Photo: Star Wars characters.

Luke, I am your Teacher.

In case you missed it, the White House recently released an official response to a petition that aimed to “secure resources and funding and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.”

For those less nerdier than I, the Death Star is of Star Wars fame: the evil Empire’s giant superweapon/space station that is capable of destroying planets. Petitioners justified the creation of a Death Star with reasons of job creation and increased national security. Not bad arguments, but the White House (most surprisingly) didn’t buy in.

Photo: Storm Trooper.
Photograph by Frank Hassett, MSYS

The White House officially rejected the petition based on construction expense, the Death Star’s Achilles heel and because the administration doesn’t support the destruction of other planets. (Supporters of Pluto may feel otherwise.) More excitingly, the White House pointed out that a slew of Star Wars-like, science fiction-seeming, technological innovations such as a real-life space station and advancements in space exploration are already happening. (Some of which are sponsored by National Geographic.) Here’s the official stance:

“We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering, or math-related field.”

Science, technology, engineering and math: these subjects combined form something powerful called STEM education. Did you know that, in the United States, there are currently two job openings for every unemployed STEM professional? And that by 2018, 8 million jobs in the U.S. economy will require a college degree in STEM? To put it frankly, we’re not ready for this. We should be, but we’re not. An article by Tony Murphy in U.S. News & World Report explains the situation:

“By the time students reach fourth grade, a third of boys and girls have lost an interest in science. By eighth grade, almost fifty percent have lost or deemed it irrelevant to their education or future plans … That means millions of students have tuned out or lack the confidence that they can do science.”

We’re living in sad times when young boys and girls don’t recognize the relevance of science to their lives or the excitement and imagination STEM subjects can add to the everyday. I wasn’t alive in 1977 but my guess is that part of the initial allure of Star Wars was the sense of possibility it held; that things like a Death Star could really be built one day. That potential was and is so monumental, so intriguing, that people still herald it thirty-plus years later.

Boys and girls lose interest in STEM for lots of reasons. For example, STEM subjects are hard. Role models and advocates in school and at home can be scarce. Teachers are asked to teach subjects that they don’t feel supported in. I can help. You can help. We can help. Let’s use the force to fight for STEM. Start with some of our resources and then keep looking. Lots of groups are fighting the good fight but we’ll only be successful if we champion STEM education together.

Photo: Darth Vader.
Photograph by Danae Permuy, MSYS

And at the very least, if we’re ever able to convince the White House to build a Death Star, we’re going to need people who know how to do it.

Written by: Samantha Zuhlke

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