Letter from the President

Letter from the President

[Henk Schenk]Teaching and life go along hand in hand. No singing birds, no language, no science, no society without teaching. Here in Erice, where I’m writing this letter, the older generations teach advanced crystallography to the younger ones - in formal sessions but, perhaps more importantly, also informally and by example.

The other day David Sayre recalled a little movie I showed in the 'participant slide show' of the meeting in 1978: three-year-old kids learning to ice skate by example. Falling hundreds of times and standing up again, supported by parents. The kids take all that trouble just because they want to skate like the other people. By working hard, watching and copying they make very rapid progress. David told another nice story: his wife Anne observed from the window of her workroom how swans learn to fly. One day the parents decide it's time for the kids to fly. So father leads them to the starting line and shows them how to do it: he moves his wings up and down whilst running on the surface of the water - and off he goes. Then the kids try. But in the beginning they just end up under the water, comforted by mother swan. Then one day they come free from the water for the first time and are so surprised that they forget to keep their wings moving and fall down again. But soon the whole family flies in a nice order.

Why these stories? Well, if we want to skate with future generations, if we want children to fly, we have to teach them! These days it seems that Science is losing its attraction to Society, resulting, in reduced numbers of students. If we want to turn this round, we must go out, find the kids and teach. The younger the age group we aim at the more likely we reach the next generation of scientists.

Long ago Betty Wood wrote a small monograph for primary school teachers to help them to teach children about the world of crystals. It is very good that this book is available again, as an IUCr Teaching Pamphlet, but it is in English only. Because it should reach school teachers all over the world, we need volunteers to translate it into as many languages as possible.

But I think more is needed. If we want children to be science minded we have to work on their education. School curricula are based on what the community wants future generations to know; this usually leads to curricula with little time allocated to science. So we should teach them the fun and beauty of our subjects through the web, in as many languages as possible. Ideally we should have a range of subjects providing many hours of pleasure for all ages. But I think we should start with the primary school children of age 10 to 12, who could be the crystallographers of 2015. The material should be so eye- and interest-catching that even adults should be taken by it. Therefore I'm inviting all of you to provide input, so that we can build an attractive web site for schoolkids! Send your suggestions, offers, material to cw@iucr.org or to my lab address. I hope your reactions are numerous!

Henk Schenk
schenk@chem.uva.nl