SAN FRANCISCO – To improve science literacy, a scientist can teach.
But a scientist can also run.
National science literacy expert and Michigan State University professor Jon Miller is having a running clinic 1:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. The goal is to inspire, educate and arm scientists to run for school boards.
It's a matter of good science citizenship, Miller said, as well as a savvy way to build scientific literacy and better schools.
"The people who are in favor of good education and liberal learning are disorganized and they lose elections," said Miller, a professor in political science. "Public schools are about what faculty members value. It's what we spend our time doing because we believe in it, and we have to realize public schools don't just come to be. You have to work on it. And serving on school boards is something college and university science faculty have the skills to do, or can learn."
Miller's credentials are both professional and personal. In August, he published a survey in Science magazine that showed that about 40 percent of the American population does not believe in evolution, a figure which is much higher than those found in similar surveys in European nations and Japan. Miller is the Hannah Professor of integrative studies and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at MSU.
He also successfully ran for a seat on the DeKalb (Ill.) Community Schools board in the early 1980s. In the three years he served on the DeKalb board, Miller says he learned more about school finances than he had thought possible.
Miller sees other special interest groups, often conservative or religiously fundamental, highly organized in training and supporting candidates. The sciences, he says, should be supportive – and strategic – as well.
Miller is interested in giving scientists – mostly university scientists – the knowledge to run successfully. But he also wants them to understand they'd be taking on a significant and demanding commitment.
"Running is the first step; serving is the second step," Miller said. "It doesn't do any good if they get in, and discover they don't have the time or commitment to do the job. There is a certain amount of commitment you have to make. That's the price of doing it."
Miller estimates that a stint on a public school board demands 15 hours a week of work and being prepared to immerse in more than one issue. No scientist can run on a pro-evolution platform and not expect to find themselves engaged in other issues.
But that, Miller says, is the point – to lend expertise and knowledge to create a strong school district that channels good, well-prepared students to successful college careers.
Miller thinks that the AAAS should play a role in nurturing scientist candidates, providing a knowledge and support bank, and tracking progress.
"When I served, it was a lot more work and a lot more frustration than I thought. But I would do it again," he said. "In order to make schools better you have to do it. A couple terms from every scientist would be fine."
For photos, links and full coverage of MSU at AAAS, see http://special.newsroom.msu.edu/aaas/index.html.
NOTE: Jon Miller can be reached Feb. 15-19 at AAAS on his cell phone at (312) 399-6189. Sue Nichols can be reached on her cell phone at (517) 282-1093.
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