Science and Me Redux

Over seven years ago, I posted “How and Why I Don’t Know Science,” which was “Freshly Pressed” by WordPress. I’m going to paste it here so you can read it if you like and if you didn’t at that time. Why am I posting it all over again?

I am reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. This is how the book is described on Goodreads:

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Werner, the German boy, is a genius at science, math, engineering, mechanics. I am not quite 1/3 of the way into the book and the two main characters have separate threads. Werner’s thread makes science, especially applied sciences, sound so fascinating that it makes me regret that I never learned much science in school. Thinking about this reminded me of my post all those years ago. The post explains how it came about that I didn’t learn science.

Once in awhile I like to go back and look at something I wrote a long time ago. I’ve had seven years of writing experience after composing that blog post. I’ve also changed as my life has evolved over time. Since I wrote it I have become more involved with my writing and more involved with cat rescue. And I’ve gotten farther away from my childhood.

The main reason for feeling that I am further from my life (and me) as a child is that because I have written so much about my childhood since then I have been able to let some of it go. Once I write about an event, I unpin it from deep inside me and it begins to float away. Very useful way to get rid of bad memories.

Until one goes back and reads a memory, of course ;).

###

Here is 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.

###

Obviously seven years ago I had four cats. But now I have six!

Kana says, “Have the best week possible!”

Kana is next to my cardboard standing work desk

and the painting on the wall behind her was by my MIL;

the table is one we call “kitchen” but actually functions as cat feeding station

49 Comments

Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, Cats and Other Animals, Memoir, Nonfiction, Reading, Vintage American culture

49 responses to “Science and Me Redux

  1. I remember being shocked when expected to dissect a dead frog in the 1950s.

  2. I loved All the Light We Cannot See, but you have me thinking about science. At our high school, we were able to take some courses over the summer. My boyfriend and I (now husband) took biology. I remember we dissected a frog. I don’t recall that it helped advance my scientific knowledge. I’m not good at math, and I completely zone out on numbers, but I think I’ve learned some science just from my own reading.

  3. I wouldn’t have been able to dissect a cat either. I could actually dissect a dead human much easier but I doubt they let high schoolers do that! I would have been better in forensic science. In any case I was much better in math than science. Partly because I didn’t have any inspiring instructors or curriculum.

    • Me too. I could do a human if they had willingly donated their body. My son was lucky. He got to take forensic science. It sounded so cool!!! I hear you on the lack of inspiring instructors. Why are so many science teachers so boring?!

  4. Doerr’s book is remarkable. I read it a few years ago and it still resonates.

  5. “All the Light We Cannot See” sounds intriguing! I will look into it.
    I can understand why dissection would put you off science.
    I loffed re: The History of Science teaching no science.
    Kana looks a lot like Pepper, my daughter’s cat, except Kana has darker eyes. Pepper doubles as the Eveready cat.

  6. This picture of Kana reminds me of the dog in Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Tinderbox,” with eyes the size of saucers. ;-D

  7. I can still see my biology teacher killing the frogs in a clear glass dish filled with formaldehyde-soaked cotton batten. It was a LONG time ago but that image stayed with me. I can’t imagine dissecting a cat and wondering if it was killed just for science class.

    • It’s only taken me 2 weeks to write comments on this post. Must be all the dead animals!! Yeah, the whole idea is ludicrous that people think it’s a good idea for kids to be involved in death and killing. When I was 12 I was too young to go to Great-Grandpa’s funeral, but 3 years later, I’m old enough to dissect a cat? Um no.

  8. Amy

    Oh, so much to respond to. I really enjoyed that book. It has stayed with me.

    We didn’t dissect cats, just worms and frogs, but nevertheless I hated science. I hated the science teacher who yelled at me the first week of biology when I tightened the microscope so tight on a slide that I cracked it. I found science boring as compared to history and English. Even math was more interesting. In my senior year I was supposed to take physics like all good little college bound girls. But I refused. It sounded deadly boring. My father (an architect) was livid. But I took what was then called Black History instead.

