The famous U.S. writer, Mark Twain, reportedly once stated, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
This humorous, but poignant, quote came to mind as I recently reviewed a study commissioned by the Microsoft Corporation in which the data indicate that parents and caregivers exert tremendous influence on the decisions of young people about their future career choices. According to the study, parents are twice as likely as teachers or counselors (and four times as likely as peers) to influence boys about career direction. These numbers, and the significance of parents’ role in the decision-making process, are even higher for girls.
There has been considerable discourse (and some substantive action) to bolster the educational system and provide teachers with the skills needed to raise student proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Yet recent academic research, combined with our day-to-day observations of science center and museum activities, tells us that it is a passion for science, more than just basic skills, that motivates young people to pursue STEM interests.
Clearly, parents and caregivers can play a vital role in exciting children about science learning and encouraging them to maximize their natural abilities, pursue their dreams, and even translate these interests into rewarding career opportunities. The next generation of career professionals—our future doctors, engineers, researchers, innovators, policy leaders, and informed citizens—is very much in the formative hands of parents and caregivers. With the right tools and guidance, parents today can help prepare a future generation to apply science in support of a more productive and livable world.
And science centers and museums are uniquely positioned to assist them in this role. As we aim to inspire our young visitors and to support their educators, we cannot overlook the need to equip parents and caregivers with the skills and incentives to join in this effort. Science centers are, in most cases, family environments, and we should strive to serve all components of the family unit.
ASTC would like to ask you, our members, for your ideas on ways to help parents develop the confidence and motivation needed to tackle this challenging task. Many ASTC members are already deeply engaged in supportive programming specifically targeted to parents and caregivers. Look for more from ASTC on this topic and join us in our efforts to distribute and expand good practices in this area.