GeekDad failures: Wright Brothers “nerdy”?!?


My efforts to raise good geeklings are a litany of failures. Despite my best attempts to get them interested in the techie things that I obsess over, they persist in being regular kids, with no particular signs of sci/tech leanings (videogames and Lego don’t count). I can live with that (just), but last night’s exchange with the 10-year-old boy was too much. He had just finished a two-week biography of Lou Gehrig, which I thought had been assigned (nobody in family, including him, knows or cares much about baseball). Turns out that he could have chosen anybody, as I found out when he told me that the girl who had given a presentation before him had chosen Orville Wright. She even brought in a model Wright Flyer that flew around the room!

At this point it’s useful to picture our house, which has pretty much turned into a skunkworks of aerial robotics, with model airplanes turned into UAVs everywhere. I run, and the kids are constantly roped into being the ground crew for downstream telemetry and mapping experiments. Robotic blimps bounce along the dining room ceiling, and this same ten-year-old has asked for a RC Corsair for his birthday.

But when I asked him (nicely!) why he hadn’t chosen Orville Wright, Werner von Braun, Neil Armstrong or any other fascinating pioneer in flight, space or science and technology, he said he didn’t want to be "nerdy".

This is a kid whose parents are the editor of Wired Magazine and a former editor of Nature Genetics, who goes to a school in Emeryville,CA
with Pixar on one side and biotech companies on the other, whose friends’ parents are mostly scientists, professors or engineers. The kids go to summer camp at UC Berkeley, and know Steve Wozniak as the funny guy who showed them card tricks. The creator of the iPod comes in to speak at career day at school. What more could we have done to teach our kids that science and technology is cool?!?

I know, I know. I’m probably trying too hard to push sci/tech, projecting my own interests on my kids. But there’s a difference between "I don’t want to do it because you want me to do it", which I understand, and "science and technology is nerdy". If my kids think that, what hope is there for kids that aren’t growing up in the shadow of Apple and Pixar ?

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