Nervous Breakdowns and Clarity and Whatnot

Sometimes, especially after days like today, I think I am slowly going mad.  At the end of a day that does nothing but remind me that I am wasting my time and my only enemy is myself I can understand why certain people were put into sanitariums or institutions, or, if they were wealthy, locked in the “abandoned” north wing.

Except my “north wing” has the Internets which allows me to do foolish things like become overly invested in fictional characters (much like books) in (very interesting) television shows.  And I can’t get enough of these two:

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For serious.  Jo and Zane are my absolute favorites.  Carter and Tess are a close second.  (Blasphemy!  I know.  Obviously Carter and Allison are MFEO, but… get over it.)

Here’s one good thing that is coming out of my recent obsession with SyFy original programming, apart from my weird desire to get either a Suburu or a Prius, I want to try my hand at building things.  Like engineering.

I don’t know how long this curiosity is going to last, but many things have been pushing this into my focus lately: Science is taught stupid in school.  Science is a very hands-on field, but it is taught primarily theoretically.  I’ve been wracking my brain trying to remember the first time I was ever exposed to science with a tactile approach and I think it was high school, after I’d already made up my mind about science (and school, generally).  I was never given Legos with instructions to build a spaceship or a car or a catapult; I was never given tubes and marbles and shown Newton’s Laws of Motion; I’ve never run a clock on a potato or made a volcano erupt — I feel cheated.

Science lessons were always too similar to math lessons – all written and abstract with zero real world application.  Which isn’t true.  Math neither (the first time I ever thought Math could be interesting was when a geometry class build a pyramid out of straws and hung it in the foyer).  Science was never presented thus to me.  It was never interactive.  At the end of the lesson I never had anything to show for my progress but a letter on a piece of paper.  Science wasn’t interesting, it wasn’t fun.

I had an Intro to Physics and Chem teacher who actually did show us that different minerals burn different colors, that was the single most interesting science lesson I had in my public school education.  My most interesting science lab in college was when our Environmental Studies professor actually took us out into the woods and made us collect data.

Science, I’ve learned since teaching at a science and nature based outdoor ed program is a lot like studying literature: You can read criticism and analysis until your blue in the face, but if you haven’t read the primary text you will never understand it.  The same holds true for science.  If we don’t actually get to see the application or the law or theory in action, then how are students expected to understand the subject matter?  If students are never shown the differences or relationships between different organisms, how can they understand why you shouldn’t leave the fox on the side of the river alone with the rabbit?  How are we to ever understand how everything is connected if we’re never made aware?

I have spent the last five and a half years trying to get my students to understand their connection with nature and why it is important to be environmentally conscious because it’s important to me, because my mother showed me that as a child, but also because I never fully understood what I could do about it until I was an adult.  Sure, we always recycled – back before it was cool to recycle – and my mother would never have tolerated us littering, but I never fully understood man’s relationship with our planet.  Just like I never understood how the many fields of science are all interconnected and related until I was an adult.  Hence, feeling cheated.

I have learned so much about physics by working at this program where we teach children with a hands-on approach, and this is why I think my program is valuable (even though I’m getting too old for that shit) and I’ve been able to see that my unease about my own public school education was not unfounded.  Working here and seeing what children know and don’t know and seeing them connect the dots in a way they never realized they could be connected is, well, it’s freaking awesome, but it also confirms my fears about education.

Education is rapidly turning into a numbers game and that makes me sick.  Education isn’t about money, it’s about education.  There was a time when education was a luxury, now that it’s mandatory it’s turned into something Horace Mann would not be all that happy with. Ok, yes, everyone is getting an education, but politics and money are weighing too heavily on the schools.  Learning for the sake of learning is something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.  Teaching children in the most effective way for them to learn is also missing.  I used to joke that if I could go back and do high school differently I’d go to the Voc School and apply for Auto Shop.  But, honestly, I probably would have been better off there.  Learning about engines and cars is something I am actually interested in and it’s hands-on learning.  Those kids get to actually play with pistons and carburetors.  How cool is that?  The most we ever got to do was cut open dead smelly things (Cool, sure, but not quite as cool as building a car).

I wish at least one of my teachers had thought to have us actually do something in science class.  Actually have us build something.  Individual projects where the students actually create something.  In the third grade we “built” a rainforest in our classroom using desks, a humidifier, and construction paper.  Obviously we couldn’t take a field trip to the Amazon, but our teacher did the next best thing.  Because we had that simulation we were better able to understand the layers of the canopy and ground level and the climate there.  Maybe if there had been more of this in my education I’d be a slightly more curious and well-rounded individual.

And, before anyone starts this discussion, I don’t think my lack of interest in science has anything to do with me being a girl.  Ok, maybe a little bit: If I had more building toys and I used them to build things (instead of making houses out of Legos) I might have been more interested in school, but even at school none of my teachers ever went out of their way to have us construct anything (apart from that rainforest).  Any experiments that were done in class, were mainly done by the teacher.  We watched.  It sucked.  It was fucking boring.  And I hated it.

I’m really upset by this.  So much so that I’m writing a slightly incoherent blog at one thirty in the morning after watching a few hours worth of “Eureka” on Netflix.  See, I’ve always been drawn to scienc-y things, scienc-y shows: Star Trek, Dune, Stargate SG-1, Firefly, Warehouse 13, Eureka… anything science fiction-y has held my attention.  And, in all these futuristic programs, I’ve always loved how all the characters know how to fix the density coupler cooling photon hypertension thingamajiggy.  I would think to myself “How do they know all this stuff?  That’s so cool!  Futuristic technology is awesome!” and, yet, never once did it occur to me that I could learn how to do these things too, the things we have.  Not until recently, not until adulthood.  And I think that’s crap.

I think how science is taught in school is stupid.  I think it’s bullshit to expect children to become mini-experts after reading a chapter in a textbook.  I don’t think textbooks need to be written at a third grade reading level so students will better understand concepts, I think teachers need to teach the concepts better in class so the students will understand.  I know I am a visual/tactile learner (I know based on experience, not testing or anything) and I know that a different approach to teaching may have gotten me interested in something I otherwise wrote off as boring.  My experience shows me that something needs to change.

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4 thoughts on “Nervous Breakdowns and Clarity and Whatnot

  1. Yes. Had this conversation with my old roommate all the time. Art is taught with finger paints first, not with the great masters, perspective, and all that other stuff. Why is Science taught the complete other way around!

    • Exactly. It’s so stupid and it drives me crazy to think about. And it drives me crazy that things haven’t changed since we were in school and my nieces and nephews are going to experience the same thing when they’re in school. Why is education so backwards?

  2. In related other news, to help out the science class she is para-teaching my mom BAKED A CAKE of a cell, complete with ribosomes, smooth and rough ER, golgi bodies all in different types of frosting and candy. How Awesome is that lady!

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