Last weekend I spoke at the Arizona Science & Astronomy Expo in Tucson, where I had a chance to meet a truly mind-blowing group of astronomers, explorers and fellow journalists. A major highlight of the event for me was acquiring my very own piece of an asteroid from meteorite hunter Geoff Notkin.
Geoff is one of the stars of the Science Channel show Meteorite Men. It’s thanks to him that I was invited to Tucson and he’s become a good friend over the last few months, since he MC’ed the Space Frontier Foundation awards banquet where I received the NewSpace Journalism Award.
On the panel discussion in Tucson that i took part in and that Geoff moderated, the focus turned to how to get kids interested in and to stay interested in science. The consensus was, get them out of the classroom and into the real world where they can explore and make their own discoveries.
Geoff recounted how he played hooky with his mom and hunted fossils as a kid. Space Shuttle astronaut Story Musgrave described how he became an explorer at the tender age of three, when his mother let him roam the 500-acre farm he grew up on by himself. Spaceflight historian Amy Shira Teitel and I shared similar stories of how we first learned about Project Apollo on our own at the age of seven or eight.
Public schools simply aren’t set up to foster curiosity and encourage these kinds of engagements that can lead to life-long interests. Even a teacher stood up in the audience to agree with us. She described how she risked losing her job every time she departed from the uninspired curriculum to try to take the kids on an intellectual journey of discovery.
Our current system of compulsory schooling came to be at the beginning of the industrial age, when workers who could follow orders and complete repetitive tasks for big companies were much more highly valued than those who could think for themselves and exercise their creative powers.
But that world is rapidly disappearing, and the schools will have to change along with it. By 2020, according to Intuit, 40% of all workers in the US will work on a freelance or temporary basis.
As even factory workers gain control of their own means of production through digital manufacturing technologies, and more and more people pursue unique career paths that may or may not involve full-time employment, the best possible skills that students can acquire include self-motivation and the ability to learn for themselves whatever is necessary to meet the demands of a rapidly changing marketplace. Mindlessly filling out paperwork simply isn’t going to cut it during what some are calling the third industrial revolution. Thank God.
Goeff is one of those non-traditional educators at the forefront of inspiring young people to take an interest in the world around them and discover how they can best serve it. Check out his new show, STEM Journals, on Cox Cable.