Blinded by the Light by
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Prompted By Science

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I must confess that I have never been very interested in science. Conversations on scientific topics tend to make my eyes glaze over.

My only good science experience was in first grade. We had a lovely teacher named Miss Garcelon, who had just graduated from teachers college, and we were her first class. She decided, for whatever reason, that she was going to teach a bunch of six-year-olds about the human body. So she borrowed a model from the local high school, since they apparently weren’t using it, a human torso that opened up and you could see all of the organs inside. Our first surprise was that a human heart wasn’t shaped like a valentine heart. Also, the heart wasn’t way over on the left, like where you put your hand when you are saying the Pledge of Allegiance — even though that is called putting your hand on your heart — it was actually right in the middle. Further discoveries amazed us. And she taught us a song, to the tune of Witch Doctor, that went “Esophagus and heart, windpipe, stomach and lungs.” Try it, instead of “Ooh eee, ooh ah ah ting tang, Walla walla, bing bang.”  It works!

In my seventh grade science class, we each had to construct a chicken skeleton. This meant going to the butcher shop, buying a whole chicken, cooking it, recovering all the bones, and then putting them together into a full skeleton. I don’t know how we fastened them together. I have a feeling everyone’s parents did most of the work. It was a grueling experience, and I have not liked eating chicken very much ever since.

In high school, I managed to take only one science class in my whole four years, which was Biology, and I didn’t do very well in it. My main memory of that class is sitting there looking at my long hair and biting off the split ends. (My husband, a Yalie, is amazed that I could have gotten into Radcliffe with only one science class on my transcript. I point out that I had five years of Spanish and four years of Latin, which surely made up for the paucity of science.) I loved math, as well as English, history, and languages, but science just did not do it for me.

In college, I foolishly decided to get my Nat Sci requirement out of the way freshman year. This was a bad decision because if I had waited, I would have learned about the various science courses that were geared to non-science types like me, such as “Rocks for Jocks” and “Physics for Poets.” My freshman adviser, who was pretty worthless, suggested taking Nat Sci 5, which was a biology course, since, after all, biology was the one science I knew something about. It was taught by George Wald, who had won a Nobel Prize the previous year, and a lot of my friends were taking it, so it seemed like a good idea. It was a disaster. Wald spent as much time as possible reminding us about his Nobel Prize. For instance, when he was lecturing about Watson discovering DNA, he said “and he won HIS Nobel Prize for . . .” Also, it turned out the course was not just biology, it was actually biochemistry, and assumed some knowledge of chemistry. I had absolutely none! Help! We had to memorize the 20 amino acids, and the Krebs cycle, and god only knows what else. It made absolutely no sense to me. On the final exam at the end of the year, there were 10 questions, worth 10 points each. I only understood 3 of the questions. The other 7 might as well have been written in Greek, they were completely incomprehensible to me. So I answered the 3 questions that I understood. I also wrote a note in my blue book begging them to pass me, because if I flunked I would have to take another Nat Sci course, and that would be too awful to contemplate. I ended up getting a 29 on the final, and a D+ in the class, which was good enough. Actually, I was very proud of that 29. Since I only answered 3 questions, the highest score I could have gotten was a 30, so a 29 was pretty close to perfect!

After that I never had anything more to do with science. If the kids needed help with any of their science classes, I turned them over to my husband. And even now, if somebody starts talking about Higgs Boson or other such topics, my mind just shuts down. I don’t get it, and I don’t want to!

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Characterizations: well written


  1. John Zussman says:

    I too am surprised that you got into Radcliffe with only one science class, and got out with only one more (although I remember the distribution requirements that allowed it). I feel bad for that, because love of science is such a fascinating and integral part of my life (and Patti’s). If only George Wald had thought to describe the Krebs cycle to the tune of “Purple People Eater,” I’m sure it would have launched you into a brilliant scientific career!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Love your enthusiastic first grade teacher teaching the little 6 year olds about the human body and anatomy to the tune of Witch Doctor…brilliant!

    I was invited into Honors Science in High School, but that meant I couldn’t take four years of a foreign language, so I declined, only taking Biology and Chemistry. I did fine in both, but asked to leave the classroom when we dissected a live frog in Biology. That was too much for this tender girl’s sensibility. Mr. Sprung agreed, telling me that I would still be responsible for the material, which I understood and still aced the test. For weeks leading up to that class, he took great delight in teasing me about what would transpire (“we are going to pith the frog while its heart is still beating…”), watching me turn slightly green (I’m SO squeamish), but I knew he meant well. I was sort of his pet student and I did get straight A’s from him.

    • Suzy says:

      Now that you mention it, we must have dissected frogs in HS Biology, and I’m sure I did it, but I have no memory of doing it or of whether I might have felt squeamish or not.

  3. Great drama in this story of soulful aversion! It has everything: learning where the heart lies, the macabre horror of boiling a chicken into muck and then gluing it back together; the crazed science teacher cackling and rubbing his hands at the ‘ewws’ of the chicken defilers; the protagonist chewing her split ends in response to the near-overwhelming tension of the academically lost; and finally, the fathead Nobel prizewinner. It’s a wonder you survived!

    A very funny story.

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