In December 2022, former astronaut and current U.S. senator Mark Kelly kicked off the Department of Education’s YOU Belong in STEM conference in Washington, DC. In his opening remarks, Kelly made the familiar case that training more science and technology professionals is crucial to growing the economy and strengthening national security. It was the NASA Apollo missions to the moon, Kelly explained, that inspired him to pursue a career in science. He said every child should be inspired in some way to do the same.

All this seems sensible enough: Science is the engine of technological innovation, which drives economic growth, and schools are not producing enough scientists ready to enter the STEM-career pipeline.

The problem is, that isn’t true. And neither is another prominent reason we place a high social value on science education: that science knowledge provides a foundation for everyday decision making.

We need to move the...

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