Since World War II, our conversations about children and scientific vocation have been wistful and nostalgic. The conversational trope “Children just don’t love science like they used to” conjures an imagined past, full of the joy of experimentation and discovery. Although some experts now argue that we no longer actually face a scientific “manpower shortage,” popular belief in the concept has proven durable.

Why do we love this idea so much? What other cultural beliefs—about gender, selfhood, and citizenship—does it reinforce?

My first book, Innocent Experiments: Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States, published by the University of North Carolina Press in the fall of 2016, looks at twentieth-century efforts to promote science in American children’s lives, and asks how these projects reflect American culture’s awkward reconciliation with science. The book tackles issues of unequal representation in STEM fields from a cultural angle, showing how the dominant emotional modes of idealized childhood science practice—understood as curiosity, individualism, and originality—have been coded as male.

Here’s some coverage of the book: