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Who is the Next Nye?

Teacher Voices | April 10, 2018

Every month we feature an opinion piece written by teachers in the MƒA community. Welcome to MƒA Teacher Voices.

By MƒA Master Teacher Brittany Beck

Many science teachers daydream of being Bill Nye someday and, until recently, I was no exception.

This past fall at an MƒA event, I was speaking with another Master Teacher about Bill Nye’s recent documentary, “Bill Nye: Science Guy.” The teacher loudly questioned, “Wait. Where’s the next Nye?” Perhaps it was hubris or perhaps it was the pi-iced cocktail I had consumed, but I instantly exclaimed, “Me!” and shared my lifelong dream of becoming the next Nye, complete with the reveal of my potential prepared show title, “What the Heck?!? with Mrs. Beck.”

Reflecting on this conversation the next day, I had the realization I was wrong – I was not the next Nye, and neither was anyone else out there. Furthermore, I came to the conclusion that we do not need another Nye to be the singular voice of science in a world bursting with variety.

Whether it was a television rolling into class in the past, or watching timeless reruns in the present, Bill Nye seems synonymous with science. As kids, he made science real and he made it fun; he helped millions of children throughout the world trust science. Over the past couple of years as adults, my school’s science colleagues and I have devoured articles, had long conversations about Nye, watched his documentary, and consistently felt thrills when he makes his rock star-like appearances at National Science Teachers Association conferences.

Despite access to countless modern science shows via YouTube, television, or online streaming networks, we have even tried our best to watch all the episodes of Nye’s new Netflix series, “Bill Nye Saves the World.” Admittedly, though, the show’s title bothers me. As a teacher of a diverse and driven group of Brooklyn students and an advisor of an active Women in Science club, my students and I do not need anyone to save us, thank you very much.

We are not the only group of people to recently come to this conclusion. After Bill Nye chose to attend the State of the Union address with the current administration’s NASA director nominee, the grassroots organization 500 Women Scientists wrote an opinion piece in Scientific American regarding the authority Nye holds in the science world, despite their perspective that he has “…perpetuated the harmful stereotype that scientists are nerdy, combative white men in lab coats.” This stereotypical scientist no longer is an image that has the potential to universally inspire the next generation of scientists, and I certainly do not want my students slowing their development of any latent drive to explore scientific interests because they do not check all of those personality and/or demographic boxes.

What I do want my students to believe is that true strength comes from diversity (and not just because it is an often-assessed ecological concept on the Living Environment Regents). No one should be waiting for the next great science communicator to come forward to educate and entertain us all. No one voice will be able to have the necessary conversations to change all the minds of those who doubt scientific processes and results. What we do require, then, is not a single voice to look to for validity, but spaces and places where we can seek out scientific communicators and educators who should be heard. MƒA is one of those places.

Another place that actively works to promote quality scientific voices is Caveat, an intellectual speakeasy on the Lower East Side. As part of MƒA’s April Thursday Thinks series, six teachers, myself included, will be on the stage sharing stories via Story Collider, an organization that creates live shows that bring true, personal stories about science to life. Bill Nye, please consider this your formal invitation to join us, grab a drink, take a seat at a table, and simply listen.

So, if I could travel back in time and revise my response to, “Wait. Who’s the next Nye?” I’d say: every passionate and truthful science teacher here is the Next Nye. We are training a generation that doesn't need to be saved because we are already doing it, together.

Brittany Beck is a Biology teacher at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn. She is a ninth-grade team lead and runs the Women in Science Club, Spirit Squad (cheerleading), and Senior Mentors, a large group of senior students who mentor the younger students, building and teaching them lessons regarding college access. Brittany has been an MƒA Master Teacher since 2015.