Recently, I was among the fortunate 151 “tweeps” selected by NASA to witness its historic final launch of the Space Shuttle program: STS-135 Atlantis. In the vernacular of Twitter, the social media service, this event is called a “Tweetup” and up to now, there have been over twenty such events (don’t worry, there will be more in the future although the Space Shuttle program is over) sponsored by NASA. Although I’ve been blogging about my NASA TweetUp experience, many of my fellow tweeps have done a much better job of conveying the excitement and wonder of the experience. As a matter of fact, it was actually a mixed experience for me personally and I’ve been struggling to understand why?
In the run-up to the actual event, we got acquainted with each other via a (closed) Facebook group as well as video introductions which we shared. As I learned more about my fellow participants, it became clear to me how passionate and knowledgeable some of them were about NASA and space so I expressed that sentiment in my first post. As a first-hand observer of NASA since its early days during Projects Mercury through Apollo, I had been keenly aware of NASA, but as my interest has waned during the last ten years or so, I realized how little I had kept up! I’ll have more to say about this point in a subsequent post in “Scratch where it itches” which is my own blog. Seeing how the space program had transformed the lives of some, I wonder why it hasn’t transformed the lives of more!
Therefore, I offer this post NOT as a criticism, but as an observation especially since I am very new to central Florida after arriving only a year ago. During that time, I have observed much and I especially have many questions about education and economic development in central Florida. Those two topics have been foremost among many interests during my 35-year academic career in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Singapore. I bring these up because I am wondering why the space program hasn’t had a greater impact in differentiating central Florida…has Mickey Mouse gotten too much attention?
I’ve spent most of my adult life in Indiana and especially during the last 15 years in central Indiana and Indianapolis, I have witnessed a cultural and economic renaissance which has resulted in a robust technical community in a “seed geography” for the emerging Internet marketing industry which has only gotten stronger in recent years. This is notable because it has happened with no overt economic development effort by local government. I am aware that central Florida is a seed geography for the software simulation industry and I’m guessing that the proximity of the Space Coast has had some positive impact on its growth, but I do wonder why the local software industry isn’t stronger. Recognizing that NASA’s software development is concentrated at other NASA locations, I do still wonder why NASA core competencies such as project management haven’t “trickled down” into the local economy to a greater extent.
Irrespective of the economic development impact from the proximity of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, I can’t help but wonder why Florida and central Florida in particular aren’t more of a hotbed of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education as well as educational innovation in general. I would have expected that growing up with the space program in one’s “backyard” could have fostered much more emphasis on STEM education! With respect to educational innovation, I have observed little difference between my 15-year old daughter’s education and mine (I am 47 years OLDER than she is!) except that her teachers don’t use chalk on blackboards any longer. I admit to being somewhat facetious because what plagues us is a widespread dilemma in American K-12 education as reformers argue about standardized testing while so little innovation is evident. At least, central Florida is the home of Florida Virtual School! I am also encouraged that the Tallahassee-based Foundation for Exellence in Education has established its Digital Learning Council. Nevertheless, Florida and central Florida in particular SHOULD be way ahead of the rest of the country by now after witnessing NASA explore space from its own backyard for the last 50 years! Why haven’t I found more teachers like Vicki Davis here in central Florida?
So, why isn’t this so? I don’t know the answers, but I just wanted to ask these questions. ENLIGHTEN ME (and your fellow citizens)!
Editors Comment: Dr. Thomas Ho is an Orlando resident and given this is his first post on The Orlando Blog, we felt it wise to provide a link to his Resume for your review …!
Category: "O" Pinions