The Spokesman-Review


Smart Bombs: Knowledge is cool

Math Is Cool is a statewide program designed to get kids excited about an area of study that has been traditionally tagged as a niche for nerds. Selected students form teams that compete against other schools. The most interesting part is the college-bowl-style face-offs, complete with buzzers. It can be humbling to watch. Yes, your children can answer questions you can’t.

But math isn’t the only subject in need of a public relations boost. How about:

Civics Is Cool. Students would get a closer look at topics such as government, politics, legislation and voting, with the idea that they will become more engaged citizens. Much of that has gone by the wayside as schools drill their students on the topics that are covered by standardized tests. The Federal Way School District would be a prime target. Students there have to get permission from their parents to watch the inauguration of President Obama, according to KING-TV. Rather than using the event as a teachable moment, the district is treating it as a hassle. This is the same district that placed a moratorium on screening the global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Science Is Cool. The Bush administration was rough on science, preferring to downplay, edit or bury empirical evidence that didn’t comport with preferred policy choices. Whether the topic was global warming, evolution, stem cells, emergency contraceptives or endangered species, researchers who passed rigorous peer review still faced a gantlet of towel-snapping ideologues with no use for objective knowledge. Hopefully, the new administration can face down the bullies and help make science safe again for the truly inquisitive.

Journalism Is Cool. Self-serving? You betcha! Newspapers are in deep trouble and so is society. Web-savvy consumers have gotten used to free information. So what happens when the information providers fold and the freebies vanish? Some people say citizen journalists will fill the void, but are they really going to change out of their jammies and trudge off to cover city councils, school boards, police departments and legislatures? If so, how will readers know where to find their reports or which ones to trust? What if public agencies blow off their phone calls or refuse their legitimate records requests? Are they really going to file expensive lawsuits? How many bloggers can stand up to powerful interests alleging libel? It’s something teachers and their students ought to be talking about.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at or at (509) 459-5026.

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