At the NAIS People of Color Conference in Tampa last week, I heard the amazing Dr. Mae Jemison talk to over 4000 teachers and students about 100 Year Starship, a project dedicated to making “the capability of human travel beyond our solar system a reality within the next 100 years.”
Beyond the obvious challenges of distance and time, Jemison highlighted the additional challenge of getting enough different kinds of thinkers into the mix so that true innovation can occur. She referenced data from Change the Equation supporting the fact that “the STEM workforce is no more diverse now than in 2001.” This is a problem, she said, because the promise of 100 Year Starship depends on diverse participants who dare to pursue coursework in fields still not typically felt to be open to women or minorities.
While making the case for educators to more intentionally steer students from diverse backgrounds toward STEM, Jemison also made a great case for “scientific literacy” in general, which I particularly loved.
Scientific literacy, as defined by the National Science Education Standards, is “the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity.” Jemison’s point of connecting science, diversity, decision making, and participation in civic and cultural life made clear, without a doubt, that all kinds of literacies are relevant to 21st century learners and citizens.
Literacy, the ability to read critically and write clearly, is both foundational and transcendent to every endeavor — be it the challenge of developing a self, contributing to a society, or voyaging beyond the known boundaries of space.