So, to listen to on our road trip, we got Space Songs: an album by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans from 1959. I've had friends who actually remember this album from their childhood, but I learned about it through the more recent They Might Be Giants cover of "Why Does the Sun Shine?"
The problem with "Space Songs" is that some of the stuff is wrong. For example, on another science album (by the same artists, from the same period), they say "every living thing is either plant or animal." OK, well, maybe that's what people thought in the fifties and early sixties, but it's wrong. (That's the trouble with Science -- you have to keep updating!) Similarly, there's the famous opening line from "Why Does the Sun Shine?": "The Sun is a mass of incandescent gas."
Only... it's not gas, it's plasma!
Enter They Might Be Giants with their fantastic new album Here Comes Science!
The album comes with a DVD containing animated videos of all of the songs, and they are amazing! It's like a modern version of Schoolhouse Rock (which my kids already love), only better!
After their adorably old-fashioned version of "Why Does the Sun Shine?" they follow up with a charming modern response -- which opens with "the Sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma" and goes on to explain about different states of matter.
The songs that explain current scientific theories (like "Meet the Elements") are great, but I'm even more impressed with the way they explain how science works. There's a lot of concern these days about scientific illiteracy, rooted in misunderstandings (and misinformation) about science itself. This album is the antidote. Just have a look at the song "Put It To The Test" or at the first song, "Science Is Real":
The first thing to jump out at me was the following:
A scientific theory isn't just a hunch or guess -- it's more like a question that's been put through a lot of tests. And when a theory emerges -- consistent with the facts -- the proof is with science; the truth is with science.
Some people might see this as indoctrination, but really it's just a simple explanation. I am absolutely disgusted with the "Intelligent Design"/Creationist movement exploiting the fact that "theory" means something different in colloquial speech than it does in a scientific context -- using their "Evolution is just a theory!" battle cry. It takes only a few seconds to explain what's wrong with that slogan. And if people apparently have difficulty taking those few seconds to understand it, then why not simplify the task? An upbeat song to explain it is just what the doctor ordered! :D
Then there's the other controversial bit:
Now I like the stories about angels, unicorns, and elves. Yeah, I like the stories as much as anybody else, but when I'm seeking knowledge -- either simple or abstract -- the facts are with science; the facts are with science.
This is what I was trying to explain in my post I believe in Santa Claus. Basing your picture of reality on evidence doesn't in any way detract from awe, wonder, or imagination. Quite the contrary.
When you're not constrained by thinking a made-up story is real, you can let your imagination run wild with it, and invent more! And, on the other side of the coin, things that are real are awe-inspiring. The animations in the song illustrate beautifully how awesome it is to follow your curiosity and explore reality!!
My kids were thrilled by all of the different scientific theories illustrated in the song, such as using a prism to separate light into the color spectrum and looking at a cell under a microscope. Nico was especially excited about the part where the kid takes a bite of an apple and you can see it travel into his digestive system. Leo has been interested in magnetism lately, so he liked those parts. Personally, I liked the way they illustrated gravity. Unlike most cartoons, in this one the kid accelerated as he fell to the ground. I'll bet they actually had him going 9.8 meters per second per second. :D
Watching this DVD has been their reward lately for after they get their homework done, and it has been a great motivator. It's full of their favorite subjects and ideas, richly and imaginatively sung, accompanied, and illustrated.
Note: Our family got to see TMBG perform these songs live this past weekend! For pictures, see my Rational Moms post here!