Science is not cool to kids. If I were a young person and I wanted to have the acceptance and admiration of my peers I would play a sport or take up a musical instrument. Given average attractiveness, these two activities act as great social lubricants. I have no idea how attractiveness works–that is a mystery. I am thinking about an average person looking for a little peer comfort.
According to some overheard comments, participating in a science fair is not the fast-track to Coolsville. As you may suspect, science was the path I chose and I am a faux-bitter old man. Of course, science (and the science around computers) has been very good to me through my life and, somewhat ironically, led me to play many sports and make many friends. Adulthood appreciates a scientist more than youth.
Youth is for competition on the field and merriment in the music hall. The olympic hendiatris (sneaky 45-cent word) Citius, Altius, Fortius makes perfect sense to a young man or woman striving to be faster, higher, stronger and measurably better than others. Those that are not gifted physically can bring joy with music, dance, and drama. And in all these activities lies the slim possibility of fame and riches beyond the dreams of avarice.
The more common outcome for the athlete and the musician is an activity that will remain a pleasure to be enjoyed for a lifetime but not something that is sufficient to make a comfortable living. This is not a bad outcome, but it does underscore the importance of the curiosity of the budding scientist. The effort and curiosity of a young mind are treasures to be nurtured (and not just with regard to science–I am focusing on this but the argument holds every bit as well for a love of humanities). Good grades in school are more than just an indication of a good person to sit beside when writing tests.
People who are curious to learn are rarer than they should be. Every comment that denigrates that curiosity makes society a tiny bit poorer. The belief that the desire to know more about the world is a bad thing is flat wrong. Ignorance is never bliss–it is escapism. And the escape, while temporarily freeing, is never forever. When work is to be done and life is to be lived, it is the intellectually curious that have provided the tools. The dismissals of those who will create future tools for living (often sent on computers and smartphones) is certainly ignorance.
I love both music and sports and would never suggest that they be removed from our school system. Music teachers and sport coaches often work an exceptional number of extra-curricular hours to ensure that the schools teams can compete and the bands can perform. These activities are not bad things. They are good and are to be respected. They are part of the dualistic balance between our minds and bodies (and spirits, if your dualisms have three components).
I just want to make the case for the school science geeks; probably the literature and history geeks too. These are the people who will be thinking about the challenges that face society in the future. Whether they are building the solutions, speculating on the future, or challenging the morality of the creations, these young people have great potential. If they also play right wing or the saxophone then more the better.
And adulthood holds a great vindication for the geek. With or without higher education, people with curiosity and passion tend to succeed. It just takes time for the curiosity of youth to accumulate enough knowledge to tackle the really tough problems–the ones that will both help the world and pay the bills.
You know, there were a lot of kids at the science fair and they seemed to be quite proud of what they had done. And, like them, I never found science dull. My friend had a science kit (“yes, you too can own science in kit form”) that had over a hundred experiments and real uranium that would expose photographic film. We built rockets and made our own rocket fuel using sugar and other stuff from the school science lab. Probably kids are still doing this stuff and are not bothered so much by the few others that do not share their pleasure in figuring things out.
I am probably being an alarmist about what I see as a trend away from intellect as a virtue (not the only virtue–A virtue, not THE virtue). Actually, future potential is boring when a person is young. There are more television programs that glamourize sports teams and glee clubs than literature study groups and science fairs. These things are immediate and entertaining; there is only so much that Mythbusters can do. If I just shut up and relegate myself to applauding the curious, I can let their future success be the best indicator of the value of a personality that desires to learn.
As long as we do not allow the curiosity to be crushed before it can bloom.
P.S. I am currently ambivalent with regard to Big Bang Theory because it both propagates the stereotype of dysfunctional scientists in the main roles and introduces many secondary characters that scientifically and socially successful.