December 20, 2014

Insights

As a product of the public school system, I’ve always tried to give back. I remember my elementary school in Baltimore City during the depression, and the teachers who instilled in me the desire to read. I remember the care during the air raid drills learning to help others by filling sand bags for the Red Cross, and the adventures I could have through their teachings in history, science and literature. That elementary school, No. 13, came to life again when I moved to Bonita Springs in 1987 and came in contact with the Bonita Springs Elementary School.

The principal, David Short, stands outside in rain or shine and greets the buses coming to the school as well as those students who walk to school. He knows them by name, and they, in turn, care for him. The teachers care about the students and work with the principal to get them all the help they can. The student body is very diverse, and their needs are the same ones I had during the days I went to elementary school. The business community and local citizens were called on by Short to help in the education of the school children. It seemed to me that our taxes and the lottery should take care of any needs—but how wrong I was about that.

My sister and I were asked to help in a science program by bringing Mr. Wizard to the school to show the students magnets, magnetic fields and other wonders of science. We did this for several years as well as supplying children’s microscopes. To see the faces of children when they looked at a drop of water through the microscope was payment in full. Then school board priorities changed for whatever reasons, and science was put on the back burner. We helped the school in other ways—a roof for the playground, etc.—but I never got over science being left behind.
ast october, i went to Chicago for a couple of women’s groups meetings, and what I witnessed rekindled in me the urge to bring science alive for our schoolchildren.

It was inspiring to listen to a panel of five female scientists reporting on subjects such as implanting false memories through correct techniques and the right pharmaceuticals (scary at best), and the discovery of extraterrestrial life forms, extant or fossilized, on another solar system (when you see Earth from Saturn as big as a pinhead, it makes you think). I marveled at the words of Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of the Molecular & Cellular Oncogenesis Program at the Wistar Institute, who studies mice and regeneration of body parts and tissues. Success in regenerating hearts, lungs and other body parts in the first mammals—mice—will lead to the day when we will be able to prescribe drugs that cause severed spinal cords to heal and hearts to regenerate.

Another scientist, Irene Pepperberg, a Harvard University psychologist, reported that she had been studying birds talking to each other for 22 years. I wondered why, and then found out that what she learned would be used in part to help autistic children speak. She found a species of bird that did not have the same part of the brain that other birds used for this purpose, but they did in fact speak. That information and further study will help humans, and by 2056, we will use birds to understand how human language evolved.

Even with all this progress, schools are still not giving science the attention it deserves. But just as I was getting discouraged about this, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley stepped up to address one of my groups.

What a jolt of enthusiasm! He described the changes he’s making in the Chicago school system—emphasizing math, languages (thousands of students are taking Chinese), and, yes, science. It’s quite a comment that he couldn’t find enough science teachers locally and a tribute to innovative thinking that he reached out to Hungary, the Czech Republic and Russia to get qualified instructors. Way to go, Chicago.

I’ve sent for Mayor Daley’s talk and intend to pass it along to the school boards of Lee and Collier counties. I hope it will be an adult learning experience that will pay off for local schoolchildren.