A common conversation among museum professionals involves crazy stories about experiences with visitors. In science museums, staff is often confronted with visitors who do not believe in the science being presented, which can lead to difficult and uncomfortable interactions. This topic was recently addressed in a guest post from educator Rachel Horsting on Scientific American‘s website.
Horsting describes a few instances, while working at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, in which visitors became confrontational with student volunteers who were presenting 110 million year old fossils as being 110 million years old. The idea that the earth or anything on it is that old offended these visitors, whose religion suggests that the earth has been around for a much shorter time. As a museum educator at the Franklin Institute, I experienced many interactions similar to those described by Horsting. One such interaction that still baffles me is the time a visitor tried to use my angular momentum demonstration to disprove evolution.
Difficult interactions arise all of the time in museum settings. Apart from science clashing with religious beliefs, I have experienced visitors offended by nudity in art, a large rock, an anatomically correct doll, the idea of women owning a business, and a British flag. These conflicts often came from, seemingly, out of nowhere. How does your museum handle these interactions? How is your front line staff prepared for difficult interactions? We welcome your input in the comment section below or through email at phillyemp[at]gmail.com.
Midway through the school year, parents and teachers are starting to plan (and fundraise) for winter and spring field trips. Among the most popular destinations is the science museum.
The Association of Science-Technology Centers estimates that 12.1 million children in the United States visited science museums as part of a school group in 2013, accounting for approximately 22 percent of K–12 schoolchildren. Most everyone is happy to go, despite the nearly hundred year political fight over what science to teach in schools. ASTC reports that Americans trust science museums more than any other source to provide honest and accurate information.