Sunday, November 20, 2011

Little Scientists, Inc.


  1. An inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.
  2. A course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment.
Guess the goggles aren't needed for the pre-pubescent crew.
That looks suspiciously like a carboy of homebrew sitting on the scientist's right.

Unless you give a child a reason to want to know something, to know the world, then getting them all gooey-eyed thinking that they love what passes for science in order to please mama is just cultivating a fetish.

If we continue to push science as a religion, a cult with idolized props--the lab coat, the goggles, the geek 'tude--used to induce awe through glorious displays, well, we'll keep getting what we've been getting. Before we can hope to create more scientists, we ought to focus on creating more thinkers.

I'd like to keep our fetishes in the boardroom and the chapel--both indoor places defined by humans, where magical attachment to objects (flow charts and holy books) enhances our worlds of magical thinking. Our magic worlds follow an internally consistent blend of logic and lust, that allows us to makes some sense of the universe on our terms.

Nature don't play that way.

While many of us have been vicariously living through Natalie and Justin and Prince Harry, a few have stumbled on amazing stuff. Photons erupting out of nothingness, neutrinos defying basic laws of the universe-- a very few among us giving us knowledge we'll probably misuse, again and again.

Science for children, for anyone, starts with the flick of a minnow's tail, a dragon fly cocking its head in a child's direction, with a mud pie that falls apart if too wet or if too dry. Before you can learn how to predict, you need to learn how to see.

You don't need iPads or Vernier probes or simulated computer programs. You don't need fancy "scientifical" equipment.You just need curious children (a redundancy),  a door that lets children out as easily as it lets them in,  and an interested adult or two to guide them..

We keep shoving kids in concrete buildings, away from their clan, away from Grandma's stories, earlier and earlier and earlier. Away from sunburn and skinned knees and bruises and tears, away from the air, the sky, the sun, the puddles teeming with life, away from the only laboratory that matters in science--the natural world.

Science starts with a child outdoors,  it starts within the sulci of the convoluted mush of nerve tissue sitting in our skulls, it starts with our senses.

You cannot see a whole world in a drop of pond water if you've never seen to see the world you live in. We don't need Junior Scientists© donning their fetish garb to impress adults whose understanding of the universe goes no farther than The Big Bang Theory sitcom.

Children are just as more likely to get there reading W.B. Yeats than they are watching a rocket launch on a monitor. They're even more likely to get there if they're allowed to wander around this fine world of ours, chasing whatever interests their souls outdoors, becoming part of the world so many adults no longer realize even exists as they slowly dissolve in front of their huge television screens, inanimate objects inhabited with the spirits of the famous and the fictitious, the fetish in the living room.

Every time I walk home in the dark, seeing the eerie blue manic light leaking through drawn shades, I wonder how we hope to create anything resembling scientists, or even human.

The photo was by  Matt Stamey for the Gainesville Sun found here.
The definition of fetish came from


Jenny said...

You hit on a couple of things I've been thinking a lot about. One is how young kids start school here. We've been struggling with a large number of students in kindergarten and first grade and we firmly believe it comes from a lack of play (in our defense, we think these kids have a lack of play at home too - not a good defense though). So many countries don't start there kids in school until the age of seven. Hmmm...

The second thing is the idea of getting outside. My class works in our garden (such as it is)in the spring quite a bit but we don't get outside much other than that and recess. I'm trying to figure out how to work on that.

Mr. David M. Beyer said...

Beautifully said. I'm going to share this with my building.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,


The lack of play creates huge problems, and not just for education. Too many adults wander through life without a clue as to what makes them happy. They do, however, spend lots of money buying temporary satisfaction, so I guess that's good for the "economy."

I have never regretted a single moment outside. I've regretted a lifetime's worth of time under the roof.

(And here I am , inside again--time to go kayak!)

Dear David,

Thank you.