On Thursday evening, I decided to step outside and glace up at the nighttime sky in hopes of catching this year's Perseid meteor shower. Each year, it coincides with Earth's passage through a point in its annual journey around the Sun where it passes through the debris of an ancient comet that left behind these tiny chunks of rock and ice.
Celestial events like this offer a glimpse into the magnificence of our universe. It also serves as an equally subtle reminder that there's so much left to learn about our universe and how humanity fits into the overall scheme of things.
It's lessons like this that continue to enlighten students in classrooms across the country. We're seeing a similar push in our own state through programs that focus on STEM, which is short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The idea behind is to get our students to think and act like scientists. After all, it's these same skills that led to the breakthroughs that put man on the Moon, took the power of the atom and turned it into a source of energy, and allows us to create a handheld device that allows us to learn just about anything at a push of a button.
Consider this: In the last 50 years, the ability to tackle various math problems has taken monumental steps forward. There are a few of us out there that remember having to use slide rules to add, subtract, multiply and divide various mathematics equations (the less said about my personal experiences dealing with that nightmare, the better).
Then handheld calculators came along, which could not only calculate basic math problems but could also simplify logarithms and solve quadratic equations. Today, I can speak into my handheld telephone and ask it to convert inches and feet to centimeters and meters, and it'll reply with a cheerful verbal response.
I'm almost afraid to ask what technology will help us with over the next 10, 20 and 50 years. Truth be told, I just want a gadget that will wash, fold and put away my laundry and maybe help keep my lawn from dying each summer, but then I digress.
As I've alluded to before, I've always been fascinated by science. During my years in grade school, it piqued my natural curiosity and kept me wondering what other mysteries were out there waiting to be discovered.
That's why I really get annoyed when I read stories that seem to suggest that our state lawmakers don't appear very interested in expanding certain scientific horizons to benefit today's students. Back in February, for example, our lawmakers rejected revised state science standards, claiming the Idaho Department of Education violated state laws while creating these new guidelines.
For years, these state standards remained extremely vague and lacked any meaningful substance for our students. For example, young children were asked to understand certain scientific principles by "making observations" and using "interaction skills."
When I read that, I caught myself trying to figure out exactly what that meant. To me, it gave the word "vague" a whole new meaning.
The revised guidelines sought to focus more on hands-on exercises -- actually building things and running experiments -- to help these students better understand these principles.
For example, it's one thing to read about how rockets fly or watch a video. It's another to have a student build a small-scale rocket and watch what happens when they launch it into the air.
However, the whole problem behind the rejection of these new standards appears to stem from the idea that they would've included references to global warming and the Big Bang theory. In addition, lawmakers said the standards didn't mention anything about creationism and skewed too heavily on human involvement in climate change.
It's things like this that make me believe that some Idaho lawmakers don't want global warning and the origins of the universe ever discussed in a grade school classroom.
A few legislators I've read about in recent months (not necessarily those in Idaho) contend that global warming is fake and was simply "made up" so big government could impose rules that regulate how we should live. Others want to debunk the Big Bang theory strictly on religious grounds -- that somehow the creation of our universe cannot be explained by scientific observations.
These legislators seem unwilling to allow science, philosophy and theology to work together to help explain how the universe works.
If you remember, famed astronomer Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy by the Roman Catholic church -- twice. It was because he supported the theory that the Sun was the center of our solar system and the Earth revolved around it.
The church argued that the Earth was the center of the universe. Today, we know for a fact that Galileo was correct.
I tend to look at science, philosophy and theology from a different perspective. If we open our minds to different possibilities, I believe all three can work in harmony with one another.
Science helps us understand how our universe formed. Theology teaches us the principles of how we should treat one another as well as our planet and the universe. Philosophy then tackles the biggest question of all: Why are we here, and what is humanity's fate?
I just wish some lawmakers out there would stop wanting to put their own political "spin" and personal views into the discussion. We saw last year how near-disastrous that could've been after a federal funding bill was shot down (and later approved) after a lawmaker incorrectly argued that it would've forced the state to somehow adhere to Islamic Sharia law.
When it comes to academic standards, our lawmakers need to rely on the real experts -- the ones with years of classroom experience and others with backgrounds in various fields of science. I urge our lawmakers to step aside and allow these experts to develop the standards.
Our children -- our future -- deserve nothing less.
-- Brian S. Orban