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Show or Tell

We had a very enjoyable day this past Saturday. We lunched in Washington Square, visited an impressive game shop, and sampled a famous pizzeria. But the point of the trip was attending the World Science Festival in New York City, consisting primarily of a series of lectures and interviews, though other events include a science-themed street fair on Sunday. We attended one lecture and one interview, neither of which was what we expected.

The lecture, “Einstein, Time, and the Explorer’s Clock” proved to be for kids. The speaker was entertaining, but not very informative, even for kids. He spent more time fooling with liquid nitrogen than talking about time or clocks, and didn’t mention Einstein at all, except to note that Einstein worked on important (but unspecified) problems in physics.

The panel discussion titled “Illuminating the Abyss: the Unknown Ocean” was more substantial, but it suffered from a late change to the program. Originally intended to address exciting new developments in oceanographic exploration thanks to a quantum leap in diving equipment, the hosts allowed themselves to be distracted by the gulf oil spill. Seeking to take advantage of current events to highlight the relevancy of oceanography, they instead ended up with a lot of rehearsed platitudes about how we need to take better care of the oceans, that all life depends on water, blah, blah, blah. I could have enjoyed a discussion of the gulf oil spill, or of the dangers of offshore drilling generally, as long as they were backed by meaningful proposals as to how to effect real change in the “anything goes” politico-business climate now masquerading as economic wisdom. Or even some hard facts and number crunching. But this discussion had neither. The only good parts were such striking photos of newly discovered life forms as survived the change of topic. They were very interesting, indeed.

Both events reminded me of my own troubles as pedagogue. The demonstrated the need in the classroom to reach out to students who may not be immediately interested in Gauss-Jordan elimination. The second demonstrated the need outside the classroom to persuade rather than merely convince when I talk politics. Rarely do I know how to achieve either.

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