Sunday, June 12, 2011

World Science Festival 2011: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

The Good:

The Cool Jobs program on Saturday, featuring panelists from several disciplines: mechanical engineering, evolutionary biology, robotics and entomology. Awesome!

The WSF Street Fair on Sunday: physics demos by Rutgers Physics Lab and Franklin Institute; live animal encounters with the Philadelphia Zoo, Wildlife Theater from the Central Park Zoo; other exhibitors in the booths with interesting displays; and, by far Mikro's favorite, the robotics! There was no way to see everything at the Street Fair. The Lab Stages were constantly filled with programming. The booths were hit or miss-- some great, some rather low in real content and aimed at much younger kids. Which I suppose I would have been thrilled about a few years ago...

The Bad:

To Whom It May Concern:

Today, my family attended several events at the World Science Festival. Our experiences ran the gamut from engagement and delight to bitter disappointment.

In past years, we have had overwhelmingly positive encounters. While ticket prices have crept up, we have always supported the festival by attending as many paid events as our finances allowed. Despite far less rosy financial circumstances, this year was no exception, and we bought tickets to Cool Jobs, an event we knew our science-obsessed son would adore. His passion is evolutionary biology, and he has a burgeoning interest in robotics, which made this particular event nearly tailor-made for him. We enjoyed it immensely.

We were somewhat disappointed to be unable to participate in the meet and greet with the panelists afterward. When we exited the theater at approximately 3:40, it had not yet been set up, and we had to decide whether to hang around and wait, or make all possible haste to the programming on Governors Island. My son is fascinated by birds and bugs, so we elected to hurry on our way, with the expectation that, while we could not do everything, we would have over an hour to explore the exhibits and programs on the island. That was not the case.

We arrived at 4:45, only to be told by volunteers at the WSF Information Booth that the event was over and done with, and exhibitors were all packing up to leave. (Observation proved them correct: people with WSF badges and hand-trucks were lining up to board the departing ferry; tables were being emptied into boxes and booths broken down before 5 pm.) I expressed my surprise and dismay, as the event had been scheduled to run until 6 pm, and had been closed without warning at least an hour and fifteen minutes early. The volunteers tactfully stated that it was not their decision.

Whoever made that decision should be ashamed of themself. They disappointed scores of families and children for no discernable reason. If staff and exhibitors were wishing to leave at 5 pm, I fail to understand how the festival was billed as lasting until six. If the decision had been made early enough to permit exhibitors already to have broken down displays and queue up for the ferry, it could have been communicated to National Park Service staff at the ferry terminal, so as to avoid the waste of time and crushing disappointment to the kids skipping off the 4:30 ferry and anticipating a wonderful time. It certainly could have been communicated to WSF staff and volunteers at other venues, who might not then have encouraged people to make the fruitless trek.

Attached hereto is the somewhat hostile survey form I completed while standing in line to board a return ferry just minutes after making the long trip out to Governors Island. My son is still grieving the lost opportunity. The World Science Festival is an educational treasure for the people of the New York area, and unfortunately, it has been tarnished by the inconsiderate and ill advised decision-making on display this afternoon. Please do whatever is necessary to ensure that such an eminently avoidable snafu does not mar future festivals.

Sincerely yours,

The Ugly:

The behavior by some extremely pushy and obnoxious adults who practically run over children in their quest to shove their way to the front to see a performance or grab a freebie at a booth. Their children's behavior is, predictably, no better.

I am a New Yorker, born and bred. I lived in the city for 25 years, worked in it for over 10 more, and continue to be a constant visitor in my quest to give Mikro a world class education. You can take the girl outta Brooklyn, but you can't take Brooklyn outta the girl. In my heart, I will always be a New Yorker, even if I now live someplace greener. I have heard NYC called a rude place all my life, and always scoffed about it, because New Yorkers are in a hurry, and a bit brusque at times, but are generally the soul of kindness, and polite as well.

Um, not so much any more. We have been at WSF every year, and the behavior today is orders of magnitude worse than it was in 2008. But then, this is a trend I am noticing everywhere, not just in the city. Things are worse in my little corner of suburbia as well. Manners seem to be a historic curiosity. And people running events do not call attendees on their nasty behavior.

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