How do you rate yourself in terms of your general knowledge of science? Compared to other people, do you think you are below average, about average, or above average?

The Pew Research Center developed a list of a dozen multiple-choice science questions and used them with a nationally representative group of 3,278 randomly selected U.S. adults. The adults were surveyed online and by mail between Aug. 11 and Sept. 3, 2014 (Pew Research Center, 2015).

Suppose you were developing such a quiz. What questions would you put on it? I puzzled over this question for a while. I think of myself as knowing quite a bit about science. But, what do I think a “typical” adult should know?

Before I looked at the quiz, I thought about question areas that might be addressed. For example, I know quite bit about some major worldwide problem areas such as: global warming; shortage of fresh water; pollution; generation of energy and carbon footprint; sustainability; medicine and the decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics; and genetically modified crops. These all seem to me to be science areas that we might want a typical “responsible and involved” adult to know about.

You can take the quiz at Pew Research Center (2015). Surprisingly to me, the only question related to the areas I have mentioned above was “Who invented the polio vaccine?” The four choices were Marie Curie, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Jonas Salk.

Hmm. What do you think a person should know about disease prevention and vaccination? Is it really important to recognize the name Jonas Salk from the list of four possibilities?

Here is an exercise you can try out on yourself and/or others—including children. “Tell me some of the important things you know about vaccinations. Include in your discussion information about how vaccinations have affected and are affecting health throughout the world.”

I got a perfect score on the quiz, but I give a very low score to the relevance of the questions on the quiz. To me, this quiz and the publicity it has received in the general media provides a good example of the challenges faced by people working to improve education. A good education entails far more than the shallow ideas covered in the Pew Research Center quiz.

I realize that education is a very complex area of study and practice. However, I find it useful to hold in mind a few simple goals for students studying any particular discipline. I want students to:

  1. Learn some of the discipline’s accumulated information (data, information, knowledge), with special emphasis on why this information is important to them and others.
  2. Learn to think and solve personal, local, regional, and global problems (both discipline-specific and interdisciplinary) using the facts.
  3. Learn to learn the discipline and to be come a lifelong, intrinsically motivated, learner.

What You Can Do

Examine your personal philosophy of the principles of education and its goals. Now, do a compare and contrast with my list 1-3 given above.

Use this thinking activity to develop a personal philosophy of education that can serve you and the people (including children/students) that you interact with throughout your daily life. If you work with students, help them to develop a personal philosophy of informal and formal learning that will well-serve them and the world.

References and Resources

Moursund, D. (2015). Brain science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 9/11/2015 from Also available as free downloads in: Microsoft Word:; PDF:

Moursund, D. (2015). Critical thinking. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 9/11/2015 from

Moursund, D. (2015). Self-assessment instruments. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 9/11/2015 from

Moursund, D. (4/19/2015). Preparing students for their futures. IAE Blog. Retrieved 5/14/2015 from

Moursund, D. (2/25/2015). The coming educational singularity. IAE Blog. Retrieved 9/11/2015 from

Moursund, D. (2014). Education for increasing expertise.IAE-pedia. Retrieved 9/11/2015 from

Pew Research Center (2015). Science knowledge quiz. Retrieved 9/11/2015 from