Science in Christian Perspective

I. W. Knobloch, Ph.D.

From JASA 9 (June 1957): 13-16.

The Crisis In the Science And Engineering Fields

Millions of words have been ground from the literary mills of the country about the shortage of scientists and engineers. This shortage has been known from the 1940's at least as witnessed by John Steelman's report to the President in 1947. To say that there is alarm about the matter is to put it mildly. The reasons for the concern are mainly two-fold in nature (1) not enough of these people are being graduated to adequately staff the colleges and lower schools and also supply the needs of industry and government and (2) fear that Russia is either catching up to us, or as some believe, outstripping us in scientific and technical personnel.

Before saying anything about the college teacher shortage, it may be in order to dwell briefly upon the shortages in the elementary and secondary schools. The supply is short there in some areas, particularly in the science fields. This concerns us greatly because it is in the schools that the first real directed interests in science are started. It is my understanding that many high school teachers who were not majors in science have been pressed into service, especially in the smaller schools. This will not work any better than substituting dentists for physicans. They simply do not have the proper training. English majors, for example, who are forced to teach science are, in some cases, apathetic in their work and this attitude is quickly transferred to the bright perceiving eyes of the young. There is ample evidence that professional scientific and engineering organizations are at long last bestirring themselves to assure an adequate supply of the needed teachers at all levels. The insistence of these groups upon adequately trained teachers is, in some quarters, meeting opposition from the entrenched professional educators who have long and erroneously regarded teacher training in both methodology and subject matter as their sole responsibility. It is to be fervently hoped that before long the truce flags will be unfurled and that educators of both sides will sit down in harmony and without reservation to produce some adequate long-range plans for a balanced teacher-training program.

In regard to the teacher shortage in the colleges, one may say that in certain sciences like physics and chemistry, and in the allied field of mathematics, the shortages are acute. This is true to a certain extent in the biological sciences if one grants that the required degree is the Ph.D. This is a sensitive subject with some who could not or would not work for the terminal degree. It is sufficient to say, therefore; that if college science teaching is to be a recognized profession one must have a certain minimal amount of training.

Teacher training programs are not enrolling as high a percentage of would-be science teachers as they did. This may be due to such factors as the de-emphasis of science teaching in many high schools, poor guidance programs, lack of suitable science courses in the summer schools and general laziness. Enough has been said about the need for teachers to outline the general situation.

The second point is of equal importance. James Barker (1955) said that in the United States, the percentage of total collegiate population represented by the science and engineering students has fallen from 17% to 10% in recent years. In the Soviet Union, the percentages are increasing rapidly and the prestige and salaries of both teachers and researchers are rising. According to the National Science Foundation, there are 200,000 scientists in the United States. Fifty-five percent of the total are in the physical sciences, 39 percent in agricultural and biological sciences and 6 percent in the earth sciences. Industry, which employs almost half of the total has been accused of raiding the colleges for talent much as the major league scouts strip the colleges of their best athletic talent. Progressive industrial leaders now realize that they must not kill the goose which lays the golden eggs and they are actively trying to shorten the gap between supply and demand (by assuring their own talent through scholarship programs.)

Right or wrong, this is an age of science and technology. To speak plainly, it is the military implications which we are facing in this battle for adequate supplies of scientists and engineers. One is not an alarmist when one points out-that the survival.and supremacy of the United States depends upon keeping several steps ahead of our rivals in the fields of science. Science should only be used for the pursuit of truth but, alas, such cannot be the case, much as we might wish it. We also know that unless America is kept strong and healthy, the government will become impotent and one will not be allowed to search f or truth in fundamental fields.

The above paragraphs, then, tell something of the shortage and the reasons for concern. Of proposed remedies, there are scores. It would be almost impossible to make a complete list of these. A sampling might, however, be in order. John Steelman's report to the President lists some solutions and various chapters of Sigma Xi have recently given others. The seemingly more important solutions are given below but edited and not necessarily in order of their importance. No one is a complete solution. All apply to some facet or facets of the general problem and all need to be considered carefully.

Proposed Remedies For Meeting the Scientist and Engineer Shortage

1. Strengthen career information service by issuing up-to-date brochures; have science faculty men give talks before high school groups; write newspaper and magazine articles on the science crisis; originate interesting TV programs on careers in science and engineering; maintain an information booth at science fairs and everywhere else appropriate.

2. Help in the organization of a science club at each large high school; strengthen the work of the junior Academies of Science.

3. Discussion of the science crisis in their classes by every science teacher at both the high school and the college level.

4. Restore the laboratory period where it has been abolished; properly equip the laboratories and reserve rooms for science to save time lugging equipment from one room to the next.

5. Relieve teachers from selling child insurance, taking tickets, running the book store and other un professional chores.

6. Do not cancel high school science courses because of low enrollment. Build up the enrollment by doing better teaching.

7. Encourage industry, government laboratories, college departments etc. to hire science teachers in the summer months and discourage them from unduly raiding the campuses.

