Something dreadful happens to students between first and twelfth grades, and it’s not just puberty – the interest in science that is there in the first grade is beaten out of them by twelfth grade. And I think part of it is that there are adults who are nervous about being asked penetrating question by young people, and so they give offputting answers. “Why is the moon round?” “Well, what did you expect it to be, square?” Instead of encouraging the child – it’s a deep question, why is the moon round? It can get to the nature of gravitation, central forces, the strength of materials, there’s so much in there if you wanted to pursue it. And likewise all those other wonderful questions that kids ask – why do we have toes, what’s the birthday of the world, how deep could you dig a hole, and so on. Every one of those is an aperture to exciting children with their natural aptitude of interest in science, exciting that and encouraging them not necessarily to be professional scientists, but to be citizens who have a responsible role in dealing with science. We have a society based on science and technology, and at the same time we’ve arranged things so that almost nobody understands science and technology. That’ s a prescription or disaster as clear as anything.
Am I the only one who looks forward to answering, or trying to answer, these sorts of “silly” questions? The child is a wonderfully blank slate, coming into this world with only rudimentary instincts and a fierce desire to learn. Each generation is born ignorant of history and how the world works. Is not the process of reeducating the entire human species one child at a time terribly exciting?