Kyle Maxwell

Just me.

Archive for the tag “education”

Citizen Astronomy

So now 2011 has arrived and we’ve moved past the years that fascinated me as a young man. I’ve started to think again about working on stuff that matters. While my day job does matter in its own way, it lacks the sort of purpose I need. Some of that sense of purpose, of course, finds fulfillment in family and other inner pursuits. Those latter commitments mean that I haven’t returned to formal education (read, “his wife didn’t want him in class and not at home every evening…”). Instead, I’ve chosen to take Mark Twain’s counsel and find other ways to further my education.

But where should I start?

I have strong memories of my childhood telescope. As telescopes go, it wasn’t much. I think it cost something on the order of $100 at a toy store, but it did its job. As I recall, we bought it around the time of the approach of Halley’s Comet in 1986. In reality, I had lots of exposure to astronomy (and other “hard sciences”). My father and uncle took their own particular interest in this science, of course, with their own telescopes and binoculars and observations starting in their youth. To tell the truth, my family has several generations of history with what many now call “citizen science“.

During my undergraduate years, I took a basic course in Astronomy but didn’t apply myself. That had less to do with the particular course at the time and more with my overall approach to my studies, a particularly significant regret. Since then, I’ve always kept informed and interested about astronomy more than any other science, whether through eclipse observation or just APoD.

So I started looking around for areas somebody with my academic background (bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a strong computer science component) and skill set (UNIX, data analysis) could get involved. At the moment, I lean towards the Texas Astronomical Society. Conveniently, it meets at my alma mater which also sits along my work commute, and several of their upcoming events take place even closer to my home.

Whether not what I do matters, this definitely counts as working on stuff that matters.

She gets to like science too!

I never really paid much attention to gender education issues when I was younger. I am a middle-class white American male who did well in a more-or-less traditional educational environment: public school, test-driven, math and language centric, lots of memorization and analysis. Other than going to a science magnet school and no racial segregation, most of my education followed the same pattern as that of, say, the 1950s. Mostly, at any rate.

Then I had a daughter, and everything changed.

So today she starts in a new school in a new suburb. The teacher seems really sweet, the kids are friendly, everything looks great. This week they’re learning about the letter “D”, so the teacher assigns them things to bring on Friday that start with that letter. So far, so good…

…except that it’s “girls bring dolls and boys bring dinosaurs.

What century do these people live in?

So girls stay home with the kids while boys get to go out in the world and do science? She can’t like dinosaurs? (For the record, dolls bore my girl to tears. She’d rather play with spaceships or work on her accent imitations.)

I told her to ask the teacher if she could bring a dinosaur instead. If she says no, I’ll go have a calm, friendly word with her. Discrimination? Don’t we have federal laws about this stuff?

When the revolution comes, the boards of education will be the first against the wall.

And if I hear anything like, “good girls must learn to cook and sew because math is hard,” I’m going to blow something up.


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