Science, Schmience

Weekend Assignment # 355: Science!

In this year’s State of the Union address, the President spoke of the need for better education, particularly in math and science, and the desirability of celebrating winners of science fairs – in other words, science geeks. How good were you in science in school?

Extra Credit: Whether or not you were actually good at it in school, how much of a science geek are you now?

By high school, I didn’t do particularly well in science.  I didn’t particularly enjoy science.  In history and in English, it didn’t matter who the teacher was – I was interested.  In science and math, only the best teachers could engage me.  And even then, I was more interested in impressing the teacher than embracing the material.  Here is a story about my last science class (I don’t count the lecture hall Biology for Business Majors at AU).
Junior Year – Chemistry – Preston Hayes, Teacher
I believe it was the beginning of second semester.  I had been getting by through paying attention in class, letting my partner do most of the labs and not doing homework.  I think I ended on the low side of the Bs.
On this day, Mr. Hayes was scribbling equations on the board to explain nuclear reactions.  I had no idea what he was talking about and this was a very bad thing because, you know, I didn’t like to do homework. If I was going to pick it up, it had to be in the classroom.
With a few minutes left to go, he asked if there were any questions.  I looked around, totally bewildered.  But no one else was speaking up.
Screw it.  I raised my hand and Mr. Hayes pointed to me.
“I thought…um.. I thought you said…”
I pointed to the whiteboard, all frustrated.  
“You have different letters at the end of the equation.  You said we have to have the same number of the same letters at the beginning and at the end of every equation.  This doesn’t make any sense.”
This was all I really understood about chemical reactions, after a semester of work.  The letters represented chemical elements and the math had to add up.  That was just algebra.  Algebra I could do.
Mr. Hayes lit up like a Christmas Tree.  He clapped his hands together.  He came over to my desk, knelt down and kissed my hand.  He said he would be telling his family about me at the dinner table that night.
(Teachers, man.  It makes them so happy when you pay attention for a few minutes.)
“OK…thanks.  But.  The letters.  And the numbers!”
He went back to the front of the classroom and said that I had hit on the difference between chemical and nuclear reactions.  A nuclear reaction could change the very nature of the elements.  Or something.  My head exploded.  
That was just changing the rules of the game.  I don’t think I maintained my B that semester.  And hell if I was going to put myself through Physics.  The next semester, I took a civics class and Russian History.  Game Over.

One Comment on “Science, Schmience

  1. Great story – you made me laugh at the end. So, you did something good – succeeded in understanding something tricky – and that discouraged you. Classic! But heck, I never got past 11th grade chemistry and never took physics, so you STILL understand it better thyan I do. Thanks!

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