I was raised on Mr. Wizard’s World. I loved that man. He taught me a lot about physics and chemistry. I wanted to be one of the kids on that show. They were sharp! They understood everything he taught and they asked amazingly insightful questions (I didn’t have a clue that a script existed). I especially wanted to be the girl with the British accent. She seemed the smartest - maybe it was the accent.
I remember watching the Iodine/Starch experiment (shown in the video clip above) on TV when I was in the third grade. That same experiment was part of the General Chemistry II Kinetics curriculum that I taught at Temple University. If my 18 year old students were half as enthusiastic about the experiment as 8 year old Darren in the video I would have been thrilled.
My students were raised on Bill Nye The Science Guy. He was no Mr. Wizard. He did not exude that confident omniscience that Mr. Wizard had going on. He did not have that patient tempo that told you, “This is science, take your time.” Bill Nye’s show had a schizophrenic intention to it that I found distracting. I couldn’t keep up with all the antics - the cut-aways, silly voices, hyper music. Although it wasn’t for me, I got the point. Make science exciting; keep kids engaged.
My children – oh, I am concerned for my children- are being raised on Dude, What Would Happen. The program forgoes science all together. Take Myth Busters, throw out the men with experience and education, replace them with Keanu Reeves as Ted in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and you have Dude, What Would Happen. The message for today’s youth is, “It is cool to be stupid and blow stuff up.”
The evolution in children’s science programming over the past thirty years says something about our society. Current programming models current thinking. Understanding the basis for something? That is work and work gets in the way of entertainment.
A few months back Christopher Drew wrote an article for the New York Times titled, Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard). It’s not just hard, it is time-consuming. It is methodical. Children are used to instantly retrieving answers from the devices in their back pockets. Why would they take the time to determine answers for themselves?
And that is what I loved most about Mr. Wizard’s World. He expected the kids on the show to think for themselves. It made me want to do the same.