Getting value from space exploration:
Do you know there are grooves in the curved exit ramps of many freeways? And that, of course, improves traction when the road is wet. You say, oh, that's a great idea. That came from NASA. It doesn't have to be high-tech to be a great idea. Why did it come from NASA? Because someone was more interested in the space shuttle landing and maintaining its course because it's not - a spaceship shuttle is not powered when it's landing. It's a glider. And you want that thing to sort of not skid off the runway coming in for a landing. So they came up with this grooved idea, which keeps the tires aligned. It channels out the water. And someone thought it up because they were inspired by NASA, not because they're inspired by cars on exit ramps from freeways. So, high-tech and low-tech creativity are stimulated by this kind of activitySchools aren't trying hard enough and are focusing on the wrong things:
DAVIES: So I know you excelled at this and got involved in some special programs. And I read that you were recently asked to give, I think, a commencement address at, was it your elementary school, and declined. Did you feel let down by the public school system when you were a kid a kid?Subtle racism:
TYSON: Oh, no, no. So everyone has all different experiences in school. I just know that throughout my life, at no time did any teacher ever point to me and say, hey. He'll go far. Oh, he's someone you should watch. You know, I had some OK grades. They ran the gamut. I had some high grades in math and science, and medium grades in other subjects, and slightly lower grades in other subjects. You've got to remember, the school system is constructed to praise you if you get high grades. And if you get straight A's, you're the one that everyone puts forward, and they prognosticate that the straight-A person is the one most likely to succeed, because that's the way the school system is constructed and conceived.
DAVIES: Simple. Yeah.
TYSON: And there I am, getting grades all over the place, but I know my interest in the universe and I owned a telescope that I bought with money I earned by walking dogs, because I live in a huge apartment complex. And 50 cents per walk, per dog, and that accumulated quickly. I bought a camera, a telescope. I taught myself astrophotography. I did all this.
I took classes at the American Museum of Natural History at Hayden Planetarium, advanced classes for adults in modern astrophysics. I did all this, but none of that showed up as a high grade on an exam in school. So, there I am, and teachers complaining about my social energy, as though that was something bad, and, oh, he's disruptive. Not purposely, I just had energy, right.
So my elementary school wanted me to come back - because I was already well-known by then - to talk and say what a great education I had. I said no. That's not the talk I would give. I would say I am where I am today not because of what the teachers said about me or did for me, but in spite of it. And I don't think that's what you want, so I will decline. Invite me back one day, and I'll talk just to the teachers, all right, and then I'm happy to tell - give - you know, tell them what they should be looking for, perhaps, in their students.
Also consider - now, see you've got me started here. Also consider that if you a straight-A student in your class, that student has straight A's not because of teachers, but in spite of teachers. That's what having straight-A means. It means you do well, no matter the teaching talent of the teacher. That's what straight A's mean. So if you're a teacher and you put forth your straight-A student as though you had something to do with it, you are deluding yourself.
TYSON: The greatest teachers are the ones that turn a B student into an A student, or a failing student into a B student. Then let's talk about your teaching talents.
DAVIES: Having done some teaching, I completely agree with what you say there. But I wanted to ask.
Were you discouraged from getting into science, or maybe not taken seriously - then and even through college and graduate school - because you were African-American, at times?Anyone know whether white highschool athletes are also discouraged from taking an academic path? My bet is yes, but not quite as much.
TYSON: Oh, so the African-American thing. So there you get, oh why are you staying late for the physics club when you have this athletic talent? You could be really great at that. And that happened a lot. So that's not explicitly racist. It's sort of implicitly - it's not like the stories my father could tell you, right, because he grew up in the '30s, '40s and early '50s. Those are - that's a whole other kind of story that he can tell you. So, compared to that and those stories I heard, I wasn't, you know, I wasn't going to complain about this. I just made sure I had a fuel tank ready to draw from to just get over and get past whatever these obstacles or absence of support was there.
Tyson considered becoming an exotic dancer in grad school, and how difficult it can be to think of the obvious:
TYSON: In graduate school - you're broke in graduate school, basically. And I was flexible from having danced, and I was pretty cut from having wrestled, and I also rowed. And so, on the dance team, there were some fellow male dancers who told me about this club where - it's this ladies club, right, but there's male dancers. And they said they danced, do the moves we do, just in the normal training and for our dance performances. It's in the range of what the flexibility would be for anything else we'd be doing. They invited me, because I needed more money, I was broke. So I went...Preparing to talk with Jon Stewart, and that black people's accomplishments are over-attributed to talent rather than hard work:
TYSON: ...just to observe it, right. Say, is this is something I could do? Just - and there they came out with jockstraps having been soaked in lighter fluid, asbestos jockstraps ignited, coming out dancing to Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire." I said no - not - no. That's not for me.
TYSON: And I'm embarrassed to say that it was not until that moment when I said to myself: Maybe I should be a math tutor.
DAVIES: When did you realize you had a gift for communicating with people about science? I mean, you're, you do this in a lot of venues, and have for a long time.
TYSON: Yeah. People call it a gift, and that implies you sit there and someone hands it to you. I want to encourage people to not think in terms of gifts, but think in terms of, wow. You work hard to succeed at that, because that's exactly what I do. For an example, before my first interview on Jon Stewart - you know, that's a tough interview right there, all right, because he's brilliant and he's laden with pop culture referencing.
And so I said to myself: If I'm going to have a successful interview with Jon Stewart, I want to study how he talks to his guests. So I sat there and I timed how long he lets you speak before he comes in with some kind of wisecrack or a joke. And what's the average time interval of that? Is it a minute, 90 seconds, 30 seconds? And I would create a rhythm in the parceling of the information I would deliver to him so that a complete thought would come out. So that when he does interrupt, there's a complete thought and then a fun joke, and then there's a resonance to that where you can then move on. Yeah. No, it's not a gift.
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