Monday, February 8, 2010

Workin' on the Railroad

Last week, on his Whirlpool of Life blog, Dr. Scott Sampson took some time to write about his work with the PBS Kids program Dinosaur Train. It stands in stark contrast to the debacle Matt Wedel experienced with Clash of the Dinosaurs recently.

As Sampson writes,
...Dinosaur Train goes beyond the names, sizes, and dietary predilections of dinosaurs to address the way life works, both then and now. Kids are encouraged to think like scientists, making observations, generating new ideas, and even testing those ideas. In most episodes, Buddy states, “I have a hypothesis,” and he and his siblings then set out to test it through additional observations.
I haven't seen the show yet, and the last I'd even thought about it was in the blizzard of press that greeted its premiere. But Sampson makes Dinosaur Train sound suspiciously... legit. Almost as if it's kind of trying to educate kids, rather than running glorified "Primal Rage" animations and chopping paleontologist's comments to conform to what the producers deem entertaining.

I know that's a pretty broad generalization of something that has a whole constellation of people pulling in their own directions, from those who want to teach, to those who have primarily aesthetic concerns, to those who are just looking to boost the quarterly numbers. But it's what we've come to expect. Dinosaur Train is an exception.

Trying to think of the shows I liked as a kid, there wasn't much in the way of solid scientific, critical thinking content (although I'm still pretty impressed with Dr. Mindbender's intellectual rigor) There is one that stands tall, though. I suppose if I was younger, it might be Beakman or Bill Nye. But I was born during the Carter administration. So my guy was the late, great Don Herbert.

Dr. Sampson, I say this sincerely: I hope you're Mr. Wizard to a lot of little dudes and dudettes.

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