I remember when I was a 7 year old girl in Costa Rica. I was a handful to my parents. Curious enough that I stuck a screwdriver into an outlet to see what would happen. Of course there was a short circuit and the lights went out. Luckily the screwdriver handle was insulated so I didn’t die. But my father came and instead of scolding me he started teaching me about electricity. He wasn’t a scientist; He was a civil engineer, but he knew the basics of electricity. He spoke to me about these very small particles called electrons and how they could travel very quickly in a wire and hurt me. After that and also because I had read many books by Jules Verne at that time, my curiosity knew no bounds. I always wanted to know more.
I am by no means exceptional. I was a normal kid lucky to have a father like that. I think most children have this innate curiosity that could lead to a career in science and we should start opening their minds early. No, not all would become scientists, but their world would have a wider horizon. After all, all human knowledge is interconnected.
I also remember a time when I went to Costa Rica as a NASA representative to give lectures on NASA and science to students. I was asked to give a talk to a group of 6 to 8 year old children. I spoke in simple terms, of course, but I was amazed at the questions they asked me. They were so intelligent and deep.
Yes, we should start teaching first graders at least the basics of science. People have said it’s difficult because teachers aren’t scientists. Well, let’s require elementary school teachers to know basic, easy-to-understand scientific principles. You don’t have to explain relativity or quantum mechanics. Just do what my father did.
My career in science and at NASA was the fulfillment of my childhood dreams. So many kids dream of becoming scientists, but we kill their potential by giving them the right guidance for very little.
Yes, I am proud that my mind has “awakened”. Let’s “wake up” for the sake of our children. Our future scientists who would have to deal with global warming etc. And the others, not scientists who would deal with social problems and threats to our democracy. Science breeds critical thinking.