Want Versus Need…Stuff and Space

Yesterday I took my three kids to a “super shopping center.”  It was just as traumatic as you might imagine.  Normally I do all I can to limit taking all three on excursions such as this because Littlest has a very hard time with the concept of “not getting anything.”  We practice, role-model, get mean, cajole, the whole parenting bag of tricks.  It never goes smoothly.  Yesterday was no different. 

 Typically, Littlest will do something like this:  “Mom, can I just have something little?” and the process escalates until he’s one sad panda.  And this process is the same whether we turn around and leave at his first request.  When it comes to tenacity, this boy has it in spades.

 I admit my own level of guilt in his personality flaw.  There have been times when it was all I could do to even get myself through the store, so buying him a ninety-cent Matchbox car seemed like a cheap price to pay for my not having a melt-down myself.

 However, I do try to be a better parent.  And yesterday I was having a rare moment of sanity so I ultimately got the whole group of us sitting down. (Thank you unnamed store for having your stylish futon display in such close proximity to the toy department.)  Once we were seated, I asked Littlest why he wanted something so badly.

 “I don’t know Mom.  I just want…something.”

 “But why do you want it?”

 “I don’t know!” he wailed. “It just makes me happy to get stuff.  I need stuff to feel happy.”

 And then the four of us had a great talk about what made us the happiest for the longest—a new toy to play with for a short time (in this case, a new Lego set) or something that we could do with as a  family, as well as what it means to be happy.  

 In the end, I agreed to get the kids a new DVD out of the cheapie bin (much of our kids’ DVD collection was stolen out of our car last year) and all three kids have been giggling over the movie since.

 It was a good talk about the difference between wanting and needing things and why we sometimes feel like only more “stuff” will make us happy.  I don’t know how long our talk will stay with Littlest.  Knowing him, the next trip to the store will be much the same.  But I really hope that years from now, my three kids will have this conversation:

 “Hey, remember that summer before I started kindergarten and Mom let us have a picnic in the basement while we watched movies?  Remember how she brought down the whipped cream and we all did whipped cream shots until the can ran out?  That was a really great summer.”

 “Yeah, that was a great time.”  

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy changed the trajectory of the US space program.  He knew that beating the Russians to the moon would do more than just give a needed boost to national morale.  He knew that the US needed more emphasis on science and its potential to inspire minds and so he wanted to make landing on the moon a reality.

Take a look around you.  In a ten-foot radius of where you sit reading this, look at all the stuff of your life based on technology existing simply because we had a President with a vision.  Even items that existed prior to space exploration exist differently today than in the 1950s due to changes in technology, productivity, mechanization, and diversification.  In order to put a human on the moon, so many other areas of science were born, developed, and expanded.  We wanted to beat the Russians to the moon, so we needed to build the science that would make it happen.

Kennedy’s legacy is so much larger than a 42-year-old footprint on the moon’s surface.  When in 1961 he asked Congress for a five year and 9 billion dollar commitment to science, he created a commitment that changed the world.  And when I say our world, I mean that.  Advances in science know no national boundaries. The gains we’ve made as a nation have allowed the world to benefit.  Pick any area of science and this is true. It is in science that we can see the most beautiful version of the butterfly effect—discoveries here lead to discoveries there.

Today, July 8, 2011, the United States put into motion the end of its space program, as it has been known.  Space shuttle Atlantis (STS-135) blasted off at 11:29 am (EDT).  There is no planned NASA-led shuttle launch in our tomorrow.  The 2011 budget for NASA is $18.7 billion dollars.  In 50 years our government doubled its funding for space exploration. But in doubling its funding, the US government changed the economic potential of this nation in untold ways.  We can never know just where we would be today without the funding of NASA and the space exploration program.  Once a domino falls, it cannot be un-played.

However, by not continuing to fund NASA and space exploration as it has, we can only wonder what the long-term effects on science and technology will be for our nation.