8. Separate science from social studies where they are given together in order to give emphasis to each.

9. Have general science in the elementary grades and require more specialized subjects in the high schools for graduation. It would seem that every high school graduate should have, at least, one course in chemistry, physics and biology.

10. Give more guidance to sub-standard science teachers; offer refresher courses to regular science teachers to help them keep abreast of new developments;promote science courses from in-service teachers to make them eligible for graduate work (this means increasing the subject matter offerings in summer schools) ; brief guidance people on the crisis in science.

11. Continued cooperation among the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Engineering Manpower Commission, the Scientific Manpower commission, the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society, and others.

12. Raise college admission standards to the extent that entering students must have had some science in high school.

13, College teachers should work with high school science teachers to encourage every student who shows promise in science and who has the desire, to go on in the field. Every such student should be salvaged.

14. Make certain that every promising and desirous science student will be offered some financial assistance to go on in science should his parents be unable to pay all of his way.

15. Spend more time and money on recruiting new science teachers and less, if necessary, on improving those already in service. This is not based upon importance but on doing first things first.

16. Encourage scientists to run for State Board of Education and for school boards so that science may be fairly represented.

17. Stop drafting college students majoring in science or engineering. Such people can best serve their country in these fields at a time like this. Wars are won in the laboratory and not necessarily on the battlefield. There is nothing undemocratic about fitting people in the niche where they can best serve.

18. Raise teacher's salaries stepwise and according to training so that teachers will recover their buying power, at least, of the 1939 era.

Some of the above are short term projects and others look toward the future. I would like to say just a few words about some of the things that should be done at once.

A science club is a ne cessity if one is to capture the interests of the would-be scientist. The modern world is so full of diversions and teachers are so rushed that it takes a real effort to form and hold together a group of youngsters. The quality of a club can be high or low depending upon the quality of the leader. With good guidance, I feel that many, many students could be encouraged to go further into science or engineering.

If a high school teacher is not available, the local college talent should be scrutinized or some local amateur scientist can be recruited.

Everyone should know something of this scientific age in which we live. Call it cosmic consciousness if you will. For this reason science should be compulsory in the upper grades of the elementary school and also, of course, in the high schools. Science can be learned by observation but one's observations must be tested. This means that, in the high school at least, there must be laboratories where experiments can be made. This is learning by doing. Some studies have shown that it costs little if any more to teach science classes than any other type of class. I would urge therefore that science be restored to those curricula where it has been abandoned and that science be no divorced from the laboratory.

I believe that another very good, immediate step would be for the local college science teacher or teachers to obtain a list of promising science students from the high school teachers. These students should then be contacted and talked with in a friendly fashion. This might be called salesmanship but since many other interests are contacting students, it seems imperative that scientists make an active effort to get their fair share of the high school graduates. The financial condition of the students can be learned during the course of the talk and possibilities can be explored of obtaining some financial assistance for those who could not otherwise go to college.

Teachers and religious people are doing the most important long term work now being done in the world. These people should be receiving the highest wages rather than those who, simply make us cry or laugh. The American people must take another long look at this problem and, even if they must cut some of the "necessities" of life, they must raise teachers salaries much, much higher than they are, probably twenty percent. Teachers of course, must be well prepared and competent in both subject matter and methodology. Teaching is a profession and demands the highest type of knowledge and skill. At the college and university level, the teacher must gain the professional degree that goes with his field. In most cases this means the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Physicians are not allowed to practice without their M. D. degree. It is a most hopeful sign that requirements are going up in the colleges in regard to the higher degrees, or, at least they were until the tidal wave hit the colleges. Professional status of the profession and the respect that goes with it, have taken a set-back in recent years. The plain fact is that in many fields there are just not enough Ph.D's to go around. The reason that we dwell upon this matter is that the point emphathizes the shortage of trained personnel.

I would urge therefore that the four steps (science clubs, compulsory science in the high schools, personal contact and higher salaries) outlined above be put into action as soon as possible by high schools and college people and by the public. I believe that they show the most promise for the present. Soon, it can be hoped, some or all of the other steps can be implemented.


1. Teachers for Tomorrow. BuIL No. 2 Fund for the Advancement of Education, 655 Madison Ave., New York 21, New York.

2. National Science Foundation. Fourth Annual Report. U. S. Govt. Printing Office.

3. Manpower for Research. Volume 4 of Science and Public Policy, John R. Steelman, 1947. U. S. Govt. Printing Office.

4. The Response to President Baker's Call to Action. Amer. Sci. 44(4): 399-444, 1956.

5. Engineering and Scientific Manpower in the United States, Western Europe and Soviet Russia. Joint Comm. Print, 84th Congress, 2nd Sess. 1956.

6. Critical Years Ahead in Science Teaching. Rept. Conf. Nationwide Problems Sci. Teach. Sec. Schools. Harvard Univ. July 15-Aug. 12, 1953.

East Lansing, Michigan 
January 24, 1957.