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Bill Nye Opening Statement in 2009 Testimony to United States Congress

Mr. Nye Opening Statement

Mr. Nye. Thank you, Chairman Mollohan.

Let me say you look fantastic with the hair color that you have today.

Mr. Mollohan. And it is the one the good Lord gave me and it will never change.

Mr. Nye. And I think, you know, the man can drink. That is all I am saying.

Thank you very much for having this. Very much appreciate your taking the time to listen to what I have to say.

And, as you point out, there is great concern about science education in the United States and I think it is very welcome.

General Motors came here hat in hand--oh, turn on my mike.

Do you want me to start again? It is really interesting. Yeah.

General Motors came here hat in hand, U.S. based auto company. Japanese based auto companies did not come here. They did not need to because they have a different approach to designing and building cars, one that we used to be good at.

No one is surprised by this. Everybody complains about it, but the thing to do about it, the thing to change is elementary science education.

You see, something has happened where science education has been viewed as a special interest, something that is hardly different from farmers that grow a specific crop in a specific part of the country. But science is for everyone. Science involves everyone every day.

You look around in this room, everything in here owes its existence to science, whether it is the precisely made woodwork, the microphones, the paint, the understanding of chemistry, the lighting, the electricity. This all comes from science.

So right now we have a problem. Every year I meet not dozens, not hundreds, not thousands, I meet tens of thousands of science teachers every year. I have yet to meet one, I have not met one science teacher who believes in No Child Left Behind. So I do not know what it is exactly, but there is something wrong. Something is wrong with No Child Left Behind and it is not in anyone's interest to not fix it.

The thing that has happened is science teachers have to be held accountable in exhausting ways. They have to administer tests. They have to do assessments. They have to file reports for officials. And they cannot do the one thing, the one thing that made me go into science, and certainly my science teachers, they do not have time right now to inspire. That is the key.

You see, science starts with observation and then it goes through something we often call the scientific method and so on. But it starts with an interest, with being inspired. And so we have to change this. We have to make it easier for science teachers to do their job.

And generally I would say the solution, if there is one solution, we have to do everything all at once. If you ask science teachers who have children who do not have a tradition of academic rigor, who do not have strong family that believes in education, I would say what we have to do is fix the parents. Well, that is not possible. We will not be able to fix the parents. We have to fix everything else that we can.

So we have to make it so that someone graduating from, let us say, engineering school, instead of choosing to go to work for a very good software company might instead choose to become a science teacher. In order to do that, you have to pay people. You have to pay the educators. And we have to have a situation where there are not 30 children in a class or 50. We have to have closer to 15 or 16 kids in a class.

And I admit we have to cut the dead wood. There are certain teachers that are not holding up their end of the bargain. And I know we have to negotiate with teaching unions and so on, but that has also got to be done.

And then I believe strongly in national standards. And I will just tell you right now national standards have to include evolution. The underlying idea in all of geology, the fundamental idea, the big discovery in all of geology is plate tectonics. Plate tectonics is a great idea. It is fantastic. It changed the world.

But the underlying idea in all of life science is evolution. Evolution binds everything together like nothing else. So we have to just reach agreement on that and move on. If you want to study things that are not evolution, just do it outside of science class.

So in a few hours, NASA will launch the Kepler Mission which will look for terrestrial planets. These will be planets that are like the earth on other stars. These are places that my grandparents, these are very recent ancestors, even my grandparents could not imagine such places.

And we are doing that not with an individual as Kepler was but with a society who believes in this, believes in spending its treasure on making discoveries about our place in the universe. Where did we come from? The oldest of human questions. And these are science questions.

Now, as you know, I am the Vice President of the Planetary Society, a society started by Carl Sagan and a couple of his colleagues. And I am a big believer in planetary citizenship, that we are all together on this one world.

But I was also born in the United States and I am a patriot. My father fought on Wake Island and spent 44 months in prison camp. My mother was a Lieutenant in the Navy and was a cryptographer. She worked on breaking the enemy's Enigma code.

So this patriotism may come from the household I grew up in, but for my part, I want the next generation of biofuels, the next generation of high performance batteries, the next generation of flood and volcano monitoring systems, the next smart pasture farming operations, I want all of those things to be created here in the United States by our citizens so that we can lead the world and improve the quality of life for everyone everywhere on planet earth.

Now, if we do not support science education, I claim that you or we will be the first generation ever in the United States history to leave the world worse than we found it. We will leave the world, the quality of life for our kids and grandkids lower than our quality of life.

So I thank you for all you have done in the last few weeks to support science education and I thank you for listening, but we need to do a great deal more and we need to do it as soon as we can for the betterment of all human kind.

Thank you very much.

[Written testimony by Mr. Bill Nye follows:]


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Mr. Mollohan. Thank you, Mr. Nye.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).