Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Adam Savage busts myth of art vs. science: 'They are the same thing... story telling'

A simple entertainment story of mine went viral two years ago when Adam Savage of the hit show MythBusters said to me: "If you want the kids' test scores up, bring back band and bring back shop and get kids actually learning stuff instead of teaching them how to take a test."

Savage says he regularly gets the quote sent to him as a meme on social media, so he knows he touched a nerve and was eager to talk about it. He's returning to the Tampa Bay area with Brain Candy Live, a new science-based stage show he created with Michael Stevens, host of the popular YouTube science show Vsauce. They will be at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

Savage talked about how horrified he is to see arts and music thought of as a luxury in schools, at odds with science. He hears the frustrations of teachers who pay for materials out of their own pockets and don't have the freedom to be more creative in how they teach. "I don't pretend to know what the solution is. I'm just responding to the situation I see," he said.

Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.

After that story exploded on social media in 2015, I talked to you later about it and you seemed pretty stunned by the reaction. Why do you think this struck such a chord?

You never know what is going to catch fire. And I have seen that quote on my Twitter feed repeatedly over the last couple years. There's a raw honesty to it. I'm clearly a little angry about it. I really think that this idea that things like band and shop are "luxuries" — and people may not say that, but if that's the first line item that disappears when the money gets tight, it's clear that it's thought of as a luxury. And if we are raising kids to take tests, we are raising the wrong kind of kids.

I think a lot of teachers loved it because they feel like they don't have the time or budget to do the things you can do on stage.

Right, they don't have the time or budget and they are paying for materials out of their own pockets.

How would you do it, given the limitations teachers have?

Look, I would not presume to explain to a teacher how to do their job or how I might do it better. Teaching is really, really difficult. The idea of keeping a bunch of kids of any age interested for an extended period of time sounds terrifying to me.

I think, though, that the best teachers that I had were the ones that told the best stories. And this is part of my dawning and realization over the last few years. The reason art belongs in STEM isn't because that makes a well-rounded individual, though it might. It's because art and science are not at either end of a spectrum as we see them culturally. ... They are actually the same thing. They are both versions of storytelling. They are both ways in which we human beings help ourselves and each other figure out the world.

Science is so often taught, as mathematics and chemistry, as just facts to memorize. But those facts don't mean anything outside of any context. I had a science teacher who said the best way to visualize a glacier is it's a river on Quaaludes.

That's terrific.

Isn't that great? I mean that is the thing I remember 40 years later. That's really important.

Not everyone has the personality to knock it out of the park every day and keep the kids enthralled. So what are some things that we are missing in the way we teach kids that we could be doing to make up for that?

Unfortunately we have had what's ended up being a very adversarial system. I don't think anyone within that system wants to harm kids. It's just with cuts and union battles, teachers don't feel they have the freedom to explain things to their kids the way they want to. That's the biggest tragedy.

You might have a school in which an accomplished musician can't teach band and that job instead goes to someone who taught English. That might be an isolated case, but when I talk to teachers, they all love teaching kids and would love the freedom to impart learning to the kids. Unfortunately, we keep ending up with national one-size-fits-all policies that don't benefit the teachers and definitely don't benefit the kids.

You said to me two years ago when that story blew up that you worried you became the darling of the anti-testing movement, that you aren't against testing per se. Can you clarify that?

I'm not against testing, and not necessarily for it. I would not presume to let anyone believe I know what the solution is. I'm only saying, in our current system it's well known that teachers across the country expend huge swaths of their school year teaching kids specifically how to take the assessment test that keeps funding coming to the schools in the school districts. That strikes me as a terrible system and I haven't met anybody on the ground implementing it that thinks it's a good idea. So when I speak about these things, I'm speaking for those teachers who have spoken to me about how difficult their jobs are.

You once said of your turn toward making education entertaining, "I think we need this." That almost sounds ominous. What are you afraid of?

We are in a difficult place culturally where genuine, wonderful science is being politicized. That's a dangerous time to live in because we are making policy decisions that are absolutely at complete diametric odds with our survival. And I really view it in those black-and-white terms.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

If you go: Brain Candy Live

Adam Savage, the former co-host of MythBusters, joins YouTube star Michael Stevens for a show of entertaining science experiments.

When/where: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Mahaffey Theater, 400 First St. S, St. Petersburg.

Tickets: $29.50-$59.50. (727) 893-7832 or themahaffey.com.

Adam Savage busts myth of art vs. science: 'They are the same thing... story telling' 03/09/17 [Last modified: Monday, March 6, 2017 10:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump sprinkles political attacks into Scout Jamboree speech

    GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — Ahead of President Donald Trump's appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering's official blog: Fully hydrate. Be "courteous" and "kind." And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as "build …

    President Donald Trump addresses the Boy Scouts of America's 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., July 24, 2017. [New York Times]
  2. Trump, seething about attorney general, speculates about firing Sessions, sources say

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has spoken with advisers about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as he continues to rage against Sessions' decision to recuse himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.

  3. John McCain to return to Senate for health care vote

    WASHINGTON — The Senate plans to vote Tuesday to try to advance a sweeping rewrite of the nation's health-care laws with the last-minute arrival of Sen. John McCain — but tough talk from President Donald Trump won no new public support from skeptical GOP senators for the flagging effort that all but …

  4. Last orca calf born in captivity at a SeaWorld park dies

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — The last killer whale born in captivity under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program died Monday at the company's San Antonio, Texas, park, SeaWorld said.

    Thet orca Takara helps guide her newborn, Kyara, to the water's surface at SeaWorld San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas, in April. Kyara was the final killer whale born under SeaWorld's former orca-breeding program. The Orlando-based company says 3-month-old Kyara died Monday. [Chris Gotshall/SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment via AP]
  5. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.