Deskin Teaches Oklahoma Students Challenges of Technology

Article excerpt

When she looks into the faces of the students she is working with, Freda Deskin finds curiosity - and an element of dread.

Deskin, one of Oklahoma's two finalists for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Teacher-In-Space program, now serves as a NASA Space Ambassador and coordinator of special projects for the Oklahoma Department of Education.

She is trying to educate her audiences about the United States space program and the technology associated with it - in part to satisfy their curiosity, but also to assuage their fear.

Science and technology have led the world to a critical and frightening point of decision, she said. Either humanity will use what has been learned to improve the condition of the species, or self-destruct.

"Science and technology can lead to destruction," she said, "but it can also lead to the survival of our planet."

The students Deskin talks with are painfully aware of the crisis.

Deskin quotes a national survey showing 72 percent of the children under 17 surveyed think a nuclear war will destroy the world in their lifetime.

While she does not ignore the possibility of disaster associated with technology, she tries to emphasize the positive potential of technology.

"It gives us tremendous hope to realize humanity does not have to be a victim," she said.

Ironically, the teacher-in-space program - which spawned Deskin's current efforts - ended in disaster with the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger.

But the teachers who were finalists for the program gathered after the fatal accident, Deskin said, with more conviction than ever that when they returned to classrooms across the country, they would carry with them the hope that Deskin talks about.

They founded the non-profit Teacher-In-Space Education Foundation, with affiliates all over the country. In Oklahoma, the group is called the Aerospace Foundation of Oklahoma, which will sponsor the Space Academy of America this summer in Oklahoma City.

The number three industry in the state of Oklahoma is aviation, Deskin stresses. That heritage makes Oklahoma a natural to develop its existing economic and cultural base into an aviation/aerospace center for the country. One of the best ways to do that, she contends, is to instill in the state's youth the same love for aviation and aerospace that earlier generations possessed for flight.

That is one of the main reasons for the Space Academy, she said. Deskin pointed to a similar program in Alabama which attracted some 150 Oklahoma students, students who shouldn't have had to travel to another state for that kind of experience.

Incorporating what she taught - as well as what she learned - in classes she was teaching in Pauls Valley when the teacher-in-space program was announced, she reminds students that each has the potential for achievement that other people have attained.

"I tell them that astronauts are just ordinary people. Neal Armstrong was an ordinary person,", she added, laughing, "his teachers didn't say, `Be nice to little Neal, he's going to grow up and walk on the moon some day.'"

Deskin considers herself ordinary.

She was teaching gifted education at Pauls Valley Middle School in August 1984 when President Reagan announced the space flight participation program.

She also taught a positive thinking class to her junior high students. …