background." WLS, in fact, called back stating that there must be a typo in that ad. They only ran the ad when they were assured that there was none. These students learned remarkably well and ended up getting jobs in labs by their own efforts. This is even more amazing when we realize that the training consisted of only 180 hours of hands on lab training. The course met for 9 hours per week for 20 weeks!

Teaching and sharing this kind of science can do wonders both here and abroad. Science can then truly bring peace and understanding. This kind of science will also give a shot in the arm to our ailing economy, especially the increasingly desperate science sector of our economy.

Which country or nation will be willing to go to war if its economy is booming and its people are well fed and hopeful or as the Spaniards would say, “full of esperanza." Let us try to work towards that goal by sharing and caring.