    In college I took a course called “Issues in Contemporary Science” to satisfy the science requirement. I learned no science, but lots about the ethics of science, which I found interesting.

    So like you, I am a science ignoramus. Now you know why I also am so reluctant to get too deep into the whole DNA side of genealogy. Do I have any regrets? Occasionally, but then when I try to read something science related (like how the different COVID tests work), my eyes start closing.

    Some of us just aren’t wired for science.

    • I can’t believe they let you substitute Black History for physics!!! Man, did you luck out!!!
      Oh, that “science” course sounds very interesting! I was just dwelling last night on how our human-centric view of science is odd. I know what you mean about the DNA stuff. People who are good at it tend to be lousy at explaining it, if you ask me (you didn’t). I think I could have done well at science, but probably would have always done less than I could have because I would follow some storyline down a rabbit hole . . . .

  9. How gruesome. Like others, we did frogs, and that was bad enough. I was an A class student but didn’t gel with science. I remember my physics teacher screaming across the room, ‘You DO understand this. You are just being obtuse!’ Nope, whatever it was had gone right over my head.
    Like you, I found writing my memoir created another place for all those memories to live rather than in my head taking up space.
    All the Light is on my TBR. Must bring it up higher!

    • Yes, please, bring it up higher. It’s so gorgeous.
      Isn’t it funny how memory and writing function? There are incidents I have written about that now I have a hard time recalling, at least not in that vivid detail that I used to remember them in!
      Your scene of the yelling physics teacher is pretty funny because I am see him/her bursting at the gills over your “obtuseness,” and you wiping your hands of that class and that teacher.

      • If only I had the option to quit the teacher. Rather, we were stuck with each other for the four years of high school I completed. But after I failed my trial exams (at the required level) another (male) student sat with me for the rest of the year and coached me. It was so nice of him to do so, and if he had an ulterior motive, that never came to light. So eventually I got my A grade pass.

  10. I was never a big fan of science in school, once I left the first grade. In college, English majors took astronomy, as the purported “gut” science. The first semester was great! Class was in the planetarium, and it was all about the constellations and mythology. Second semester, there was phyiscs involved. Hey, what happened to the myths?! The other thing I remember from the second semester was that we had a required lab that was taught by a grad student. It mostly involved math, which we English, art, and theatre majors couldn’t even begin to do. Every time he tried to break it down for us–you know how do perform this function, right?–we’d just shake our heads. He finally gave up and assigned us all A’s.

    • I hear you on the math. it’s not that I can’t do math. I can do basic math in my head very well. I can do great on standardized math tests IF you don’t have to show your work. I am an intuitive test taker. But I think that kind of math you’re talking about for physics is just the kind of math I hate–where your actual process is super important. Ick.
      Yay for English, art, and theatre :).

  11. Oh, Kana, you are a cutie. And kudos to you for not dissecting a cat. How horrible!

    • Right?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Awful.
      Kana is a good girl right now. Her new thing is throwing up big hairballs, which I might add is her own fault because she doesn’t like me to brush her tummy or legs.

  12. I believe I first came across your blog because of that post. Science, math and I never mixed well when I was in school. I still feel very ignorant, but as an adult and one not being threatened by grades, I’m more open to learning outside my comfort zone. Kana rocks!

    • Wow, that is very cool to know that, Marie, that you found my blog from that post. I didn’t realize that! Me too. Grades should be ditched in science classes ;). Math, too. There needs to be a better way to keep kids on their toes than stupid grades.
      Kana is a great girl. Thank you for noticing!

  13. I was never into science but we had to take one science subject to the end of school. I took biology as the most understandable, to me. I do sometimes regret not being more interested in science and becoming something like a marine biologist, but I suspect that would involve more than one dissection. I stopped doing a psychology course at college because they talked about experiments on monkeys….

