20 July 2009 01:50 PM

Apollo 11 Anniversary

by Dr. Rick

To folks of a certain generation, today, July 20, is something of an anniversary.  Forty years ago today, humans landed on the moon, and the world watched on black-and-white television as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of their lunar landing craft onto the rocky surface of our nearest planetary neighbor.  It wasn’t green cheese after all, nor was there a Man in the Moon to be found.


It was a heady sight, a major achievement, a goal reached after President Kennedy a few years earlier at his Inauguration dared us to reach for it.  That we landed at the moon’s Sea of Tranquility was a meaningful symbol during the difficult years of the Cold War.


I was just beginning my teaching career, filled with the promise that only new beginnings can bring.  My head full of ideas of what my new profession would bring, I tried to think of what role an English teacher, however motivated, could play in this new world I saw unfolding before my eyes.  My math and science colleagues would get to have all the fun, I thought enviously.


Well, I quickly realized that even though mathematicians and scientists were, indeed, in the spotlight, we readers and writers certainly had a role to play.  If you can’t explain your ideas or read others’, you’re at a definite disadvantage.


Math and science are more in demand than ever, expanded with technology and engineering to create a new interdisciplinary academic focus, STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. (For information, see www.stemcoalition.org or the website of the U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov.)


Has American education lost its way in math and science teaching?  Have we fallen behind other countries in technology education?  There’s much talk lately about the numbers of college and university students who must first complete remedial math courses before moving on to more demanding, college level courses.  Some of these students have even graduated from high school with “honors” math credits.

As our country moves slowly, inexorably, toward national curriculum standards, the conversation about the teaching of math and science is bound to become vigorous and heated.


On this anniversary – with the world facing its 21st century challenges of sour economies and stubborn wars – it’s useful to consider that our national workforce and economy, our standing in the world, our security and defense, our health and well-being, and our children’s future are all affected by our competencies in these STEM areas.


We need a workforce well-educated in the sciences and math, with working knowledge of computers, limitless creativity and curiosity, team-spirited problem-solving skills, and (here’s where we English teachers come in) the ability to express ideas cogently.


A technologically proficient workforce and a scientifically literate populace will help us to recapture the spirit of boundless optimism that gripped us forty years ago on this date.  We’re certainly ready for boundless optimism again.


For more thoughts about STEM and 21st century skills, see my blogs of 9 March 2009 and 13 March 2009.


Do you have memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing?  Share them with your kids and grandkids, and, please, share them with us by clicking on Comment below.




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