"I can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"


2003

"What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?"


Human beings have thrived because, more than any other creature, we are naturally driven to learn about the world around us. Our greatest scientists and most creative companies regularly borrow the best practices of mothers and preschool teachers. Give all our scientists, old and young, lunch, the right toys, a safe place to play, interesting problems to solve, and someone to talk to, and watch them fly.

Alison Gopnik

Dear President Bush,

Like many of your other prospective science advisors I would like to urge you to provide more support for basic scientific research. But I would especially urge more support for the most productive, and most underfunded, scientific community in the country. This group of scientists and science educators do more to provide the basic intellectual infrastructure of the nation than any other. Every year they make fundamental discoveries in physics, biology, mathematics, and psychology, as well as ensuring that the discoveries of previous generations of scientists are transmitted to the scientists of the future. Yet they typically receive salaries somewhere between zero and $15,000.00 a year, and 20% are below the poverty line. Most of the science educators in this group actually make major financial sacrifices to do their fundamentally important work. They receive less federal and state support than any other part of the scientific community, no grants, no scholarships, no R and D write-offs, less even than public elementary schools or community colleges. In fact, both your administration and the preceding one have actually cut the small amount of funding that was once earmarked for this group. These unsung geniuses, are, of course, children under five and the many women (and a few men) who take care of them.

This may seem like a motherhood issue‹well, actually, it is a motherhood issue. But really valuing families and genuinely leaving no child behind isn't just motherhood‹its the soundest science policy too. And don't please, waste all this scientific talent on meaningless busy work by putting young children in junior versions of our notoriously awful schools. America's science has always been most successful where it is least constrained‹we need blue sky research up and down the line. In fact, blue sky research is our most fundamental competitive advantage, not just as Americans but as Homo Sapiens, too. Human beings have thrived because, more than any other creature, we are naturally driven to learn about the world around us. Our greatest scientists and most creative companies regularly borrow the best practices of mothers and preschool teachers. Give all our scientists, old and young, lunch, the right toys, a safe place to play, interesting problems to solve, and someone to talk to, and watch them fly.

Sincerely yours,


Alison Gopnik
Professor of Psychology
Coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind

 

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