    • Yes!That is almost exactly what happened to me! I started a psychology course (one was required) and found out that they required labwork with rats (not monkeys, but still). Um, no. So I was able to switch to a no lab course where I got accused of cheating on a test because my husband (we were already married) asked me for a pen and when I handed it to him I said, “Here you go.” That was an awful class, but at least no lab work on animals!

  14. I was nodding my head through most of your post and the comments. I was so lucky that biology happened in the 9th grade and I partnered with my new found second cousin who was not squeamish at all. I let him do the lab work and I did the written work. He had no problem with the frog. I don’t know what I would have done had it been a cat. I’d never been exposed to them.Science and math were dry foreign subjects. That part of my brain didn’t work as with most language arts people. Now, I love science documentaries and soak them all up. I want to know how things work and find the study of quantum physics much more interesting than physics. It always depends on how it’s presented. I’m learning math a little from quilting. That’s the hardest part. Now, I was headed to learn English paper piecing when I wandered over here. I have a project waiting for me to learn how to do it. Follow the numbers. Oh, crud! there are numbers. I have the book on my to read list. Thanks.

    • I think your story is probably true of so many of us.We are interested in so many subjects of science, but we want them more in story form–an arc or interesting details or human or animal interest, etc. The book is absolutely gorgeous. Well, I hope this post fortified you against the numbers that were awaiting you!!!! xoxo

  15. Great story, Luanne. I refused to dissect a frog in 10th grade and gained a high school sweetheart who still happens to be a friend, but not my sweetheart:)
    I loved All the Light!! I wrote about it in one of my first blog posts. It took me a third or more to get really into it, but once I did—BAM! Loved it. Kana is gorgeous! I adore black kitties! How are all the others doing? Felix?

  16. TYPO ALERT!! Beep Beep Beep! 😀 Here: “I’ve have seven years”

    OK, now that business has been taken care of, I have to say: SIX CATS?!!! Lol, I didn’t realize! Kana is a real cutie. She looks like she’s trying to tell you something! “Feed me,” maybe? Lol, our Annie *always* looks like that. We joke that she’s “wasting away” – it is to laugh, cuz she’s actually very pudgy.

    Now about your turning your back on biology classes – I did the same thing, in grade 10, but in my case it was merely a cow’s eye (not still in the cow) that turned me right off. (Dissecting a dead cat?!?! How terrible!!!) But my only other course to take instead was chemistry. I still rue the day, because it was awful. Boring memorization (of formulae) and math. Lab experiments that were not interesting at all. Yuck. Too bad.

    Now I’m *very* interested in sciences such as astronomy, zoology, astrophysics, and medicine… all fascinating – to a point… the “point” being when I stop understanding what the hell I’m reading (or watching), and instead take refuge in/on Facebook or Instagram where one’s brain isn’t too taxed. 🙂

    • Thank you for the typo alert. I saw it pretty soon after you typed it and went to fix it, then never came back and wrote any of my comments. I think I was avoiding the subject of cat dissection as much as being overworked. And of course you are right about Kana: that is her starving alert look. She trains it on me many times a day. Maybe she thinks I’m in training for the Olympics of catfeeding. I can’t say about your chemistry experience because I never had that experience, thanks to stupid earth science. A cow’s eye. That is disgusting. What were they thinking of? I guess that cows die for food anyway, so might as well use a part that goes wasted. There is something in that line of thinking, of course. I DON’T LIKE THIS SUBJECT.
      Well put about sciences that are interesting until they become just too much.

  17. It was so difficult to dissect that cat in my high school class. I did not take the noble path that you did; instead, I pretended to be sick, missed class for any number of reasons, and eventually for some reason I was allowed to forego the assignment. Ugh!

    • Oh no!!! Yes, if I had not been able to get cleanly out of biology I would have had to have been sick, too. And, trust me, I mastered that trick in 6th and 7th grade ;). Miss you and hope you and D are both ok.

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