The United States is no longer the scientific powerhouse it once appeared to be.  No longer are other nations experiencing the same level of scientific hemorrhage as their best minds leave their home countries to study and then stay in the United States.  In addition, our educational system is experiencing a new level of stratification, as economic stratification becomes an even bigger hurdle for students.  And that burdened educational system’s greatest challenge today is to “leave no child behind” but focuses primarily on reading, writing and math scores.

What would happen if the US educational system focused on science, again?  What are the possibilities for our nation and the world if every child in the US today was guaranteed a science-based education?  What would that look like? I pose it would be an educational experience far more hands-on and active than anything seen of late. It would be thematic and experiential. It would require that young minds actively manipulate their world.  It would include all the best practices we know work for all students and work well in education in general.  And it would change the world, yet again. But it would cost.

I once heard a fine man who invented a very fine ice cream talk about budgets and costs.  Ben Cohen said this, “A budget is a moral document.”  Think about that.  What does the US national budget say we value as citizens?  When more is budgeted to incarcerate the average prisoner than budgeted to educate the average US child, just what is valued?

We need to re-emphisize science in our educational system.  It would be a butterfly effect that would change not just our world, but also the potential for our species to grow into an even better version of ourselves.  And that is not only something we should all want, but something we need. I pose we not only want to know what lies beyond the stars, but we need to as well.

Let us hope Kennedy’s legacy isn’t dying, that it lasts more than only 50 years.  Let us hope it is merely taking a breath before becoming something even greater.  And let us hope that all the other leaders in all the other fields look up into the night sky and ask, “What do I want?  Would I be happiest to see the stars from here on Earth, or to fly amongst them?”

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8 thoughts on “Want Versus Need…Stuff and Space

  1. Good points, but is this two posts that merged into one?

    I remember taking my granddaughter (about four at the time) to the Seattle zoo. After she asked me how babies get out of a mother’s tunny (a discussion grandpa was not quite ready for, so I said, “Ask your mommies,” she then went into the zoo store and demanded a stuffed animal.

    “You have more stuffed animals then you can count at home,” mean Grandpa said.

    “But I want this one!” she said.

    “Will this make you happy,” sanctimonious Grandpa asked.

    “Yes!” She said. Having watched me carefully when I bought her lunch, she added with devastating logic, “You still have money in your wallet.”

    When I refused, she said, “If you buy me an animal, I will take my nap when I get home.”

    When we got to her home, she said, “I want to to call Mama.” Apparently she figured Mama would tell Grandpa to go to bed because he had not bought Granddaughter a stuffed animal. That was at four. By 15, she will be hell on wheels.

  2. as always…most insightful! I too as of late have pondered the have/want question and find myself as well as many others, have become a country of excess. I’m vowing to change my own actions and reduce/reuse instead of new! thank you dear one!

  3. This is not a good post. This is a Great Post! In just the last few days I have found myself thinking along the same lines. Wondering to myself: “Don’t they know it’s about so much more than space?”. It would be interesting to see a list, or story about all the things in our world made possible by our space program, by the R & D done in it’s behest.”

    Yes, it’s massively important that we teach science to our children. Along with that I think we also need to teach them art, music &e creative expression in general.

    Thanks for another fine post.

  4. I used to sneakily bring a toy with us when we went shopping so I could magically produce it – ta dah! – to placate/call their bluff. Cunning, huh?
    I’m ambivalent about the benefits of space exploration. On the one hand the striving for knowledge, new worlds, the unknown and spin-off technoology. On the other the diversion of funds from other needs – in some cases basic food needs in the case of Mao’s China.

  5. Great post – I was given this link by Deborah at deborahbryan.wordpress.com and was pleased I was. The importance of the space programme to science is huge, and from a qualitative point of view (the approach I took in my post on Atlantis!), the awe and wonder of setting foot on another world is incalcuable. It’d be a shame to see all that taken away by bean counters…

  6. Pingback: Dream, reach, explore, Endeavour « The Monster in Your Closet

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