The Hunt for Read October

Well, October is finally here, and with it, our October issue. The hunt is over! There is some cool stuff in this issue, including two papers that describe the action of a small molecule in combating cancer and disease: The first paper, by Paul Hergenrother and colleagues, describes a small molecule caspase-3 activator that causes apoptosis (with cancer cells high in procaspase-3 especially sensitive to the compound), while the second paper, by Joel Gottesfeld and coworkers, reports a small molecule that reverses the gene silencing that causes Friedrich’s ataxia by changing the epigenetic code on the associated histones.

Even in the midst of all that great science, the topic on my mind today is related to our editorial, which discusses the current crisis of poor science teaching in high school (and college) in the United States. This can be traced to a number of factors, including the lack of scientific knowledge among a significant proportion of science teachers, the lack of teaching methods that properly demonstrate how the scientific method is utilized in real research environments, and the lack of a reward structure for good teaching at the collegiate level.

One of the easiest changes to put into action, in my mind, is getting more high school science teachers that actually know something about science. I should point out here that there are certainly many great teachers at this level who do have a science background, and in fact can be very enthusiastic and inspiring teachers. Indeed, one great way to start making headway on this problem would be to find out how these folks got interested and invested in teaching, and what ideas they have to improve the current situation.

In thinking about whether I would be willing to teach high school chemistry, several significant deterrants immediately came to mind. I’m curious to know your thoughts as to whether these are global concerns, and what solutions might be available. I’d also be very interested to know more about what other countries are already doing to address/prevent these problems.

If it was easier to get a teaching certificate as part of your bachelor’s degree, would teaching be more appealing?

Is it outdated to think that, for a science teacher at the high school level, having a teaching certificate is more important than a science degree?

If teacher’s salaries were commensurate with entry level jobs in industry, would that alter enthusiasm for teaching as a career?

How can we get away from classrooms that feel like babysitting nightmares, or at least the expectation of that?

How do other countries handle/prevent unruly students?

How can public service efforts like Teach For America be expanded or improved?

I’m sure some of these questions hint at some of the reasons that I am not standing in front of a group of teenagers right now (for instance, I never have been a very enthusiastic babysitter). Yet there is something exciting about the idea of being the next John Keating (Oh captain, my captain!, but minus the whole getting fired thing), and nurturing young, enthusiastic kids through difficult problems in life and chemistry. The current situation is far from an idyllic ivy league prep school, however, as more and more students are losing interest in and understanding of science. This lack of science literacy has a real impact on national and global policy: wouldn’t it be great, for example, if you overheard a thoughtful conversation on the pros and cons of genetically modified crops on the subway and didn’t immediately know that you were listening to scientists? The situation is a serious one. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic.

Catherine Goodman (assistant editor at Nature Chemical Biology)