When I tutor students in math and physics, most of my time is spent guiding them through mathematical problems with exact solutions. That’s all fine. I enjoy it, it’s the type of help they need most, and it builds the technical skills they will need in their first year of university.
Still, I wish we had more opportunities to discuss science in general. Of course, any list of things we might wish for teenagers to learn before finishing school exceeds the available amount of contact time. High on my wish list is a general understanding of how scientific research is really conducted and debated. In particular, I wish they understood the critical role of skepticism. Check out this blog post on the difference between scientifically required skepticism and fashionable mindless denialism.
For some of my students, grade 12 will be the last time they get any formal science education. Right after their final exams, most of their knowledge and skills will begin to fade. That’s understandable. Math is definitely a use-it-or-lose-it skill and they will have other things on their minds as they take their places as adult members of society. No matter what they end up doing with their lives, they will still live in a world where technology depends upon science and where public policy is at least slighly influenced by science. I hope they continue to develop their critical-thinking skills and apply them to the flood of facts and fallacies with which they will be inundated.