For about five years now I have lead a small, multi-cultural team of volunteers in designing, preparing, presenting, and sponsoring science-based programs and activities for our community. We do this through the auspices of the local public library. So far, our audience has been 9 to 14 yr-olds. The programs have been successful and are by far the best-attended programs for that age group offered through the library. We often have two or more adults who attend with their children.
Some observations so far: There are some intelligent young people out there. For any given event, about one sixth of the young people attending are home-schooled (generally for religious motivations). There is anecdotal evidence that as many theists attend (and present) as do non-theists and similar naturalists. (this is consistent with the conservative culture of the community at large). The most controversial subjects we have presented are cloning/bioengineering, genetics, and nanotechnology. As a team, we are not viewed as any kind of experts or authorities in science. In fact we purposely avoid building that reputation.
For myself, I want to expand the scope and audience for the programs. I know the director of the library supports this idea. The main issue seems to be a lack of interest (and availability) among the general populace. I think there are enough alternate sources of science information that any interested individual can find what they are looking for and need not attend an amateur local event. I also sense that a debate on any of a number of science topics would not have a big draw with science-oriented folks. In fact, on of our team members works at the metropolitan museum of nature and science and explicitly has not desire to engage in debates, seeing them as of little value.
Questions for the Aspiring Public Intellectuals group:
1. Should I be leveraging the current activity to build more credibility as a "public intellectual" in the community?
2. How can a local group/individual ignite interest in science and reason when one is competing with the Web, PBS, cable television, magazines, local museums and universities?
Feel free to indicate if I am being a troll or out-of-scope for this group.