Wired news is carrying a story on how an out-of-control Consumer Product Safety Commission has made chemistry sets illegal in an orgy of terrorist paranoia. This is a sad development indeed, as many of America’s great inventors got into technology experimenting with chemicals and home-made fireworks.
The chemophobia that’s put a damper on home science has also invaded America’s classrooms, where hands-on labs are being replaced by liability-proof teacher demonstrations with the explicit message Don’t try this at home. A guide for teachers of grades 7 through 12 issued by the American Chemical Society in 2001 makes the prospect of an hour in the lab seem fraught with peril: “Every chemical, without exception, is hazardous. Did you know that oxygen is poisonous if inhaled at a concentration a bit greater than its natural concentration in the air?” More than half of the suggested experiments in a multimedia package for schools called “You Be the Chemist,” created in 2004 by the Chemical Educational Foundation, are to be performed by the teacher alone, leaving students to blow up balloons (with safety goggles in place) or answer questions like “How many pretzels can you eat in a minute?”
The same political idiocy afflicts model rocketry.