Monday, May 05, 2008

The little ones ...

Recently I was extended an offer to give a science talk to a few classes of elementary school children, an offer which I accepted. A couple of weeks ago, I gave that talk and I must admit that it gave me hope for the future. The kids were well behaved, they were interested, they were intelligent. I spoke about energy and how it affects our lives, and what science is doing to help address the problems these kids hear their parents complaining about at the dinner table at night. The talk wasn't very complex, I didn't get into intricate microbial pathways. Rather, I laid out the basic premises and goals of not only my own research, but the goals and visions of my organization as well. I went in with a "Here is the problem, and here is how my research is going to help all of us."

Unfortunately, I think that message is lost on a lot of scientists. I read blog after angry blog, of scientists railing about stupid laypeople. They mock, they taunt, they openly insult. All of which results in deafening the general public to the good work that scientists do, day after day. However, this is a topic for another day. I'm going to do at least one entry on scientists and their responsibility to inform the public.

So back to the discussion at hand. I was pleased to see that the children ate up my presentation. We had a lengthy Q&A afterwards as well, where I got on the teachers good side by pointing out how a well-rounded education would help them achieve their eventual career goals as well. What floored me the most though was one question asked by one of the students when he asked: Dr. TomJoe, what's the difference in factors between the energy crisis of the Carter administration and the current energy crisis? This kid wasn't any older than 13 years of age, and he asked a question you'd expect from someone much older than him. Heck, you won't find this question being asked by many adults ... yet there he was. If this child can be that inquisitive, and that adept at asking a very important question ... I hope that he will be typical of the future generations. It is our obligation as teachers (for science doesn't stop at the bench) to foster these traits.

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