Saturday, June 25, 2011

Recapturing a Sense of Science Away from School

I have recently been thinking a lot about how school distorted my own sense of doing science–one that I am only now recapturing in my post-school life. In school, a part of my own "hidden curriculum," especially in undergraduate and graduate physics, was learning that science (especially physics) was something to be done at academic institutions with academic people–in classes, in laboratories, in dedicated office spaces, at conferences, through grants, etc. School supported a view of science that science was done by people who had scientific knowledge–knowledge that was sanctioned by scientific authorities. It tacitly taught that science was done by scientists and that scientists had the right to decide what was and what was not science, as well, as who and who was not doing science.

I think the biggest impact that this had on me was when and where I felt like I was doing science
and with whom I felt like I could do science. I felt like I was doing science when I was around other physics majors (or physics-major like people), or working on physics problems alone, or tinkering in the lab, or sitting in physics classes, or reading physics articles. Of course, I talked with "other" people about physics and science, but it was not so much to do some science with them, as it was to tell them about some physics or science that I knew (that most likely they didn't). In that sense, I was modelling my interactions with them much in the way I had been interacted with. The sense was something like this: "There are people who have scientific knowledge and there are people who don't. It is the responsibility of those who have this knowledge to impart some of that knowledge to people who don't." Without doing this deliberately, I turned my interactions regarding science with other people into miniature versions of school. Perhaps I knew something cool, fun, or perplexing about quantum mechanics or relativity, and I would proceed to dole of this puzzling and fun knowledge to anyone willing to listen.

Now, I am turning back to a sense of doing science that I had two decades ago. I don't see the world through the lens of opportunities to teach science knowledge. I see the world as opportunities to do science with others, anywhere, anytime. I love walking through the woods, just noticing, and inviting others to notice and tell me about their noticing. I love wondering about how things change, and inviting others to tell stories with me about change, I enjoy trying to coordinate stories of change with evidence we might collect. I love sharing my own ideas, much more so than the ideas from books and lectures. I love listening to the ideas that people have, and how they've come to know those ideas. I love the feeling of doing science with others, and I love the learning that happens when I do this.

Whereas before I interacted with the tacit assumption that people needed scientific knowledge from some scientific authority; I now interact with the assumption that everyone is doing science all the time, and that I can uncover and make visible the science that others are doing by interacting with them a sense of mutual wonder. I find that by making all of my science and their science more visible, we can together sustain our doing of science more deeply and for longer periods of time. The spark of "Huh, I wonder how that happens?" becomes a conversation, which becomes a scurry to collect evidence, which becomes more conversation, which becomes the building of a contraption, and so on. My view of who does science is much more expansive. I'd say that now I do a lot science with friends, children, and my wife than I do with academic scientists. I do a lot more science by myself, as well, and I share that doing of science not to teach people what I have learned; but to invite them into my science in the hopes that it will become our science.

I am excited to continue to recapture this sense of science away from school, away from sanctioned authority. I hope to get better at inviting others into the science I am doing and better at encouraging others to invite me into their science. I hope to continue to expand upon boundaries of the people and places where I see opportunities for science to occur.

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