How and Why I Don’ t Know Science

After I heard we had to dissect the body of a cat in tenth grade biology class, I requested to take a replacement course instead. Today many school districts are sensitive to this issue and students can opt out without creating a stir. But back in 1971, school administrators at my Michigan school had never heard of a college-track student requesting to skip the foundation of high school science classes—and all over a dead cat. (How and Why the cat would die wasn’t divulged). Although they were surprised by my request, they allowed me to switch over to a course called Earth Science, but the only connection it had with its name was interminable dullness like dirt.

At fifteen I saw the world through a lens like a microscope and never from the top of a cliff. My father often said, “You can’t see beyond your own nose. It’s the bigger picture that counts.” My father, though, only saw the world as if it were a coloring book—large geometric blanks to be colored in by him, sloppily, with loops passing wildly beyond the black lines.

My view worked well for the science projects I had performed at home for years. When I was nine, my mother had bought me a How and Why book with scientific experiments kids could do at home. I grew mold on potatoes, made a weather station, something different every week.

But Earth Science class turned out to be a playpen for students who would not much longer be called students, kids who had troubles at home and troubles at school. Because I didn’t have the capacity to look at the longer range consequences, I didn’t realize that by not taking biology I’d left science behind. I wasn’t able to study physics or chemistry as all the science classes were lined up like the begetters in the Bible—biology begat chemistry which begat physics.

The SAT didn’t require any scientific knowledge, and somehow, with my intuitive test taking abilities, I managed an eighty-something percentage on the science portion of the ACT. The next year I attended a college chosen for its proximity to my boyfriend and satisfied the lone science requirement by taking a course called “The History of Science,” which taught no science.

Today I don’t know much about science, but my conscience is clear where my four cats are concerned. Too bad I couldn’t have a clear conscience and science both.

Tiger Queenie Princess Mimi Josefina [ secret name]

153 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Photographs, Writing

153 responses to “How and Why I Don’ t Know Science

  1. Cats, cats! What was wrong with your school. Cats are pets. We had to dissect pigs–which was not wonderful–but cats! And biology at my school was an offshoot not a requirement for taking other sciences.

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  4. Dear Luanne,
    I might have a few tips for how to bring joy and science together. Not that I would want to convert you into a scientist, but science is more, way more than people dissecting. I am writing a blog on self-help and one of my latest posts has to do with this post you have right here. Here’s a peak:

    “Maybe it’s a game, maybe it’s a theory, maybe it’s a business that you always thought was interesting and profitable but you always though: that’s not for me!”

    I hope it helps unveil a way of seeing things you didn’t think about before. And I hope it helps! Because that’s why I wrote it! 🙂

  5. For much the same reason as yours, I did not take biology in high school. But my high school made that simple: either two years of a foreign language and one of biology, or three years of a foreign language and no biology. The choice was easy: no animal was going to die for my edification. In this case the animal would have been a frog. The frog was to be “pithed”, which seemed to mean that a needle would be placed that allegedly would have deprived the frogof all sensation, and then the frog would have been vivisected. I do not believe that the needle would have prevented pain – it would only have paralyzed the frog so that it could not move in response to pain.

    It makes no sense that your ethical choice blocked you from taking chemistry and physics. Conceptually, the sequence should be physics as a foundation for chemistry, then chemistry and physics as a foundation for biology.

    That Earth Science was dull was also unecessary. Earth Science explains much that you see around you every day. Today Earth Science includes not just the Earth’s crust, but its interior (where the motions of electrically conducting molten rock produce the Earth’s magnetic field, which protects our atmosphere from erosion by the solar wind – a major reason why the Earth is not like Mars), the atmosphere (global warming, the ozone hole, air pollution), the oceans (global warming will re-route some of the major ocean currents), the extinction of the dinosaurs and how a branch of small dinosaurs became the birds, and nowadays probably something about the rest of our solar system, and even exo-planets.

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