January 10, 2018

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Capturing Interest

Originally published July 16, 2008 MoonInMyRoom1.jpg
image from Howard Eskildsen

Why are so few young people interested in the Moon, astronomy and science today? In the pre-Apollo 50s and 60s, outer space - it was always outer space, not just space - was fabulously exciting. Kids were interested not just to see the pretty space pictures in Life, Look and Colliers - the sources of images before the Internet - but to build telescopes, join astronomy clubs, and major in sciences in college. Now when a fantastic image from Mars or of a distant galaxy is posted, millions of kids look at it and then get on with their lives of Facebook, IM and boredom with intellectual pursuits. Its so bad that a recent study found that the number one undergraduate college for sending kids to American universities to earn PhDs is in Peking. So is the number 2, and the number 4 is in Korea; Berkeley holds the number 3 spot. We have created a culture that doesn't value science as a career, and US citizens are woefully ignorant of even grade school science. No one really knows why this has happened or what to do about it. All young kids are inherently fascinated by everything around them - they have a scientific bent to see, experiment and understand, until that gets knocked out of them by late middle school, when hormones and coolness kick in. Howard has bought one of his young relatives this night light that shows the phases of the Moon. According to the box it's suitable for kids 6 and up. Do we have any evidence that such cool toys stimulate kids curiosity and cause them to look at the real Moon and how it chnages its shape and position every night? I doubt it. A science toy has got to be a good thing. But when he was young I painted the ceiling of my son's room deep blue with luminescent stars in constellation patterns. Both my son and daughter have looked through telescopes since they had to be held up to the eyepiece. Both humor and respect their dad (I am lucky), but neither have a speck of interest in science. The Romans unknowingly destroyed their civilization by poisoning themselves with lead cutlery and plates. Are we doing the same by becoming scientifically illiterate?

Chuck Wood

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