What I remember of science instruction in elementary school is a cursory unit on digestion: something about chewing a piece of bread, swallowing it, etc., etc.
Then I went to junior high and for seventh and eighth grade science I had a shell-shocked veteran of WWII. All I know is he’d assign a chapter in the text and tell us to write out answers to “Thought Questions.” Then he would literally go into his closet and read the newspaper. Some said he drank in there. He assigned the same chapters over and over, never looked at the papers. What is amazing, in retrospect, is that we sat in our seats and pretended to work, though mostly we passed notes.
From my ninth grade class I remember two things: first, the teacher kicked a box that was under his desk and pointed out that you could identify a sound only if you had heard it before. Another time he heated a ball on a rod to demonstrate that it had expanded and would no longer pass through the ring.
Then, although in general my junior high school guidance counselor changed my future by insisting that I was college material, he mistakenly advised me NOT to take biology in tenth grade, my first year at the high school. Instead, I took chemistry in eleventh grade.
Today I’d have charged sexual harassment, but in the innocence of the mid-50’s, I only knew that the walked up behind me, pressing himself firmly into my back, and put his arms around me as he placed his hands on mine to show me how to bend the test tube I was holding in the Bunsen burner. I think this was an isolated incident but grow suspicious when I recall that he sometimes changed facts in my lab reports so I’d get A’s. So I got A’s but learned little and retained nothing.
Though I was at the top of my class, it appeared only the super brains, and mostly boys at that, took physics, I saw no reason to do this.
Not having taken biology in high school, had far-reaching effects. At Tufts I was afraid to take biology, fearing I lacked the background others had. When I found out I needed a lab science to fulfill graduation requirements and that Experimental Psychology, which I loved, would not count if I majored in psychology, I actually changed my major to English.
Some ten years later, at that point the mother of three, I decided to make up for my lack by taking biology at the local community college. However, shortly after announcing my decision, on a family fishing trip, my then-husband said, “Hold out your hand,” and put a still-beating fish heart into it. I freaked out, and never signed up for the biology class.
Fortunately for the students I taught in my twenty-seven years in elementary school, I was always involved in a team teaching situation. I taught language arts and social studies, my partners math and science.
Sorry to say, with this aggregate of situations, to this day I remain scientifically illiterate.
© Dorothy C. Judd
Next post: Thursday, Sept. 11 th