• Donna Brown

Science, teaching children and more



Two recent experiences intersected in my mind this week and wove into questions I keep mulling over. The first was a conversation with two retired science teachers. They and my husband got to talking about the big bang and other scientific theories. I was totally in the dark and could not contribute to the conversation.


As I sat listening to my husband and our friends discuss all things science, I had a revelation, which I announced to their judgmental stares, “I don’t really know or care about science unless it has something to do with nature.” I suddenly had the feeling of a criminal on the eve of execution who finally confesses to the crime, pure relief. I no longer have to fake caring about wormholes and space explorations, atoms and nuclear fusion.


I went on to explained that my elementary experience was limited to half days where frustrated teachers were forced to cram every subject into four hours. Most of the day was taken up with math, reading and writing. Social studies and science took a back seat, and those books were rarely cracked open. In high school I took the two science classes required for graduation.


My college experience consisted of two mandatory science classes. I only passed astronomy because on the night before the exam my professor was looking at the stars, walked into the bumper of his car and broke his kneecap. A college miracle: the final was canceled. Therefore, I explained that I have very little science knowledge.


The second conversation was with my seven-year-old granddaughter who insisted we play school over Christmas vacation. After having her do math problems, write a paragraph about a friend and read a chapter from a 1950s reading book, I asked her to draw a picture of Mount Rushmore and tell me about it. She named all four presidents and told me all about them. When our school was over, I poured chocolate milk, doled out cookies and suddenly realized that my extemporaneous classroom contained no science, which led to my questions.


Why do we teach children the things that we do? Not what professional educators teach them but what their families instill in them. Why are some children taught manners, while others gobble their French fries wiping their ketchup covered hands on their shirts? Why are some children prone to live a life of charity while others grow up to be callous? Why do some become doctors and others fashion designers? What are our priorities and values, and why didn’t we ever sit down before the birth of our children and write a list of the most important things they need to know?


When I was a child, my father a lover of literature and history took us for long walks in the woods pointing out animal prints in the white sugar sand and having us taste the edible wild plants along the path. In the evenings in the glow of the fireplace my father told us stories of the Rough Riders, the Alamo and winter at Valley Forge. On other evenings he would share some of his favorite books, classics, histories and biographies.


I have mirrored my father and shared my love of nature, literature and history with my sons and grandchildren, thus perpetuating a love of those subjects in our family, but now I want more for my grandchildren. My New Year’s resolution is to find exciting science facts and to share them each day after school with Ellie and Everett.


My science friends gave me a vintage sixth grade science schoolbook from 1950, Exploring in Science. It has beautiful watercolor illustrations and chapters on electricity, conservation, space and geology in addition to plants and animals. This is where I will begin learning and developing a love of science to rival my other passions.


In this same vein, my son’s Christmas gift to me was a year’s membership to MasterClass, which is an online education subscription platform on which students can access tutorials and lectures pre-recorded by experts in various fields. He and I will take the same classes and then meet over dinners to discuss them. As Albert Einstein advised, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Henry Ford who had many successes and failures said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”


Perhaps many of us have been living in our own comfortable bubbles for far too long believing that we either know enough or we’re too old to learn something new. It is time for us to shift our paradigms and take on the task of educating ourselves on subjects of which we are unfamiliar. If we do, it will be a very interesting New Year.



Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to wescoat@comcast.net.