Thursday, May 13, 2010

National Lab Rat Day

We all have a vested interest in advancing our country’s proficiency in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math as a means to driving innovation and jobs — which are key to fueling our economic growth and global competitiveness.
Steve Ballmer
CEO, Microsoft

Yesterday was National Lab Day--major corporations, foundations, politicians, and business folks got together to fuel a national PR project to push technology under the guise of science. Again.

Technology serves the self, science is another beast altogether.

We teach mostly technology in high school--it's what the corporations want, it's what the Feds want, it's what parents want. Get edumacated, get a degree, get a career, get fed, get laid, maybe have kids, and eventually get dead. I'm not saying that's a bad plan, at least not publicly, but it does require limited vision. Thankfully, we live in a culture that's designed to provide the blinders.

Science, unlike technology, serves no one. It is selfless. Peek beyond the hoopla of equations and models and jargon and the floor falls out of the universe.

Or rather, the universe, it seems, has no floor.

If I could teach this to 15 year old brains, bad things would happen. Fortunately, their brains are not mature enough to grasp this, and I'm not half the teacher needed to teach this. Even with tenure, I'm not sure my career could survive a class of children grasping how tenuous reality is.

Pick up an object you know, one that gives you comfort, maybe an old shell. It feels solid, has some heft, it's real.

Yet it's mostly empty space.
Yet is is tugged by every other object that exists in the universe.
Yet its elements were fused in the vast gravitational depths of some unknown star.
And maybe most stunning, the oyster was once alive, a sentient creature, and no longer is.

I do not teach religion in class, I teach science. You get to the edges of it, though, and words fall apart. When words fall apart, walls, which are mostly space anyway, fall apart as well.

If a child is locked in a human universe, culturally bound to the myths that will help her become the successful careerist she's been taught to want, grasping even basic physics may ruin her as surely as mainlining heroin.

Thankfully, a child can fly through school "knowing" all kinds of equations without truly understanding their implications. We keep science safe.

Steve Ballmer wants your kid's brain wrapped in gauze. I want your kid's brain so open to possibilities that it oozes all over the universe. I admit his version is more likely to lead to financial success.

But I bet my version is happier.

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