Saturday, June 16, 2007

RIP Mr. Wizard

Over the years, Don [Herbert] has been personally responsible for more people going into the sciences than any other single person in this country. I fully realize the number is virtually endless when I talk to scientists. They all say that Mr. Wizard taught them to think. ~ George Tressel

When Don Herbert, better known as Mr. Wizard, passed away last week, there was a veritable flood of articles and posts that all said roughly the same thing: I grew up watching Mr. Wizard.

Add me to the list.

The sad thing is that Don Herbert couldn't do his show today. First of all, any grown man inviting kids into his house to conduct "experiments" would be branded as a pedophile. Second, the Department of Homeland (in)Security could be accusing him of teaching bomb-making techniques to young terrorists, especially since his series in the 1980's featured kids of many ethnic backgrounds.

Obviously, the folks who run DHS never watched Mr. Wizard, because, as George Tressel says above, he taught critical thinking, something woefully lacking in our society today.

We seem to be almost phobic about learning anything today. Once upon a time, there was Mr. Wizard and shows like "Big Blue Marble" (hosted by Harry Chapin's brother, Tom) among others on network television. PBS was slopping over with kid shows that had fun and taught things. These programs were also enjoyable for adults Even into the 1980's, when Nickelodeon was showing a new generation of Mr. Wizard programs, you could find a decent assortment of programming that was both educational and entertaining.

There are precious few, if any, of these sorts of programs any more.

I'm not saying that all shows aimed at kids need to be educational. I was a huge fan of cartoons, and I still can rank myself with the Spongebob fans out there. After all, all work and no play makes a dull kid. But to have nothing around is inexcusable.

TLC has become a useless freak show. Discovery has cursing bikers, idiotic survivalists, and crab fishermen. History and History International are fascinated with UFO's, Armageddon, and pseudo-science, like the recent idiocy of the "scientist" who insisted that the ancient Egyptians used kites to build the pyramids and raise obelisks.

The Science Channel and PBS' Nova try, but they are seriously outnumbered. The Science Channel is not above showing Discovery Channel drivel, and it repeats it's legitimate science programs endlessly.

It's a wasteland out there.

The irony is that the people that Don Herbert was trying to teach to think are the ones that are in charge now. There the ones who have decided that mush-for-brains programming is the only way to make a profit. The kids raised on a steady diet of bathroom humor and expletive-deleted reality television are the ones on whom our future depends. I can't imagine that Don Herbert was pleased with what he was seeing in the last few years.

Don Herbert's shows were about learning for the most part, but they were also about respect. He didn't talk down to the kids on his shows. He also challenged them, the viewers as well as the ones on the show, to answer questions about what they were seeing, not just to go "Oh, wow" and move on to the next amusement.

Goodbye, Mr. Wizard. We've lost you at a time when we need you most.

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