Monday, May 2, 2011

Chemical hate

My hatred of chemistry began in the 10th grade, only a month or so into the first and only chemistry class I've ever taken. I still resent being made to memorize that long list of ions. Everything I was suppose to learn in the class after that assignment was noise that I retained just long enough to earn a B grade. Sadly, the only thing I learned in high school chemistry is that I hate chemistry. As an adult I'm confronted with my teenage apathy every time I use any of the mysterious chemicals I store beneath my kitchen sink without understanding how or why they work.

Now that I'm older, I realize that I don't hate chemistry; I just hate the particular way it was taught to me. It's unfortunate that high school science is taught as though every student is going to be a scientist. Professional chemists need to know their ions without taking the time to consult a textbook, but the rest of us don't. While it's good that we all spend at least a little time learning how to balance equations, what we non-scientists need most is a broad, qualitative foundation sufficient for allowing us to teach ourselves the little science we need or want as adults.

Awhile back I bought a used chemistry textbook at Goodwill for a few dollars. It targets liberal arts students who take chemistry as their science elective. “Perfect,” I thought. “This is exactly what I need to understand those chemicals beneath my sink.” If a liberal arts student can understand the book then so can I.

Two weeks ago I began my chemistry self-study program—my attempt to undo the damage I did to my own brain seventeen years ago. I'm even using pencil and paper to answer the review questions and problems at the end of the chapters. Hopefully I'll teach myself that I like chemistry after all.


Chad said...

The natural progression of this is you getting arrested for buying a van full of fertilizer.

Lindsey said...

Very interesting, Craig. I feel the same way about the majority of time I spent in most of my high school classes (and prior). I have obviously decided to take a different approach to education with my children, and I'm learning a very much right alongside them. I hope they retain more than I did, and most importantly, learn to be learners.

cmbrandenburg said...

Chad— How did you know Laura and I have been taking a stab at potted-plant gardening this spring? Judging by the way our plants are not growing, we probably need that van full of fertilizer.

Lindsey— Thanks for the comment! It's been awhile since you've commented.

I for one think that public schooling does an OK job at what it's intended to do—and that's to create a country full of low-skilled employable people. State-run colleges fill in some of the gaps for high-skilled employment. But neither has much to do with getting kids to become thinkers outside their career.

Good luck to you with your homeschooling!