By The Books

The letters come from everywhere: Winter Haven, Fla., Smithburg, Md., Hurricane, Utah, Weston, Ore. They come from teachers who have finally found something that will motivate their students to think. They have found “MacGyver.” “As a professional educator I find the show challenging to the minds of the many children I teach,” writes one teacher. “It is refreshing to watch a show depicting a hero character that uses intelligence instead of a gun to overcome his obstacles. Mr. Anderson plays his character with such an old-fashioned, ‘Aw shucks, anybody can do it’ attitude, that the children have taken an increasing interest in the subject of science.”

The fascination for “MacGyver” comes partly from the title character’s use of common household items to create Rube Goldberg-like devices that extricate him from seemingly impossible situations. These “MacGyverisms,” grab at the core of children’s curiosity. In fact, “MacGyver” has wormed its way into American slang. Kids are using the word “MacGyver” to describe miraculous solutions to problems.

In Weston, Ore., educators decided to use “MacGyver’s” impact by setting up a formal program called the “MacGyver Survivor Project.” For the past three years, 6th and 7th graders at the Athena-Weston Junior High School have been given a hard-boiled egg and a problem. Students have to build a series of chain reactions out of household junk that will save the egg from being squashed by a mechanically activated weight. If the contraption works, the egg “survives.” The project culminates in a judged competition that now attracts local media coverage.

The ripples “MacGyver” has created in American education have gone far beyond the classroom. Many letters come from the show’s adult fans who find the show’s intellectual bent and value system reinforcing and, believe it or not, life-saving. During a trip in the California desert, Ronald Prince’s 4×4 truck sustained a punctured tire. The sun was setting, they had little water and the nearest help was 30 miles away. Just when they started to feel panicky, the group recalled an episode in which MacGyver had fixed the brake line on a racing car using a piece of chewing gum and a stick. Following the “MacGyverism” step by step, the group was able to inflate the tire again and ride all the way back to San Clemente on the “MacGyverized” tire. “We have to tip our hats to the producers of this show,” Prince wrote, “for basically getting us out of there and quite possibly saving our lives.”

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