On July 21, 1969 Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon and this past week on August 25th, he passed away. For children of my generation, who heard President Kennedy declare not as a Democrat or a Republican but as the President of ALL the people of the United States that the USA would in fact put a man on the moon, to that incredible day in 1969, Neil Armstrong is a hero and inspiration.
I was just 20 years old on July 21, 1969, a rising junior at the University of Georgia and a summer art counselor at an Atlanta, Georgia day camp. Can it really be 43 years ago when I can remember it as if it were yesterday? Our campers were at swimming class and I was working the front desk when news of his moon walk came loud and clear through the camp radio: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I had watched my first space launch on TV in 1961 when I was in the 6th grade so mine was a generation who now knew just about anything was possible—even some day a woman on those space ships. Growing up in Florida, the home of Cape Canaveral and the NASA space launches, made it all seem even more real. Thanks to President Kennedy’s vision and the investment of the United States Government in the exploration of space, a generation of children and young adults became interested in science in an entirely new way.
Every aspect of my education and entertainment (think Star Wars) from 1961 forward was embedded with something that had been motivated by the exploration of space. From food to clothing materials to photography to plant science to health care to eventually the Internet made public, new products and services were being invented almost daily inspired by investments and learnings from our exploration of space. Though I did not grow up to be scientist, I was certainly made more curious by the problem solving that science taught me. To this day my curiosity in science has grown to an interest in health care and food science and how the two relate. Still, my career is in retail as Founder & Chief Executive Bear of Build-A-Bear Workshop and what seems like a far cry from Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, is really a very strong connection.
The world changed forever on that day because we could finally see what was possible—nothing could limit my generation. While a war was occurring in Viet Nam, we could see peace because if we could land on the moon and walk on it’s surface, we could end wars, find the cure for cancer, eliminate death by heart disease, diabetes, expand the Internet, eliminate hunger and create prosperity for all because we would need ALL of us—men, women, black, white, Indian, Hispanic, Asian, European—literally all of God’s children to accomplish this. What was a big, big universe was about to become much smaller because we could ALL engage in its future.
We had much work to do because even in 1969 not all the talents of all of our citizens were being used to our greatest advantage. Many institutions of higher learning and ultimately the job market were limited –if women or blacks were allowed to be educated or to gain employment they were often limited by quotas and unspoken biases. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was written in order to end discrimination based on religion, race, color, or national origin it didn’t just happen overnight. The act also energized the women’s rights movement, which had somewhat slowed after women gained the right to vote in 1920.
The Space program and the opportunity it generated changed that—we had to mobilize. There was work to be done and jobs to fill and we needed an educated population to invent what we could only imagine. In 1972 with the introduction and support of Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, Title IX was passed. While Title IX is best known for its impact on high school and collegiate athletics for women and minorities, the original statute made no explicit mention of sports but now opened the gateways of education so that women and men, black and white could study at the best institutions and best of all they could study math, science, law, medicine and social science and yes, play sports. And best of all, they could equally compete and receive scholarships to do so.
I am reminded this week by our political leaders how much has changed about government. I don’t think anyone thinks the government should do everything for people or even most things, but it is the US Government that was able to make our entire country a level playing field so young girls like myself could grow up to be successful business people and scientists and college teachers—anything we dreamed. The Space program was envisioned and declared by President John Kennedy a Democrat, The Civil Rights Act by Johnson, also a Democrat. President Richard Nixon, a Republican signed into law Title IX and authorized the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) to enact the laws and other Presidents from both parties worked to grow opportunities for all Americans—not just the ones who voted for them or labeled themselves one party or another.
What I heard that July day in 1969 was this: “ONE SMALL STEP FOR (A) MAN (AND) A GIANT LEAP FOR HUMANKIND”
If I were running for President I would look to a future where all children would have the guarantee of a high quality, high standards FREE public education—where children are valued as our future and the people who teach them revered as our best and brightest—our heroes of the 21st century. Technology is here to help and personalize and individualize learning—kids can go faster or slower depending on their talents and the best teachers in the world can all be a Dr. Rogers of sorts like Sal Khan because it can be broadcast to a classroom or a home or an Android phone or an Ipad in any neighborhood rich or poor. I wonder what I might have decided to be had I been able to be a student of the FREE Khan Academy and Sal? Where there is a will, there is a way. Our leaders just have to have the will. Without this as our future for America’s children Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon will have been in vain and that isn’t good enough.
If you were running for President of the USA what would your vision be?
Hugs to all,