Science For Science’s Sake

ALEXANDRA DING

Just as kids’ renditions of Mozart sonatas and Impressionist paintings exist not so much to directly benefit the world of art but to promote interest in its future, so science programs for children should give them something to love and speculate about.

Debate 1, Alexandra Ding FeaturedAs a middle schooler, I had little interest in what the State of Massachusetts called the MCAS curriculum—and what I called “I know I won’t remember this in a month but let’s ace the test anyways.” I’d bubble in a few responses, write detailed paragraphs on why bacterial cells were different from human cells, and once the day was over and done with, regale in the multitude of crafting, orchestra, and book clubs that flowered at 2:50 pm as classes finished. Reveling in Fitzgerald’s rich descriptions of scenery, entering lopsided creations in school pottery competitions, and playing my heart out in an arrangement of Vltava, I tackled challenges with an artist’s ardor and a twelve-year-old’s skill level. The rote memorization of 7th grade biology seemed light-years away from my dabblings in this rich and entertaining world—until my experiences at summer camp, and later in science fairs and teams, brought them closer than ever. I realized that science, presumably saved for Einsteins and Gausses, could be picked up as easily as a drafting pencil.

In a society that stresses the importance and accessibility of art while impressing the idea that science is something done after years of textbook reading, the interest gap between these disciplines, especially among children, is unsurprising. Part of what causes this effect is the lack of resources for the teaching of science beyond what is strictly required. Community centers stock their cabinets with pastels, music stands, and books, but seldom do you see Bunsen burners and microscopes among them. One of the criticisms of elementary science is that distilling research down to a comprehensible level nullifies its value- that we are better off leaving “real” science to the elders, who have taken all the AP and IB courses and can fully appreciate inquiry.

Yet just as kids’ renditions of Mozart sonatas and Impressionist paintings exist not so much to directly benefit the world of art but to promote interest in its future, so science programs for children should give them something to love and speculate about. If regular schooling provides the foundation for their ideas, out-of-school programs should fuel the materialization of Mars missions, sustainable machines, and miracle cures in their vast imaginations. In brief, what we must do is encourage personal inquiry and guide kids to see what lies beyond the classroom.

For many elementary and middle-school aged kids, asking questions comes naturally after being challenged with new and abnormal concepts. Even after passing the MCAS and getting a decent grade, questions about the universe and space never crossed my mind… until my parents enlisted me in enrichment classes at a local college. There I was confronted with a deluge of information, not to memorize and regurgitate, but with which to tickle my mind and give me the crazy ideas of someday curing cancer or modifying DNA ideas that pushed me to pay attention in school and venture into science as I did into the arts– entering my best attempts at research into science fairs, leading my town’s Science Olympiad team to States, struggling through hospital internships—all of which would have been impossible without the support of the academic community. So to the adults reading this: don’t hesitate to shower kids with ideas deemed too advanced, try to ask questions with no easy answers, and recognize that science can happen at all ages. To the kids: science is cool, but only if you look harder.

Alexandra Ding is a Brevia staff writer. She can be reached at alexandrading01@college.harvard.edu.