Neil deGrasse Tyson is the world’s most famous astrophysicist who has spent much of his career presenting complex scientific concepts in a clear and accessible manner. “One of my goals is to bring the universe down to Earth in a way that further excites the audience to want more,” he once said.
Currently, Neil serves as director of the Hayden Planetarium. In addition to his work at the planetarium, Neil also hosts the weekly podcast StarTalk, and the most-watched primetime science series on American television, NOVA ScienceNow. Not forgetting, Neil was also the host for the television docuseries, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey and Cosmos: Possible Worlds.
On this episode of Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu, Neil deGrasse Tyson shares some brilliant and unorthodox parenting advice. The video is almost an hour long and we strongly recommend that you watch the video in its entirety. Below are some key takeaways from the video.
Neil remembers the best lessons his father taught him
… my dad I love my dad that’s all true but at the end of the day what matters is for who and what you become in life. For me at least was what level of wisdom did he glean in his life. And then successfully communicate to me either by example or by just explicit statement, and that combination of those two means of delivery had some important impacts on my life. Just for example and I gave these examples in that eulogy was a letter to him during the memorial service. He died a couple of years ago at age 89 so it’s not a tragic death but you still miss someone even though you know they’re ready to check out and I’ll just give one example if I may. In high school, he was in gym class and they were lining up and they were about to enter the next athletic unit and it was track and field. And the gym instructor pointed to my father on line and said: “Cyril Tyson everyone look at him. He does not have the body type that would excel in track.” And they used him as an example. And he (my father) said, “what no one is gonna tell me what I can’t do in my life.” And he used that as the reason to start running. And he started track at that moment. He decided one of his next tasks in life would be to take up running and excel at it. Within a few years of that, he became world-class. At one time he had the fifth-fastest time in the world…
Neil shares some unique parenting advice
I have an unorthodox approach to what we do with our kids. My wife has a PhD in mathematical physics. We discussed this, my wife and I. I wanted to make sure that in however they were raised that they retained the curiosity of childhood into adulthood. That implies that you have to do a lot of work to make it happen when in fact you’d be surprised how much work you put in to squash it. Okay let’s say there’s a little toddler walking here, okay. Crawling on the ground it comes up and they start grabbing this (a cup of water) and what’s the first thing we’d say? – “No don’t touch that.” This was an experiment waiting to happen that you just squashed. This is a cup. It has water in it. This is breakable. The kid doesn’t know that they want to experiment so they’ll grab it. The cup will fall, it’ll break and water will spill all over. That was an experiment you just prevented. You don’t have kids with the intent of retaining a clean house. These are non commensurate goals. Kids are sources of chaos and and disorder. Get over that fact. And where does the disorder come from? It’s because they are experimenting with their environment. Everything is new to them. Everything.
I was in Central Park. We were just finished seeing one of the Shakespeare in the Park performances. It rained a little earlier so there are puddles in some of the walkways. I saw a woman walking with their kid. The kid has galoshes on and a raincoat on and they’re coming down the walkway and this big juicy muddy puddle right there. And I said please let the kid jump in the puddle. You know the kid wants to jump in the puddle. The kid is like three or four. What does the mother do? She pulls the kid around to prevent that from happening. That’s an experiment in cratering. Craters happen that way. You splash the water there’s mud. It’s fun you get to see the cause and effect of a force downward force operating on a fluid. Gone. That was a bit of curiosity in that moment that was extinguished.
Neil shares his views on education and suggests what should be taught in school
Your task is less to instill curiosity in your kids than it is to make sure you don’t squash what’s already there. And I have pretty high confidence that they’ll retain that curiosity through the turbulent middle school years into high school. And what is an adult scientist but a kid who’s never lost the curiosity. And so in here people ask about raising their kids. I can tell you this. If Einstein were here. And we’re talking with Einstein. We could talk for hours and hours and hours you know what? What will never come out of our mouth is, what college did you go? I want to go to that same college. I bet most of your people have sat in this chair that it’s not about what college they went to but it’s about their own initiative, their own drive, their own ambitions, their own curiosity that is not taught in school, sadly. Schools, they view you as this empty vessel that they pour information in and you test it over here you get a high grade you’re praised. You might even give the commencement speech. Is that who become the shakers and movers of the world? I don’t think so.
I can just tell you that what has to change in schools. And I don’t have a recipe yet I just know the result. What the result has to be. It has to be when you come down the steps on the last day of school you are not singing the Alice Cooper song school’s out forever you. There would be a sad song you should be singing. I got to go two or three months without learning anything? You should be sad that school is over. Not happy. And the fact that you’re happy that school is over means something is not working in there you’re not enjoying the learning process. And on the other side of that is school should as a minimum preserve that curiosity for you. If you’ve lost some of it and it’s not going to be in all of us put it back in so that when you graduate, school you can give literal meaning to he word commencement. Commencement means beginning it doesn’t mean ending.