‘Astronomy lessons should be compulsory’

Each week a global thinker from the worlds of philosophy, science, psychology or the arts is given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea – no matter how improbable – that they believe would change the world.

This week Caleb Scharf, the Director of the Astrobiology Center at Columbia University, argues that we should all learn basic astronomy training compulsory.

“I propose to make understanding basic astronomy mandatory that everyone understands basic astronomy, and is subjected to a simple annual audit.

It’s  incredible that after 100,000 years of being modern humans we can all point to a tree or a fish, even the Moon and the Sun, but we are wilfully ignorant when it comes to the tiniest step further out into the cosmos.

Yet I'd argue it's so vitally important that we understand our place in the Universe to improve our perspective and respect for our fellow humans, but also to ensure the longevity of our species.

So, starting at school when we're learning our native languages - instead of lame sentences about dogs, cars, grannies, or bicycles – we’d include reference to planets, solar systems, nebula and galaxies.

Otherwise dull arithmetic exercises would be rejuvenated by counting the rings of Saturn, or the craters on Mercury or even estimating how many stars are in the Universe.

It’s not hard. In fact it is easier than describing a route through rural England or the African Savannah. It would also probably make it easier for me to get research funded...”

You can listen to Caleb discuss his idea with celebrated New Zealand author C K Stead and  British ex-spy turned novelist Chris Morgan Jones in more detail on the BBC World Service programme The Forum, where you can also download more 60-second ideas.

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