While bemoaning the sad state of science education in this country out one side of its mouth, the federal government is doing everything it can, via its long-running War On Common Sense, to snuff any remaining interest in science among younger kids.
When I was growing up, I ran with the geeks. We all had chemistry sets, made black powder and home-made rockets; the more talented among us went on to lasers and tesla coils and careers in science. Nowadays, however, the national fear of "They Might..." has paralyzed this curiousity in kids. The Consumer Product Safety Commission fears they might make verboten fireworks. The DEA fears they might make crystal meth, or whatever the scary drug du jour is. Liability-conscious school boards across America fear they might poison themselves in the school chemistry lab. And so on.
Just twenty or so years ago, the kid down the street kept himself in soda money by selling his home brewed black powder to the rest of us neighborhood urchins. Eight bucks bought a coffee can full, and you could use it do do all kinds of cool things out in the woods behind the house, mostly involving little rafts in the creek or your little brother's plastic army men. He had researched its manufacture himself, and even figured out how to corn the powder using urine, which greatly increased its potency (even if it did gross out his clientele, once we found out what his new secret ingredient was.) Somehow we all managed to graduate from school with all of our digits intact and, so far as I know, none of us went on to cook meth in Alabama trailer parks, so the possession of home chemistry sets appears to be a fairly benign thing if our experiences are worth anything.
But the .gov knows what we might have done, and for that, today's children are stuck with balloons and soap bubbles instead of bunsen burners and sulfur. Having grown up wearing safety glasses to blow up balloons in "science" class, what will today's kids see as acceptable restrictions on their own future offspring? In the quest for a perfect Nerf World, it appears that the death of scientific curiousity is acceptable collateral damage.
(Big thanks to pax for pointing me at the Wired.com article.)