Something incredibly wonderful happened to me this week. I met Frank Oppenheimer.
He said some things that spoke to my soul from years of observing kids in rich learning environments:
“The Exploratorium was conceived as a place to teach and learn, primarily because these are things we all like to do. It is the way we bring up our children, take our friends to the top of a hill to see the view, or call out, when we are walking through the woods ‘Hey, look, there’s a deer.’”
“This show of reality represents a basic honesty that is surprisingly important effect on learning.”
“No one flunks a museum.”
There is a stack of books from the library that I am working my summer way through. Summer reading was one of my all time most restorative activities during my active teaching time. I did not consider the summer break well started until I had spent at least a few days that first week nose deep in a novel from breakfast until supper or even lights out bedtime.
When I was growing up, my mom would occasionally request the removal of my nose from a book to get something done. During my university days, I reread The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings each year during my summer job bus commutes. Then I taught for 8 years before starting my family and so I had time to create a July tradition around summer reading. Family changed some aspects of this (no more dawn to dusk reading) but this summer I have reveled in it in a new way.
In late July, my husband got a total knee replacement and I had hospital and home time to spend nose deep in books again.
In the early 1990’s my husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to visit
for a conference related to his work. I checked out Frank Lloyd Wright
buildings and discovered the Exploratorium. I could not believe such a
wonderful learning environment existed. I tried to get there every time we went
to San Francisco
and have recommended it to many people as a highlight of a trip there. We
planned a family holiday to San
Francisco expressly so my kids could experience it.
When I discovered a biography of the man who “made up” this rich world I
knew I had to read it.
In the pages of Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens; Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up I found a kindred spirit in Frank Oppenheimer. Biographer, K.C. Cole has communicated her “perceptions” of this physics and education genius so that I feel I truly “understand” his life and times. Perception and understanding were key to Frank’s educational approach. Cole had the advantage of working with Frank over many years and experienced the development of the Exploratorium first hand in the role of a writer. She had contact with him right up to his death from cancer in 1985.
Her description of Frank’s early life, his experiences related to work as a young physicist on the Manhattan Project with his more famous brother Robert, his eventual blacklist for his stand (with the scientists involved) on not using the bomb which included suggestions for international atomic energy oversight and his eventual high school teaching job in Colorado all lead to understanding the cosmic synergy he brought to the development of his “woods of natural phenomena”.
Frank’s science was a life philosophy, a way of looking at the world and wanting to know more. Knowing more could only lead to better people and society. In his view there were no stupid questions and ultimately with time to touch, listen and observe, patterns were revealed, connections made and looking for answers brought understanding.