This might come across as a bit whiny, but as a student of the sciences confronted with new and challenging material everyday, I feel I have a little perspective on this.
Science has come a long way in just the last 100 years. The course content of just a biology class today might be more than all the of philosophy of sciences pre-turn of the century combined. Furthermore as different focuses of science have become more advanced they have also become more intertwined. It is impossible to study either biology, geology or even astronomy with out a firm understanding of chemistry and physics. There is more cross over between biology and geology than a 100 level college course of either let in on. Tack on atmospheric sciences to most of these as well.
So whats my point? All of these different focuses are challenging in their own right. To obtain a level of proficiency takes lots of work and commitment, but in the end not all of it will be useful to someone who will eventually find them selves specializing in a field. While an argument can be made that the academic rigor is part of the point, training the future scientists of the world by necessity needs to be challenging. I counter that the level of inaccessibility is a significant factor in the decline of science literacy in the public sector.
What do I propose? Teaching methodical research and compiling techniques. Why remember the elements of chemistry that are insoluble in aqueous mediums, when a carefully organized note card system can contain much more information with less chance for errors to occur. If a student could prove that they can make timely use of every equation from basic algebra up through advanced calculus without having to memorize the endless lists of formulas, are they not just as effective?
No auto mechanic has to remember the torque specifications for every cylinder head of every car every made, yet with a modest library of reference books and a basic understanding of how the information is compiled they are prepared to make repairs on engines they are completely unfamiliar with. "But science is different!" I can hear the objections now. I contend that scientific principals are very much apart of a mechanics tool box. A diagnostic procedure is tantamount to observation where data is examined and decisions must be made as to causal relationships and pertinence, a repair is an experiment that must be repeatable to test a hypothesis.
Why are there more mechanics than scientists with out even a high school education? It isn't because one group is intrinsically more intelligent, just the subject matter is better understood and can be compiled more easily into accessible research tools. Why is it impossible to imagine a streamlining of scientific principals? Personally, I have synthesized my notes from geology classes into cards and they now sit right next to phylogenic cards in a single box. By the end of my college career, I will have undoubtedly added most of the principals of chemistry, physics and mathematics to it as well. Accessible to me at a moments notice right there on my desk as I write.
If at anytime new research comes out disproving one of the principals, I can simply replace the card or set of dependent cards and I can feel assure that any work I produce is current and accurate. Free from the uncertainty of failures of memory or over writing hard wired wrote memory, we shall see what I can accomplish from it. But let me stress, that what I am suggesting is not a replacement for education, just a different way to accomplish it. It is still necessary to spend the time in the class room gaining the understanding of the scope of the principals and applications. Just a change in the way a person stores the facts and figures.
My hope is that in time, having constant access to many of the principals of widely ranging sciences will help my understanding holistically of the particular focus I choose. Maybe even gain an advantage over those have long forgotten important facets of other disciplines that don't seem relevant to their focus. Keeping a map and picture of the forest to help me see past all of the trees.