Why I Miss “Mr. Wizard,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and “Beakman’s World”

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When I scour Digg for my weekly blog stimuli, I don’t really bother with the political stuff (except for news on the latest bouts of mudslinging; that’s quite entertaining).  What I find myself generally veering towards are the science-y articles: “This Pill Will Change Your Life,” “The 5 Scientific Experiments Most Likely to End the World,” and “The Uncertain Science of Sleep.”

I think the reason I’m interested in these types of articles, as opposed to, say, political ones, are because of how I was taught as a child.  When it came to politics, it was Newsweek for Kids! magazines and learning about the Electoral College.  If you were lucky, you got to color in a map with red and blue states, but even then you’re only working with two colors and a map.

But science?  I got my science fix from Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye and Beakman (who, luckily, is still on TV).  I learned that I could extract the iron in certain cereals by grinding them to dust in a food processor and waving a relatively strong magnet over the mix.

I learned why soap bubbles are round (equal pressure on all aspects of the surface, both inside and out), and about viscosity and how to layer liquids.

I learned that science can be fun, but most importantly, I learned it from the comfort of my own home on my own time.

That said, none of what I learned is as important as what’s going on these days, mainly in politics.  But we’re a country that seems uninterested putting in the effort to reach out to kids and make the stuff they should know not only palpable, but enjoyable, too.

It’s sad that the closest we’ve come to trying to bring politics to our kids is a book by Bill O’Reilly.

And it explains why the bulk of our 18-34 year-olds get most of their news from comedy outlets like “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.”  We like information on our own terms and in a format we can enjoy.

I miss Mr. Wizard (and his subsequent sects of info-tainment) because he had a keen sense of audience awareness; he knew that I wanted to see the cool stuff first, leaving him free to slip in the knowledge while I was in awe (Ed.: yes, I proof read my posts, and while on second pass I noticed that this wording sounded vaguely sexual, it really couldn’t have been phrased any better.  Retrospectively, it also probably gives some insight into my schoolgirl crush on Mr. Suchmann, my 8th grade Earth Science teacher.  I digress.).  He knew how to keep a young kid engaged, and he never underestimated their intelligence.

What we deal with these days are news programs (and news channels) that are dedicated to offering one side of a half-told story.  And while it serves a purpose (I have to assume it serves a purpose), it’s not a great method for reaching out to broad audiences that not only need, but want, to be informed.

Recently, I went to a taping of  “The Colbert Report.”  I admire Stephen Colbert and the career he’s built for himself off the sheer ignorance of other people (that and the fact that he is HI-LARIOUS).

With that came a bit of a wait, then the tease of his fluffer (no, not that kind of fluffer). The fluffer, a staffwriter for the show, tried to set up a joke about performing for Neil Armstrong.  He kept flailing his arms and persisting that it was  “Neal <expletive> Armstrong!”  The problem, though was that when setting up his joke, he referred to the moon as “a planet” (which it is not); lurched out of the moment, I corrected him in front of the studio audience, unleashing all of my “educational program”-based knowledge on him, stating, “Um, the moon isn’t a planet.”

The bewildered fluffer then went on to berate and mock me, “Ohhh, like she knows everything.  ‘The moon is not a planet, the moon is not a planet.’”

I said, “it’s not…”

Then got a dirty look and an elbow nudge from a companion of mine who I clearly had embarrassed.

I have retold that story a couple times (never on it’s own since it’s not really compelling, but it works well in conjunction with the rest of the evening’s events or with a mélange of stories about inappropriate times I’ve let my sassy mouth get the best of me), but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how sad the fluffer’s gaff was (it’s almost as sad as being referred to as a “fluffer”).  A slip of the tongue or otherwise, referring to the moon as a planet wouldn’t be acceptable for a first grader, let alone an adult.

Clearly, he did not watch Mr. Wizard.  Though, ironically, he’s become part of the political show that aligns with Mr. Wizard’s sensibilities that is targeted at the same audience Mr. Wizard reached.

I think, ultimately, that I miss those Saturday morning science shows because there was substance to balance out some of the silliness, and even though I was young, I wasn’t stupid.  Even as an adult, I’m much rather be entertained while being informed, as opposed to being mind-numbingly bored to the point that I don’t pay attention to the information.

But that’s just me…

Jackie for AMP3 Fashion PR Agency NYFW


Updated by Danielle Oct 30 2017

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