“I wish I could tell you about inspirational teachers in science from my elementary or junior high or high school days. But as I think back on it, there were none. There was rote memorization about the Periodic Table of the Elements, levers and inclined planes, green plant photosynthesis, and the difference between anthracite and bituminous coal. But there was no soaring sense of wonder, no hint of an evolutionary perspective, and nothing about mistaken ideas that everybody had once believed. In high school laboratory courses, there was an answer we were supposed to get. We were marked off if we didn’t get it. There was no encouragement to pursue our own interests or hunches or conceptual mistakes. In the backs of textbooks there was material you could tell was interesting. The school year would always end before we got to it. You could find wonderful books on astronomy, say, in the libraries, but not in the classroom. Long division was taught as a set of rules from a cookbook, with no explanation of how this particular sequence of short divisions, multiplications, and subtractions got you the right answer. In high school, extracting square roots was offered reverentially, as if it were a method once handed down from Mt. Sinai. It was our job merely to remember what we had been commanded. Get the right answer, and never mind that you don’t understand what you’re doing. I had a very capable second-year algebra teacher from whom I learned much mathematics; but he was also a bully who enjoyed reducing young women to tears. My interest in science was maintained through all those school years by reading books and magazines on science fact and fiction.”

Source: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library)

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