Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Slaughtering science in the classroom

It's planting time--as has been for the past few weeks. I poke a small hole in the earth, drop in a seed, push dirt over the hole, then go on to the next.


It is an act of faith that each seed will erupt into a growing organism, thrusting it roots deep into the dark, its leaves arching towards the sun. It is through acts of science that we "know" how.

I can tell you the science behind germination, a complex and fascinating dance, and if I'm feeling particularly cognitive, grasping this complexity brings joy. That's not what I think about though when sowing, when I think at all.

I pick up each basil seed one by one from my palm, each seed felt as it clings to my moist finger. Live seeds, even tiny ones, have a vital heft. I know this through experience, something I have done for years because I enjoy it, and because I like to eat fresh basil.

It's a good reason to pray, so I do.
***

I do not believe in science. A lot of folks do, but a lot of folks are confused. Science is not so much about the "real" world as it is the natural world--and therein lies a world of difference.

Science is not a belief system, it is a process, a particular process of  story-telling to help us understand the events we're capable of perceiving in the natural world. Science is not based on faith of any sort except that there is some kind of underlying universal order, without which science would not work.

And science works.
***

No one has seen an atom's nucleus, though we all know the story. No one has measured the gravity imposed on us by a random star 12 billion light years away, but we trust that the mathematical expression of gravity applies. We cannot visualize chemical bonds, yet our students draw stick figures of molecules using a line to represent what they call a "bond."



We test these things regularly--and most of our kids mindlessly pass those tests.

We fetishize science, finding huge meaning in facts when what really matters is how we write the stories, how we enhance our senses to see what is part of the natural world, and what is simply part of us. (The two are similar, but not identical.)

Praying for a basil seed's being makes at least as much sense as drawing stick figures of molecules. The stories of science are meant, simply, to understand what we can perceive. My prayers acknowledge that I cannot perceive everything that matters through senses alone.

When we fail to make these distinctions, when science defines reality and everything else dissolves into mere fictions, we not only demean the arts--we kill science.





The basil is from our classroom.
The stick formula drawing from Joachim Schummer, "The Chemical Core of Chemistry I: A Conceptual Approach"

4 comments:

joycelsmiles said...

I love your posts. They're always so, honest, humble, and wise. Thanks for being awesome!

Aron said...

Great point about "believing" in science. This is especially important when talking about evolution. There's a need to "believe" in it.

doyle said...

Dear joycelsmiles,

Thank you for the warm words--you might be disappointed if you ever met me in real life.


Dear Aron,

True, there;s no need to "believe in" evolution. It is simply by far the best, most coherent and cogent explanation we have based on the natural world. Nothing else comes close.

Malcolm said...

Dear joycelsmiles,

Thank you for the warm words--you might be disappointed if you ever met me in real life.

The best thing about the blogosphere...it is an opportunity to say things and sound really smrt...until 'they' meet you... i just like your posts (about your classroom) because they remind me of me...illustrate your passion...and paint enough of a sketchy picture that could put you in a one or two categories: one of those teachers who are considered a bit nutty by their students....or one of those teachers who was excited about life(science) and how little we know about life(science).