Particle Man, Particle Man
Aug. 2, 2010 — Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I’ve been learning quite a bit from They Might Be Giants’ latest children’s album, Here Comes Science.
I’m vacationing on the north coast of Ohio this week and every time I get in the car to go somewhere I’m hit with another lesson. Making the short trip to the coffee shop with the nautical motif and seven different kinds of ginger brew? Boom. Heading down to the chicken wings place on the river, where the dining room is decorated with Harleys and the sauce is measured in Scoville heat units? Boom Boom. The CD keeps on spinning and I just keep on learning.
Here Comes Science addresses a broad range of topics: the elements, the circulatory system, photosynthesis, speed and velocity, electric cars, the planets and more. And it does so with a specificity unmatched in any of the children’s TV shows discussed in last week’s post, for example. To wit, in the song “Why Does the Sun Shine?”: “The sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace / Where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees.” (And in the following song, “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?”: “The sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma / The sun’s not simply made out of gas, no, no, no.”)
Only They Might Be Giants could pull this off. For nearly 30 years, the band has been taking terrifically offbeat topics – their 1990 breakthrough, Flood, features songs about “Particle Man” and “Your Racist Friend” – and writing quirky yet eminently catchy tunes around them, revealing a wry sense of humor and an obvious love of language. This is why Here Comes Science works, I think. I can imagine a mother or father and child listening to the CD together, enjoying it for altogether different reasons, and then talking about it – exploring and reinforcing the many concepts covered on it.
In recent weeks here at Different Wavelengths, we’ve seen that science can be made more accessible by tweaking the stereotypes and shaking off all the cobwebs, by presenting it in a fun, friendly light. I haven’t just come up with this idea, of course, but it’s worth noting the many ways it can be put into effect. Hopefully, as a result of these, children will be less intimidated by science, and perhaps even encouraged to pursue it as an interest.
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