So this won’t be very interesting for those of you who don’t live in Arkansas, but I found out from someone who works there that astronomer and blogger Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomer) will be speaking at this year’s Governor’s School. I taught at Governor’s School a few years ago, and even though I think the content isn’t as strong as when I attended there way back in 1989, the speakers they bring in are top notch. When I attended I got to meet former-Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day. The Amazing Randi was a staple of the school for a decade. I can still remember a great deal of his talk — can you remember any talks you heard 20 years ago? It’s a wonderful environment where the speakers usually sit with the students during lunch and make themselves available through the afternoon for casual chit-chat.
I have to say that the worst experience I remember from a guest speaker was Hillary Clinton. She had just spearheaded a campaign to require teachers to submit to a basic skills test in English and math the year before. I was completely for this, even though it offended a lot of college-educated teachers. The tests, by the way, were on an eighth grade level. I know this because my father was a teacher and despised having to waste a Saturday (not to mention $2 million of our state’s money) to suffer through it. He told me all about the content later. I was one of the few in favor of the test because I knew some lousy teachers would fail it and then maybe be replaced with some decent teachers. Yes, I was young and naive way back then. This, of course, didn’t happen. In the end any teacher failing it got to retake it until they passed. No one got fired. I wanted to find out what went wrong with this wonderful plan. When Mrs. Clinton came to speak she didn’t sit with us or chat with us or act like any of the other speakers at all. When we got to the question and answer session, she refused to answer my question about the fallout from the teacher tests. Pretty crappy behavior, Mrs. Clinton.
But I’m really looking forward to seeing Phil speak. I think the students will get a real kick out him and I’m sure he’ll enjoy the experience as well. Maybe he can walk the path his friend Randi walked when I was there. The school needs an entertaining skeptic to spread the wisdom of seeing things through the eyes of a realist. Of course, I hope he does it gently. Kids today are sooooo sensitive! Wouldn’t want one of the little darlings to throw a hissy and get him not invited back. We need more influences like Phil shaping the future of our state. (or is it the state of our future?)