15 June 2012


For the first eight years of my life, I was an only child.  Living on a farm, I was often left to my own devices for entertaining myself (when I wasn't doing chores), and thereby developed a healthy imagination.  By inclination and circumstance, my free time usually was spent applying any raw materials at hand toward the construction of play-related objects ~ rearranging hay bales to make a fort, or digging snow from a bank large enough to house tunnels and 'rooms', or meticulously fashioning roads, bridges, and plants into miniature landscapes for toys to populate.

Fast-forward a few years, and my creativity was channeled by membership in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.  Handicrafts, camping trips, and a variety of skills learned to earn merit badges were a source of much fun and pride, and contributed (as did projects for school science fairs) to my confidence in adult life that I could fix or build just about anything. That engagement and confidence is the goal of the Maker Movement, "a growing community of young people and adults who are designing and building things on their own time", as described by Thomas Kalil in his Slate article, "Every Child a Maker ~ How the Government and Private Sector Can Turn American Kids on to Science Through 'Making'.

Kalil explains that "The Maker Movement is important for a variety of reasons.  First, it promotes values that are ends in themselves, such as creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-expression. Second, it has the potential to get more boys and girls excited about STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math], in the same way that chemistry sets inspired previous generations of scientists and engineers.  Third, many manufacturing companies complain that they have many job openings they can't fill, and they need more welders and machine tool operators.  The Maker Movement could promote a renaissance of 'shop class', which was historically a pathway to practical skills and middle-class jobs.  Finally, communities of hobbyists are often hotbeds of innovators .... The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is encouraging all agencies to provide R&D funding for entrepreneurs with good ideas for low-cost instruments and kits for Makers and citizen scientists."

A coalition of manufacturing companies, youth-serving organizations, science museums, individual Makers, and foundations and philanthropists is needed to supplement the already-active engagement by private events like Maker Faires, President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign to improve STEM education, and the work of government agencies like DARPA, the VA, and NASA to fund and promote projects designed and built by students, ranging from robots to space exploration.

"A number of important technology trends are helping to fuel the Maker Movement.  The tools needed to design and build just about anything are becoming more affordable and easier to use, in the same way that the move from the mainframe to the PC to the smartphone has democratized information technology.  Although local communities are still important, the Internet has made it easier for Makers to share blueprints, software, CAD files, and step-by-step instructional videos and cartoons."

One cannot overstate the importance of instilling in young people a passion for science and the arts, both in school and at home.  With them, we are a unique and vibrant culture.  Without them, we will continue our present downhill slide from creative prominence among the world's nations.

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