Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Dutch Are So Not Fucking Around When It Comes to Educational Museums for Kids

If you've been to one children's "museum" in the United States--even one that bills itself as a "science" museum--you've been to them all. With a few notable exceptions, most of these "museums" are just glorified indoor play spaces for kids:  There are always bubbles and a toy kitchen/grocery where your kids can go "shopping" for plastic apples and empty cartons of cornflakes, picking up the latest strain of vaccine-resistant influenza while they're at it. There's a ball spiraling down into some metal funnel. There's a room with fun house mirrors and a water table.

Well, the Dutch version of this--Science Center NEMO in Amsterdam--is nothing like its American counterparts, and it is not--I repeat, NOT--fucking around. 

First of all, NEMO is not, as I originally thought, a museum dedicated to an adorable, neurotic Disney-Pixar clownfish voiced by Albert Brooks. If your kid isn't a junior STEM research scientist, forget about going here and just shove a pain au chocolat in their croissant hole and get it over with. 

Because there's a lab. A legitimate LAB that you wait on a long line to do actual EXPERIMENTS in, assisted by live museum staff members wearing WHITE LAB COATS and safety goggles. There are numerous video exhibits that ask multiple choice questions about biology, physics, and chemistry. These questions are GRE-level hard, and I blatantly failed to get them right after repeated tries. There is a hands-on model dam with a long, involved explanation of how the Dutch keep Holland from becoming the Lost City of Atlantis. No wonder America is circling the drain when it comes to math and science.

But by far the two most fascinating sections of NEMO are the "teen facts" exhibit and the embryology exhibit, because all I could think about while wandering wide-eyed and open-mouthed through these displays was the fact that neither would ever appear in ANY museum in America, much less a children's museum.

The embryology exhibit had fetuses in jars. LOTS of them. There were conjoined monkey twins, conjoined pig twins, and actual human fetuses ages 8 weeks to 5 months in formaldehyde behind plexiglass. The last time I saw a human fetus was at the pro-life booth in Palmer at the Alaska State Fair, or maybe more recently online during the whole "Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts" kerfuffle (which, by the way, is totally the 2015 version of that "Richard Gere stuck a gerbil up his ass" thing from the '90's).

"Teen facts" featured a kiosk on "french kissing" with two vinyl tongue puppets. My seven year-old and her nine year-old friend played with them, sticking their hands into the tongues and having a feisty little duel. They didn't understand its implications and I declined to explain them. Several feet away, there was row after row of wooden stick-people contorted into every sexual position imaginable. It was as if Sting himself had curated the exhibit using the Kama Sutra as a field guide. My mom was very forthcoming with me about sex, but I still could have used a class field trip to NEMO as a teenager. Maybe then I wouldn't have looked skeptically at the first boy who proposed doing it doggie style, perhaps responding more charitably to protests like, "Aw, c'mon baaaabe. It's just a styyyyle."

Both of these exhibits were presented with zero fanfare and zero caveats whatsoever, and it made me realize how prudish and puritanical America really is. 

Bottom line: It's Science Center NEMO for the win.

3 comments:

  1. This.is.amazing. I've been underwhelmed at every science center I've been to in the United States, but I'm thinking I'd feel like an idiot at NEMO lol.

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  2. Thanks for your witty review. Sincerely, the exhibition developer of your "two most fascinating sections" :-)

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  3. Thanks for you witty review. Sincerely, the exhibition developer of "two of the most fascinating sections" ;-)

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