Being that it is the middle of summer, and all the kids are out of school, I have the honor of hosting some of my grandchildren who’ve come from the city or agricultural villages, from different parts of the country, to our capitol, Jerusalem. And these visits give me the opportunity of visiting places that I don’t visit often… and some that I’ve never visited before. This week, I had the pleasure of visiting the Science Museum.
The visit brought to mind a lot of problems connected to education, and the study of children. We have quite a few museums here, in our city, covering all sorts of subjects, ranging from fine arts to history. And some of these museums have won the praise of experts from all over the world. Not to speak of a very large number of educational institutions, many of which are as interesting to visit as any museum.
A curious tourist, or a cultured local citizen can view tools and antique objects found in archeological digs, giving us a peek at the life style enjoyed here thousands of years ago. One can look at model rooms with furniture and clothing from different places of the world, showing how people lived in different cultures a hundred years ago, two hundred, five hundred and a thousand years ago. One can see manuscripts of important literature and religious writing from thousands of years ago. I have visited an automobile museum, photography museums and one of motion picture history, as well as museums of natural history, and of pre-history, and of clocks. But it seems to me that the museum of science and technology presented the greatest challenge to the planners and designers of the museum.
In most museums, it is enough to have displays of various sorts, and objects attached to the walls and the ceilings or protected in display cases. And people can walk around quietly, and examine the different exhibits. But the museum of science tried to introduce the visitors to the exploration and the understanding of the physical world, to the process of learning, and to that of innovation. And assuming that the visitors come from many different backgrounds, and levels of knowledge, and age levels as well, getting their message across is a complicated and difficult task. And as if that weren’t enough, the exhibits are explained in three languages, Hebrew, Arabic, and English.
The first hall that one enters, is dedicated to examples of optical illusions. Because many of us believe that reality is what we see. And this exhibit shows us, by way of numerous examples, that we are influenced by what we expect to see, by our prejudices and preconceptions, and by our point of view. For someone who has the patience to study the subject, in the best of conditions, and has an open mind, this exhibit alone could be a turning point in his or her understanding of the world around him.
The museum itself is three stories high, and has many rooms and halls, filled with countless exhibits on the many aspects of the study and understanding of science, including the last hall which is dedicated to understanding innovation and. invention. The subjects are fascinating, ranging from the development of the cherry tomato, to the improvement of the modern computer chip, and the behavior and utilization of water. Groups of visitors can join in a guided tour and listen to an expert guide explain the exhibits and tell about the history of the innovation. But many of the separate exhibits had headphones attached to them, and if individuals visited the museum when there weren’t guided tours, they could listen to an explanation of the exhibit in one of the three languages of the museum.
Unfortunately, I saw many children moving quickly from one exhibit to the next, from one room to the next… without much pause to take in the messages of the exhibit, and on the search for play and for spectacular examples. It seemed to me that the designers, in their effort to make the place as appealing as possible to young people interested in science, might have put too much emphasis on game playing. And as a result there was less depth to the study of the many exhibits. But perhaps this is a general problem, related to appealing to a generation that has gotten used to passive reception of the many offerings of the TV and other modern media.