Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Science or art?

I may not have as many hats as our Monica (who does?), nor are they as eye-catching as hers. But I have a few "career" hats.

Last weekend I donned the one I wore as a scientist. Fordham University, my alma mater, invited me back to the Bronx to be on a panel of physicists during their annual "Communitas" weekend. It was very special to be an honored guest on the campus I loved.

The topics of the weekend included emerging science, science education, and science literacy. These, in great part, make up the content of class I teach now at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

In fact, "science literacy" has been my passion in one form another since I read CP Snow's "Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution" decades ago. Not that I think everyone should major in physics (though that would be nice!) but I do think everyone should be conversant in the sciences, just as we expect scientists to read and to be conversant in the arts.

I have never espoused the "right brain/left brain" theory of intelligence. I think we are "artists" or "scientists" because of parents, teachers, and other influences, and choices we've made as to where we'll put our energy, not because of brain-sidedness.

(Behold a fractal, pictured above, the perfect art/science representation.)

It could be that I'm looking for someone other than myself to blame for my lack of interest and ability in history, for example … for now I'm pinning it on my high school history teacher, who was hired to be the football coach and teach history on the side. My math and science teachers, on the other hand, were dedicated women who also forgot to tell me that girls shouldn't be mathematicians or scientists.

In some quarters, sadly, it's still ok, even fashionable, to say "I can't do math," or "I was never into science." Whereas … most of us look askance at an adult who says "I don't read," or "I was never into books."


Allison said...

My chemistry teacher in 9th grade was the football coach. He would tell us a couple times a week to "brang you sumpin' to do tomorrow" (with a heavy Texas accent), then on that day he'd sit in the front of the room with the football players in the class and shoot the breeze. It was a subject I could have been interested in if the teacher was someone who cared. Maybe that's why I have a degree in English and strongly pursue writing, scrapbooking and other crafts instead of the sciences. Or maybe those interests are just a part of my DNA, being the child of avid readers!

Ellen said...

Not so sure about those fractals. Science and math are good friends and occasional collaborators, but they're not the same thing.

As for history - it works better as gossip. If you like your gossip relatively clean, go for Queen Victoria. If you like it scandalous, go for Henry VIII or Edward II of England.

Cryptoman said...

My English teacher was good. She only taught English. My Chemistry teacher was good. She only taught Chemistry. My Physics teacher only taught Physics.
He was good, too. My gym teacher taught us how to dance. He didn't try to teach us math. That was good.
He wasn't trying to win any championship.

Anonymous said...

Lucky Cryptoman!
You must be one of the most well-rounded people around!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

My math teachers were all coaches. They ran reel-to-reel movies of our team's football games instead of teaching. They put examples on the board, but by the time we got our homework back with corrections--often a week later--I was often lost.

Conversely, my chemistry teacher was fantastic. I aced his class and breezed through college chem.

Later, as an adult, I had the chance to take a class from Dr. W. Edwards Deming, the great statistician. Know what? I understood everything he showed us. Still do!

Deming used to say, "The student doesn't fail; the teacher does."

I do think we all have natural bents, but there've been psychological studies about self-fulfilling prophecies in the classroom. A teacher who isn't interested and doesn't expect his students to care, will reap what he/she sows.

When I watch my son do calculus or physics I feel this sense of being cheated...there's a world he has access to that I've been denied!

Terri Thayer said...

My chemistry would pout and read the NY Times until we "settled" down. So the first 15 minutes of class were always wasted. He also blew up a centrifuge, sending broken glass out into the room. I like science despite him however. I love reading about the brain.

That fractal would make a gorgeous quilt.

Camille Minichino said...

Put me down as the first to bid on that fractal quilt, Terri!

I completely agree with Joanna's "the teacher fails" philosophy. I have always allowed my students to grade me ... half way through courses I find a way to check on how I'm doing, such as giving an anonymous eval form.

Anonymous said...

I love Deming's quote, and, I, too, feel denied, having had a history teacher who seemed to be in her 80's and who was always fixing her orange wig. (It slipped alot, as did her students)! I can barely remember my chemistry teacher; what does that say? Great blog, Camille. xoxxo