I’ve recently started to think about my own relationship with science education and why it went wayward, when as a young person, I was so madly curious about the world around me. How did I not end up in that field?
Leaving science behind in formal education was somewhat involuntary…
At my high school, I think it would have been 1992, a brand new science subject was offered to us. Marine biology, and I jumped at the chance to study it. I began the term. It was wonderful. I loved drawing diagrams of marine organisms, understanding how they lived and interacted in the complex environments and sub-environments of seas, rivers and lakes. I can still take myself back to that classroom and specific pages in my book and textbook. I can remember thinking that this might be a future direction. I was smashing through the work and then came the first assignment, which was a surprise.
A practical trip to a local reef.
Hm. A bit of a problem for me. I had a crippling fear of the deep water because I could not swim. I spoke with the teacher and tried to negotiate an alternative assessment. I was prepared to do any amount of work to stay in the subject, any other kind of visit, endless research, museum visiting, writing – anything! I tried to visualise myself on the reef and just get over it. I, nor my mother had the resources available for swimming lessons.
My attempts to negotiate alternative assessment were not successful. I was turned down and it was explained to me that you could not expect to be a marine biologist, or expect to study it, if you couldn’t experience the domain you were studying. I couldn’t understand this explanation at the time. I could think of so many fields of science where study is remote to the actual environment. Do all cosmologists do work experience in deep space?
So, I left the subject. I left because of that one first assignment.
I felt I almost drowned back then, in the embarrassment and that feeling of failure, because of a fear that was just the result of a bunch of chemicals reacting in my brain to induce an irrational fear.
I left academic science behind.
I went into IT instead, enjoyed my work and kept science as a fringe interest. I studied short science courses, did backyard biodiversity studies, engaged in citizen scientist activities, read New Scientist, wrote privately about science and generally just stayed in touch with the wonder of the world around us.
In 2001, a wild sea turtle brushed my stomach with its flipper in the deep clear waters of Barbados, as I snorkelled over reefs in 10 metres of water, after launching from a boat.
I was scared, thrilled, in awe of the domain I had wanted so badly to study. I had nothing but wonder with me (and 6 weeks of bravery earned at adult swimming classes)
I had finally arrived at my own field trip, just 9 years late.