Neil deGrasse Tyson on Teaching Science

Astrophysicist and Science Educator

Neil deGrasse Tyson was born and raised in New York City where he was educated in the public schools clear through his graduation from the Bronx High School of Science. Tyson went on to earn his BA in Physics from Harvard and his PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia.  He is the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium. His professional research interests are broad, but include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way. Tyson obtains his data from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as from telescopes in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and in the Andes Mountains of Chile.Tyson is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union in their official naming of asteroid "13123 Tyson".

  • Transcript


Question: Is science instruction adequate in the US?

DeGrasse Tyson:    Yeah, I think… First, let me lament the fact that we can ask anyone of us, in any room, I don’t care what age you are, provided you’re done with school, and ask, how many teachers, of all the teachers you’ve had in life… For most people, that will be, like, scores of teachers, you know.  Is it 70, 80, 100 teachers?  Some maybe as few as 50 or 40 but still in the high tense.  Ask among all your teachers, how many made a singular impact in your life?  How many changed you in fundamental, important ways?  Unfortunately, the answer to that question is almost always no more than these, 2, 3, at most, 5.  For me, that number is 3.  And that’s not unusual.  So what gives here?  They wouldn’t have to be science teachers, I’m talking about teachers in any subject.  And what make those teachers special is that you can have no interest in the subject going in and you come out and it’s the most interesting thing you ever heard in your life.  Those teachers convey something special within their students, the enthusiasm and excitement, passion.  So one of my great laments is that education, today, seems to have… be less about passion and more about process, more about tactic or technique.  But I don’t know anybody who said, I love that teacher, he or she gave a really good homework set, or boy, that was the best class I ever took because those exams were awesome.  That’s not what people want to talk about.  It’s not what influences people in one profession or another.  Its how well the instructor in parted their passion for the subject in their students.  And just extend this to the scientists.  We all know people who were turn off by science because they had a bad teacher.  That’s the worst case.  The teacher, now, has the opposite effect of what education ought to be.  So… I don’t know what to do.  Do we riffle through the education system and, like, get rid of those teachers and clone the others?  I don’t have an easy silver bullet there but I do know… But that shouldn’t prevent me from [sighting] at least part of what the problem is.  I want to see more in passion teachers than are currently out there.  And if you can light a flame in a student, that’s half the work.