The Soviet Union’s jump-start to space exploration, with the launching of Sputnik in 1957, left egg on America’s face and galvanized the Space Race that would last between the two nations well into the next decade.
I was just two years old in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy announced, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” A few years later, I was beginning my elementary school days, and, at the same time, the nation was ramping up its efforts to improve science education in order to produce the best science minds for taking on the president’s goal.
As the Apollo mission reached a fevered pitch in the late sixties, I was finally having science added to my daily lessons. Truthfully, most of the lessons simply involved reading a text and filling out worksheets, but I was in heaven! I loved science! I loved learning about atoms and cells and pulleys and levers and electricity and biology. I ran to the library and checked out all the books I could find about rocket ships and future plans for inhabiting the moon. I begged my mother for money (from an already overstretched bank account) and bought my own books about the moon from Scholastic.
I followed the race to the moon in the newspaper and clipped articles for a scrapbook that now, fifty years later, is yellowed and faded. I wanted to be an astronaut, despite the fact that I could barely make it through a ride in the family station wagon without getting carsick.
Along with other boys and girls my age, I stayed up late on July 20, 1969 and rejoiced as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped foot on the moon’s surface. A few years later, we held our breath and prayed in the middle of class as the astronauts of Apollo 13 had to abort their mission and figure out a way to stay alive in order to return safely to Earth. Throughout junior high school and high school, we watched four more Apollo lunar modules land on the moon. The country moved on to Skylab and space shuttles which still had the power of stopping science fanatics like me in our tracks to watch launchings and landings and, sadly, a few disastrous mishaps.
Through it all, I absorbed all of the science education I could get from my teachers. I took five science courses in high school – earth science, biology, second-year biology, chemistry, and physics. In college, I majored in health science and minored in biology.
I returned for another year after graduation in order to get the classes I needed to be certified to teach, and I became a high school biology teacher the next year. I shared my love for science with a new generation – a group of kids who only knew of the fervor of the sixties’ space race from the pages of their history books. Fortunately, they could still join me in watching the newest adventures of NASA.
Together, we mourned the loss of the crew of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986 and prayed for the success of the crews that bravely continued the exploration of space afterwards.
But, as we moved closer to the end of the twentieth century, we stopped, as a nation, watching the rockets. We stopped wondering. We stopped caring.
Science education slowly decayed and dried up along the side of the road. The nation worried about the learning that was taking place in schools and fretted to no end about losing its rank among other nations in academic progress.
But there was no race. No fervor. No goal.
There were just meaningless tests to label kids and to demean their teachers.
Readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic pushed science and history out of the picture. Students hated to read, despised writing, and abhorred math.
All they were getting was canned, scripted lessons. And a lot of tests.
And no science or social studies.
So, today – almost sixty years after the President of the United States challenged the nation to get to the moon – most of our kids have no clue about the Apollo missions…or about the moon…or about who this Kennedy guy was anyway…
These children are listening to their nation’s leaders complain about and dispute proven scientific facts because of personal and/or political agendas.
These children are growing up in a world where global warming is labelled “fake news,” where vaccination against deadly diseases is shunned, where ecological disasters are exacerbated by refusals to work with other nations in protecting the environment.
These children are being brainwashed to not believe in science, and to not care about where that ignorance will lead them or their own children in the future.
The Space Race has ended.
We did not win.
Copyright, Tim Ramsey, 2018.