Parents of the world, you need to teach your kids astronomy.
Often, adults around the world wring their hands in anxiety about what to teach their kids and how to impart morals and emotional knowledge on them. How do you teach a kid to be a good citizen? How do you teach a child to respect the planet? And most importantly, how do you give your child a worldview that will allow them to grow in the future and turn in to somebody who contributes to society?
Astronomy offers all of this.
Now you do not have to have earned a degree in astronomy to do this. The basics of the universe are easy to grasp for anybody who has the time to read just a bit. Kids can learn astronomical facts quickly and keep them forever.
Think about what astronomy is: the study of the universe and our place in it. When you look up at the night sky and see countless stars and planets, it is a humbling experience. You realize how small our planet is in the rest of the universe. You realize that all of our petty squabbles and debates are insignificant. Most importantly, you realize that no single person is the center of the universe. When thrown against the backdrop of countless stars, everybody is the same. No matter their social class, their wealth, their degrees or their personality, we all end up looking pretty much the same in the vastness of the cosmos.
Even with that humbling realization, astronomy also helps us understand how important each person is. As far as we know, there is no other life out there. This is it. Every person that you see is an amazing organism, brought about through countless years of stellar formation and biological evolution. When we look up at the night sky, we are reminded of how fragile each person is, and the wonderfully unique place that the human race occupies in the stars.
Beyond that, we realize that our planet is fragile and that in the interstellar gulf, we are the only ones who can take care of it. There is no evidence to the contrary. We do not have the resources or technology to escape our home, should it every become inhospitable. Nobody is going to show up to clean up the mess that we leave. Thus, astronomy helps us realize that it is our role as citizens of this planet to take care of it and to make it better.
What better lessons to teach a child?
In our world, where everyone focuses on themselves with no sense of what it means to belong to the human race, why wouldn’t you want your kids to learn how small they are on cosmic scales? All of the conceit that they build up over the years would have no foundation to stand on. From the time they were young, your children would grow with the underlying understanding of the vastness of the universe that they live in. They may not understand the detailed physics or math behind the universe, but I believe that even small children can get a sense of when they are just a drop in a huge ocean.
That might seem like something that would depress kids and lower their self-esteem. Nonsense! There is nothing depressing about realizing that you are a small part of a big universe. It is inspiring to look up at the stars and realize that you are just a little piece of it. Nothing is better than having your false sense of superiority blown away by contemplation of space.
The idea that this concept would lower their self-esteem is a product of a society that teaches each kid that they are the center of their universe and that all they live for is to gain more notoriety, power and money. It’s a terrible symptom of our capitalistic society.
But at the same time, we need to teach children about the uniqueness of human life. This does not mean that we teach them that they are the center of the universe. Far from it.
We teach them that they are a product of the universe around them. Their bodies came from elements spread across the galaxy from stellar collapse and went through billions of years worth of coalescing and evolving. They are a miracle of the universe: members of the only known race of sentient beings. And everyone around them is just as miraculous.
Do you see how this is different from our faulty high-self-esteem-center-of-the-universe-mentality? Instead of believing that they are apart from the universe, somehow above it, kids could learn that they are the product of the universe, and that they have a unique life that is all theirs. For 100 years they get to live and learn on this planet. And those 100 years are wonderful miracles, gifts that the brute forces of the universe has given them!
That creates a sense of awareness of the human condition. They will grow up with respect for human life and dignity.
And that will translate to respecting our planet.
Inherently they will understand how special this planet is. They may not ever join an environmental organization that tries to fix what politicians have done to our world, but they will also not take it for granted. Imagine a world where children grew up automatically recoiling at the thought of war and pollution, a world where the mere thought of harming our home triggers a sense of disgust.
You can build that in your families.
All morals fall from there, and all you need to do is take your kids outside with a cheap telescope. Learn the constellations and show them to your kids. Help them find favorite ones. Explain what stars are and how their bodies came from them. Find the planets in the night sky. Train your telescope on those distant worlds and teach the kids what those planets are like. Help them understand that this is the only planet that humans can naturally live on.
It will be time well spent, instilling cosmic awareness in a small part of the next generation.