Originally posted on GAM2013 blog.
By Maya Barlev
Imagination, humility, connection and curiosity: this is why we do astronomy. These are the sensations our ancestors felt when looking up at the sky centuries ago, and these are the feelings we still experience as we continue to work through the countless and ever-multiplying mysteries of our Universe. For the past nine months, I’ve travelled around the world with the sole purpose of speaking with children about astronomy. Why speak primarily with children, and not adults? I believe that kids are able to expose and articulate these pillars more clearly and with less fear than grown-ups. Children have the ability to both reflect their environments and upbringings while simultaneously remaining creative, curious and uninhibited.
I strongly believe that not every child should become an astronomer, but every child should learn to appreciate astronomy. Often times, outreach groups from observatories or academic institutions will visit schools to inspire students to pursue careers in astronomy. This is wonderful, and I fully support finding those children with a potential career interest in science and showing them the opportunities they have. I met students in South Africa, for example, who thrive in their math and science classes, but who never heard of the Square Kilometre Array and all of the opportunities it is bringing to their country. After learning about the project, these students beam with excitement as they learn that their dreams to work in a field they enjoy are in fact realizable.
But what about the rest of the class? What about the students who thrive more in other subjects? These students are equally capable of having the innate human reactions to astronomy simply by learning about the wonders of the Universe. By thinking of the possibilities of what can exist in the infinite miles beyond our planet, they can push their imaginations and ignite their natural curiosity. By learning about the scale size of our Earth, they learn personal humility while gaining a connection with the rest of humanity. These are the values that can unite us and what makes astronomy a practical and powerful tool for solving world problems. In order to utilize this tool, we as educators and astronomers need to fuel that appreciation in every student, not just the ones who may become career scientists.