Months ago, I volunteered to lead one of my daughter's Brownie Girl Scouts troop meetings to work with the girls on their "hands-on science" badge. As Petunia's deepest interest is any kind of science experiment, I was bound and determined to lead a terrific session that would convince each girl that science is very cool. Encouraging kids to study science is keenly important to me, as I feel strongly that our great nation is failing to educate enough scientists. (I can hear the Guv adding: "And THAT is why China is eating our lunch!")
Of course, in the midst of preparing our home for sale, my usual extensive preparation for the task of leading a group of girls for an hour ended up squeezed into a Sunday afternoon. With the Guv, I went through each of the science experiment books for kids that we own as well as a host of web sites. Mess was out of the question since we use the school's art room and are expected to leave it in perfect form. So I racked my brain to remember what Petunia enjoyed the most from our recent visits to science museums, and I remembered the fun that she had at Philly's Franklin Institute in the air show exhibit. Thus, I embarked on a mission to show the girls how to use the scientific method to conduct a flight experiment. In other words, we made paper airplanes!
Much to my pleasant surprise, as I am neither a teacher nor a scientist, the girls seemed to love the lesson and the experiment. They listened patiently as I explained some basics of aerodynamics (lift, thrust, drag). I walked through the scientific method with the girls asking questions of how airplanes fly, reviewing research that I provided, creating a paper airplane, testing it, adjusting it, retesting it, and then discussing the outcomes. I was sure that they'd be interested in making a paper airplane, but would they follow the instructions on the template I provided? Would they take their time to fine tune their aircraft? Would anyone lose an eye from a wayward throw? And, most importantly, would they remember that this was a science project and want to discuss it as such?
Every single one of these ten girls listened intently. They asked questions of each other, and they watched patiently as others flew their airplanes, offering comments like "Too much thrust!" and "It's hitting the ceiling because your elevators are too upright!" And the best little scientist of them all was the one who usually has the attention span of a gnat -- the troublemaker who, for this hour, payed closest attention, folded her aircraft with the greatest precision, and offered the most constructive criticism to her peers. I made sure to pull her mom aside to mention the girl's great success in this endeavor and was pleased to hear that this little girl, like my own daughter, seems to have a deep interest and great aptitude in science.
Tonight, I'm going to bed quite happy, because, for an hour, I held the attention of ten future great Americans, and their future looks quite rosy to me. It's easy in this season of political mudslinging to lose sight of the potential of our youngest citizens. You won't ever hear me lament today's youth, because every day, but especially today, I am convinced that they want achievement more than my generation ever did. Some folks equate that to a lot of pressure on our kids, but, to me, a girl from humble roots in West-by-God-Virginia, there should be no aspirations too great for our kids. If they believe that they can cure cancer, colonize space, reverse the effect of global warming, end hunger... then they stand a chance to do these great things. I'll tell my daughter that she can if she tries, and I don't believe that it's arrogant: I believe that it's hope.