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The Scientist and the Citizen

Saturday, May 12, 2007
I've been a Natalie Angier groupie forever, so my ears perked up immediately when I heard her being interviewed on The Current yesterday. I think her new book -- The Canon: A Whirlygig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science The Canon: A Whirlygig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science-- sounds fantastic and will be ordering a copy right away. I also vigorously support the point she's trying to make: we have to remain informed about and interested in science throughout our lives in order to be able to make sense of the increasingly complex issues that we're asked to make decisions about, as part of our responsibilities as citizens.

The good news is that science is fascinating. I never really liked science as a kid, but I've fallen in love with it as a grownup. I'm addicted to reading science news and science blogs because the information I'm uncovering is fascinating and relevant to my life.

Science helps us to understand what it means to be human and to think through the hot issues of the day, not the least of which is climate change. Without a base knowledge of these issues, you're at the mercy of politicians and pundits, who all have their own agendas to promote.

As parents, I think we need to strive to raise kids who are literate on so many levels -- and to be prepared to continue to learn alongside them throughout our lives.

We want to think about being politically literate, media literate, scientically literate, technologically literate, socially literate, culturally literate -- and I'm only just starting the list of essential literacies based on what's at the forefront of my mother radar these days.

I also think we need to teach our kids about source credibility: how to question the source of information rather than swallowing the message whole.

We want them them to learn to apply what they're learning and to think critically about ideas. A child who doesn't question ideas or authority is in a very vulnerable place.

Our kids also need to have a solid understanding of where they've come from, where they are today, and where we're headed as a society (and that means as a society made of people coming from multiple cultures and multiple parts of the world). I want my kinds to consider what can we learn from one another's histories and experiences and what parts of our experiences are different and the same. This week, I was at a meeting where people were talking about how when mothers from different cultural traditions start comparing experiences, they often discover how much they have in common: that in so many cultures there is a shared tradition of a community of mothers gathering around the new mother and providing support and knowledge as she learns to care for her new baby. (It's a lesson that mainstream North American society could certainly learn from other cultures. So many new moms report feeling isolated and alone in a community that can otherwise be a-buzz with activity.)

Because of all the pressures placed on the school system in recent years -- to prepare kids for standardized tests while simultaneously dealing with budgets that have been pared down to the point that parents are being asked to fundraise to provide to pay for the costs of head-lice inspections and other necessities in some jurisdictions -- we have to be prepared, as parents, to take a step back and consider what we need to be doing on a day-to-day basis to ensure that our kids are aquiring all the big picture "literacies" that they'll need to function in the world as adults.

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| posted by Ann D @ 4:02 PM