Although this little gem of a story happened in the US, I have no doubt that given a few more months it’s likely to happen here. Well…I don’t know…at least the Yanks encourage science and technology enough to actually organise things like science fairs… However, back to the story. Smart kid builds a motion detector from some electronic bits and puts it in a bottle. Bottle is picked up, sensor triggers. Cool. Good future ahead of a bright kid like that – some technical education, quite possible a Gates or Jobs of the next generation…
That would be what I would be saying were I not living in Stupid World, where the kid’s teacher called in the FBI and the bomb squad, put the whole place on lockdown and suggested the kid and his parents needed counselling. Hello? WHO needs counselling? If this is the standard of management that is present in US schools then God help them. At a time when we need to encourage bright thinkers and hopefully generate a new generation of technologists, scientists and educators that can get us out of our current hole, this dimwit sets in motion a series of events that will probably encourage the kid to never show initiative again and stick to playing X-Box games and watching TV until he can graduate to drinking beer, playing X-Box games and watching TV.
I was like this as a kid – fortunately with one exception I had support from my teachers, and always had support (or at least quiet acceptance!) from parents, aunts and uncles and in latter years my wife! I built radios, movement sensors and any number of electronic gadgets. I accidentally jammed local TV sets whilst working on a radio control gadget, generated more smells than I could shake a stick at and learnt more about science and technology in my own time than I probably did at school.
Today, with what appears to be terror hysteria in the US and ‘Elf and Safety’ silliness in the UK it’s increasingly difficult for proper ‘hands on’ science education to be done. We really should be working hard to encourage this sort of practical approach to science and technology, both in in schools, colleges and via technical hobbies such as the practical approach fostered by amateur radio, robotics, astronomy, etc. Unfortunately the UK does not seem to be doing this through educational policy. This item from a few years ago points out exactly what is wrong with modern science education in the UK – it’s too wishy-washy and based around social awareness and ‘scientific literacy’ whilst moving away from teaching separate science subjects and encouraging education in the ‘basics’ of science – the scientific method, practical lab work, etc.
Whilst the literacy and social awareness issues are important, it’s critical that they are secondary to a scientific education that prepares our future scientists and technologists by educating them in basic, practical science and technology, so that they can approach the more advanced stuff from a position of having firm foundations. I hear all the voices saying that it’s important to engage students with science; but there is absolutely no point at all in engaging students in a watered down, multi-media based representation of some of the most practical and critically important subjects around.