This letter is a response to the Outlook article "Why Our Students Keep Snoozing Through Science" {May 20}.

A few weeks ago I invited 10 students from my general chemistry class at George Washington University, where I am a professor, to join me for lunch. Eight were foreign nationals who had acquired some of their secondary school training in their respective lands but who had also attended and received diplomas from American high schools, public and private. Two were Americans who had attended and completed their secondary education in the public school system.

All were very good students. I had informed them beforehand of the purpose for which I had extended the invitation: to have them present their thoughts on the reasons for the general lack of interest in science among students and their views on the education they had received in the public school system in America.

Most surprising was the pervasive anti-intellectual attitude among many secondary and even college students. There is a sentiment of indifference to studies and to the effort needed to acquire knowledge. The greatest interest is directed to participation in the social elements that are a part of growing up. Striving for excellence in school is not a norm.

In American public schools, homework is minimal, if assigned at all. In contrast, three to four hours per night was the normal activity for those who had studied abroad. These students were confronted with greater academic demands than students here.

Foreign nationals are exposed to mathematics and the sciences continuously over many years beginning with grade school and extending through middle and high schools. Chemistry, physics and mathematics are taught over a period of four or more years. Further -- in contrast with the United States and England, whose public school teachers are graduates of schools of education (the United States and England are the only nations in the world having such schools) -- instructors of mathematics and the sciences in foreign lands have received baccalaureate or graduate degrees in the respective disciplines. The same is found in many private schools in America.

Whereas the sciences are highly regarded disciplines in foreign lands and attract the best students, that respect, once accorded to these fields here, no longer exists. The lack of interest in the physical sciences and mathematics can be traced to the quality of instruction in mathematics and the sciences at the grade-school level. Unless the student is strongly literate in mathematics by the seventh or eight grade, chances are remote that he will become interested in the physical sciences and mathematics at a later time. Mathematics is the key, and no amount of hands-on experiments in chemistry or physics will change the situation.