Exploratorium director Dennis Bartels on lifelong education 

Dennis Bartels is the executive director of the Exploratorium, which makes science more visible and accessible to everyone. He is excited about the new After Dark event which is becoming a big hit, with more grown-up topics being addressed.

Explain your background.

My main preoccupation has been understanding how teachers learn their disciplines. I have bounced back and forth between the school and university systems and places like the Exploratorium. I’ve come to really love and appreciate the special kinds of learning you can do in institutions that aren’t school or school-like.

Do you oversee all this innovative work?

I don’t think the Exploratorium has a boss. I think I work for all of them.

What does the Exploratorium mean to you?

I think, quite simply, in our founder’s vision, it was to democratize science. He really believed that science and technology were becoming such an important part in civic discussions and decisions in modern society.

What is your favorite feature in the Exploratorium?

It’s always a dangerous question to answer because there are so many great things. However, I am definitely enamored with the colored shadows exhibit at the moment.

Why are you doing After Dark?

What people don’t know is that more than half the adults that come here aren’t with children, which is fantastic. We are trying to target both pre-child and post-child adults. We are doing special programing that is a little more of an adult nature and a lot of fun.

What has been your greatest achievement?

I think one of them is to argue that the purpose of science education and learning is not necessarily to create more scientists. It’s about realizing that people need a basic understanding of science that can help them decide themselves on topics such as the need for hormone replacement treatment or not.

Who influenced you to get into this field?

My first job out of college was working with some of the people who helped orchestrate the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Hearing how they started and organized the whole movement and fought for social justice really helped me frame a lot of  the interests I have about learning and education around the social justice agenda.

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Laura Colgan

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