My goal, sitting here now, and for the remainder of my time on this speck of dust, is to do everything possible to progress our species into a more positive, peaceful, and spectacular future. A future that can only now be realized in our most fantastic dreams; full of new discoveries, new technology, human settlements in various sectors of our solar system, longer life spans, the end of poverty, better education for women, social and economic equality, the end of war against ourselves, a cure for cancer and other future deadly diseases, and a new global cultural abandonment of the ideas of borders—a purely human construct (there are no borders when looking at the Earth from space)—where all humans are citizens of the planet Earth. As an educator, I have an amazing opportunity to instill this idea of progress within the minds of the upcoming generations that will inhabit this planet. I hope to inspire my students, and everyone in my life, with a curiosity and wonder of the universe, an urgency and need to be skeptical of everything and everyone (especially those in powerful positions), and to be encouraged and uplifted to pursue their dreams.
I do not believe that educators should be asking our students to memorize facts and participate in an information dump led by us with a fact bucket at the front of our classrooms that is seemingly dumped into the heads of unwanting students. I do not believe that we should be teaching students how to fill in bubbles, but rather how to break outside the boundaries of their bubbles, literally and figuratively. The innate ability to problem solve, to be natural scientists, to probe the universe with a level of curiosity that has led past explorers to risk death for the sake of discovery is inherent in our DNA, and one of humanity’s most impressive traits. This ability should be encouraged. It has brought us out from the caves and into the stars and even onto other worlds. Our artificial boot prints have left a trace fossil on another world, the moon, that will likely last for billions of years and signifies a new geologic age unknown to this planet for 4.5 billion years, the Anthropocene.
Please check out this amazing article by Dr. David Grinspoon on this:
The Golden Spike of Tranquility Base
Currently, in our society, and in our American education system, the amazing abilities of our species that have led us to our current level of knowledge and technology is most certainly not encouraged. Rote memorization, institutional disciplines, and the discouragement of skepticism is more commonplace.
Wonder, inspiration, curiosity, drive, passion, and tenacious actions are what make the most astounding inventions, scientific theories, discoveries, art, literature, technological advancements . . .
- Teaching chemistry without telling students that most of the natural elements of the periodic table were formed in the crucibles of stars and stellar supernovas, and that they, and all life, are products of these events and are composed of ‘star stuff’, is withholding scientific truths that inspire curiosity, wonder, and spirit.
- Teaching a biology course without communicating that the DNA in your cells connects us with all life on this planet in a profound way, and that there is a current field, astrobiology, which allows scientists to search and theorize about the possibility of life elsewhere in the cosmos is robbing students of a possible spark to drive them into a career of making the first extraterrestrial life discovery.
- Teaching physics without diving into the current theories about a multiverse, string theory, or that the same force of gravity that students learn when taught forces can rip into space time to create a singularity where the physics they're being taught no longer functions, and time as we know it stops, is stripping away some of the most fascinating parts of this field, which may inspire them to take college-level physics, or just try a little harder in the class because it’s cool and interesting.
- Teaching geoscience without telling students that the same geology they learn on Earth can be applied to other planets and lead to a career in planetary science and possibly a spot on a team that sends the next space probe or rover to Mars, Europa, or another solar system object, is leaving out a fundamental aspect of a field that is often overlooked and that might encourage further interest or careers.
There are many other examples, but the point here is this: to create interest, real-world applications, inspire, and show the students why they are learning what they are learning, and to make them want to learn it. In order to do this, educators must look past the state standards and basic needs of the curriculum set forth by their school districts and fill in the spaces and in between lines with the colorful truths that inspire young and old minds alike. Why should science, or any subject, be boring? It doesn’t, so why do we make it so! Educators have to give purpose!
Skepticism is one of the most fundamental aspects, if not the fundamental aspect, of science. The body of knowledge we now call science is nothing, and would have never have become what it is today, if it were not for the self-correcting machinery of the scientific method. Science is a way of thinking. It is a way of looking at the universe and any claims by sentient beings with a fine tooth comb of skepticism. The peer-review process, empirical evidence for claims, falsifiable theories, and the humility to throw out or revise our most precious theories if new confirmed evidence disproves or improves them is what has made our greatest scientific achievements and knowledge what it is today. This way of thinking also properly trains future citizens of an informed democracy and protects us from tyrannical takeovers, charlatans, and other authoritarian thought-police-type hell-bent on hypnotizing the masses. Carl Sagan said in his novel, The Demon-Haunted World (Sagan, 1996, p. 434):
“If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us.”
My students will have wonder and be inspired by science. They will learn skepticism and the scientific method. And, they will embrace evidence. I believe a perfect example of a great scientist is one who is fueled by wonder and discovery, skeptical of claims by others and of him/herself, but fully prepared and willing to embrace the evidence. An open mind, prepared to accept that “the universe is under no obligation to make any sense to [you]” (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Real Time with Bill Maher, 2016), is also of paramount importance. The curriculum developed by educators absolutely needs to include the wonders mentioned above, and more.
Depending on where I get a job I may have to get creative on how I will fill my lessons with teaching students skepticism filled with wonder into the curriculum, but trust me, I will. I will fight. I will not give up. I have finally found my purpose in life. In my instruction, I will present with mystery and drama and the students will also have time to construct their own knowledge, participate in labs, group activities, field trips, and even research. It is also important that I remain passionate about what I teach and therefore must only teach what I am passionate about. The best teachers are those who are passionate and knowledgeable in their subject area.
I, Daniel Peluso, plan to change the world and I believe that I can.
How about you?
Big Think. (8 June 2011). Neil deGrasse Tyson on Teaching Science. [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube at https://youtu.be/tsNrIfDTyWA
Druyan, A., & Soter, S. (Writers), & Braga, B., Pope, B., & Druyan, A. (Directors). (1 June 2014). The World Set Free [Television series episode]. In Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Fox.
express55589 (YouTube channel upload). (uploaded 26 March 2014). Neil deGrasse Tyson - Schools are failures. [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube at https://youtu.be/jZzckOX06N0
NOVA's Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers. (6 March 2014). Bill Nye: Change The World. [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube at https://youtu.be/1KkKejZnazw
Real Time with Bill Maher. (June 3, 2016). HBO. Hollywood, CA.
Sagan, Carl. (1996). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York, NY: The Random House Publishing Group.
strobe5000 (YouTube channel upload). (uploaded 8 Oct. 2011). Carl Sagan and Government. [Video File]. (Video originally from an interview with Charlie Rose on 20 December 1996). Retrieved from YouTube at https://youtu.be/_iyFw8UF85A