Will Zoo crunch bite U.S. science education?

February 4, 2009

President Barack Obama has pledged to “restore science to its rightful place” and educate a new generation of scientists able to transform America into an environmentally sustainable “green economy.”

But with endowments and private donations falling and public funds under pressure, the recession is making it harder for zoos and aquariums to keep inspiring kids in science.

My colleague Claudia Parsons has done a report on this issue which you can read here.

A new report by the National Academy of Sciences said informal learning — such as visits to zoos or other outdoor activities such as fishing or gardening — is a powerful tool in science education.

What do you think? Do zoos play a vital inspirational role for budding young scientists? And should they receive public funds at a time of crisis when needs are many and funds are few?

(Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park/Handout)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

My father used to take my sister and me to the zoo twice a year. It was from that experience that we realized first hand the grand diversity of wildlife on our planet. However, the many visits to the zoo or the aquarium did not inspire us to enter the fields of science. It did provide us a sense of responsibility and sadness to know how many of these wonderful creatures faced extinction because of us (humans). And so we grew depressed, thinking of how we were killing Mother Earth. Every time, I see a special regarding an animal I know that there will be a bit of how his habitat and his very life is threatened by humans. So for some, these places can serve as a turn off to science.Science, I think begins at home with parents who can inspire curiosity in their children. For example, teaching children to cook, children can learn that adding different forms of energy and products can transform simple independent ingredients into something new.Trips to an interactive science center can serve as inspiration for young scientist to feel compelled to learn. When Albert Einstein was young, he was fascinated with magnets. We need to re-create that fascination for science.I am sure that Aquariums and Zoos have inspired some to become Vets or wildlife experts but science is not limited to wild life. Society as a whole should venture into other avenues of possibilities. After all, we learn from trial and error and isn’t science about testing different hypothesis to arrive to a better understanding of how the world works.Who knows, if we find a way to create new “greener” energy maybe that will indirectly save a couple of animals and trips to the zoo wont be as depressing.

Posted by Martha C.S. | Report as abusive

Growing up going to the zoo has definitely made me much more aware of our planet, and our impact on it. So much so, that I am an Animal Keeper at a zoo, working the “front lines” connecting visitors to animals. There is no doubt in my mind, that a visit to the zoo instigates a deeper passion for the wild places and wild things on this planet.

Posted by Anthony Brown | Report as abusive

Well, it’s obvious that every effort made in the direction of supporting science and pointing kids towards an education that is whole, vastly ostracized by our less than enlightened last administration, is a good one.However, in the context f this recession, it will be increasingly easy to see politicians of right wing inclinations sabotaging such efforts.The current “stimulus package” cuts targeted education and science, primarily.Can we see where this is going? Absolutely. We have been there. If Carl Sagan knew that little has actually changed…Take your kids to zoos, museums, art expositions and whatnot. Much more edifying that monster truck rallies and the such.And always remember to VOTE thinking about them, and not in immediate, mean gains.

Posted by F. Moya | Report as abusive

Zoos and Aquariums are vital to public eduction. In high school I was in an Oceanography class in which we visited the Florida Aquarium. I didn’t realize the diversity of the sea, so many niches to fill and so few of them explored! I felt like inside those doors was an entire world that had existed my whole life and I never knew was there. Because of the things I experienced there I am now studying to be a Marine Biologist. I have volunteered the past three years for Mote Marine Research Laboratory and Aquarium and The Florida Aquarium. They are awesome institutions! Kids come in there full of questions, so curious and excited! It would be a terrible loss to our culture and a loss for the development of our children if we were to lose our aquariums and zoos.

Posted by P. Miller | Report as abusive

I used to teach high school biology in Baltimore, MD, USA.Field trips and museum visits are VITAL to science learning!Young students are question producing hurricanes when they get in open environment like a zoo or museum. They get excited and want to learn.

Posted by Ryan | Report as abusive