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Innocent Experiments: Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States

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From the 1950s to the digital age, Americans have pushed their children to live science-minded lives, cementing scientific discovery and youthful curiosity as inseparable ideals. In this multifaceted work, historian Rebecca Onion examines the rise of informal children's science education in the twentieth century, from the proliferation of home chemistry sets after World Wa From the 1950s to the digital age, Americans have pushed their children to live science-minded lives, cementing scientific discovery and youthful curiosity as inseparable ideals. In this multifaceted work, historian Rebecca Onion examines the rise of informal children's science education in the twentieth century, from the proliferation of home chemistry sets after World War I to the century-long boom in child-centered science museums. Onion looks at how the United States has increasingly focused its energies over the last century into producing young scientists outside of the classroom. She shows that although Americans profess to believe that success in the sciences is synonymous with good citizenship, this idea is deeply complicated in an era when scientific data is hotly contested and many Americans have a conflicted view of science itself. These contradictions, Onion explains, can be understood by examining the histories of popular science and the development of ideas about American childhood. She shows how the idealized concept of science has moved through the public consciousness and how the drive to make child scientists has deeply influenced American culture.


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From the 1950s to the digital age, Americans have pushed their children to live science-minded lives, cementing scientific discovery and youthful curiosity as inseparable ideals. In this multifaceted work, historian Rebecca Onion examines the rise of informal children's science education in the twentieth century, from the proliferation of home chemistry sets after World Wa From the 1950s to the digital age, Americans have pushed their children to live science-minded lives, cementing scientific discovery and youthful curiosity as inseparable ideals. In this multifaceted work, historian Rebecca Onion examines the rise of informal children's science education in the twentieth century, from the proliferation of home chemistry sets after World War I to the century-long boom in child-centered science museums. Onion looks at how the United States has increasingly focused its energies over the last century into producing young scientists outside of the classroom. She shows that although Americans profess to believe that success in the sciences is synonymous with good citizenship, this idea is deeply complicated in an era when scientific data is hotly contested and many Americans have a conflicted view of science itself. These contradictions, Onion explains, can be understood by examining the histories of popular science and the development of ideas about American childhood. She shows how the idealized concept of science has moved through the public consciousness and how the drive to make child scientists has deeply influenced American culture.

34 review for Innocent Experiments: Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States

  1. 5 out of 5

    Farah Mendlesohn

    3.5 rather than 3. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It feels rather padded with ideas repeated several times, and a reliance on very specific kinds of sources. So for example there is a very good discussion about the discussion *around* science teaching, but no investigation into the text book industry, the training of science teachers etc. There is the excellent use of Westinghouse Science fair records to look at how competitors were perceived and written about, and Onions has found a 3.5 rather than 3. I wanted to like this book more than I did. It feels rather padded with ideas repeated several times, and a reliance on very specific kinds of sources. So for example there is a very good discussion about the discussion *around* science teaching, but no investigation into the text book industry, the training of science teachers etc. There is the excellent use of Westinghouse Science fair records to look at how competitors were perceived and written about, and Onions has found a follow up survey, but there does not seem to be any attempt to advertise for participants and conduct her own survey (which would have been particularly valuable for women participants--how many were influenced by their path from science fair to home maker, to become involved with second wave feminism for example?). The result is a book that is very good "as far as it goes" but it doesn't dig very deep. --- One alert: I was a bit bothered at first by the piece on Heinlein. The very first mention on p. 6 adds "(and often female)" to Heinlein's disparagement of school teachers. Heinlein had many faults but he was one of the champions of female education and participation in science. When I got to the section on Heinlein in chapter 5 I was even more uneasy. I began to get worried that I had missed crucial material in my own work on Heinlein. Then I realised that although Onion is on the side of his editor (Alice Dalgliesh), she has still made the mistake of assuming that Heinlein's shaping of the accounts is correct. So for example, if you take a look at Dalgliesh's editing of Red Planet (the unrevised version is now available) what she forced him to cut was a wet dream and some rather careless gun use. But more important was that I realised Onion just doesn't know the books. Dalgliesh may have made Heinlein cut a scene in which a boy pulls a knife on his stepfather after he is beaten, but it can't be Farmer in the Sky, because there isn't a step father in that (I suspect she means Starman Jones); similarly it's not John Thomas who divorces his mother in Star Beast, but his girlfriend Betty. I know books are open to interpretation but it's also telling that she doesn't discuss the female protagonist in Have Space Suit Will Travel, doesn't realise that Betty in Star Beast has actually negotiated a career for herself in a 1950s environment, or that while Rod's sister in Tunnel in the Sky gives up her career to get married... it's to a man who has given up his career to get married because they are off to settle a new world.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Ingrid Rocket (‪@i_rockt‬) 10/6/16, 9:52 AM I'm SO excited for this book :D !!! ‪@rebeccaonion‬ is a great writer AND historian - Her research has really helped me understand the period twitter.com/amykohout/stat… Ingrid Rocket (‪@i_rockt‬) 10/6/16, 9:52 AM I'm SO excited for this book :D !!! ‪@rebeccaonion‬ is a great writer AND historian - Her research has really helped me understand the period twitter.com/amykohout/stat…

  3. 4 out of 5

    Bahar

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Murtha

  5. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Zoller

  6. 4 out of 5

    Will

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Laurentius

  8. 4 out of 5

    Casey Gamble

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amelia Mangan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ambrose Miles

  12. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Adde

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zoe's Human

  15. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

  16. 5 out of 5

    Terry

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cory Cornelius

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kate

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eileen McGinnis

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  21. 5 out of 5

    Candice

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hubert

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ann

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marlena

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linguomancer

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kara

  27. 5 out of 5

    Becky

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shelby

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  30. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

  31. 4 out of 5

    Mils Yobtaf

  32. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  33. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Brevoort

  34. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Chitty

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