It’s weird what and who you think about when certain conditions are right. I’ve been thinking about Mr. Hanlon, who was my physics teacher my junior year of high school.
I cannot understate the damage he did to my overall intellectual growth and natural curiosity. He was the reason why I didn’t take a science senior year of high school.
On the first day of class, he walked in and asked us why we were all taking physics. The simple answer to this question was that it was next in line after biology (freshman year) and chemistry (sophomore year). His response to being told this? “Wrong! Physics is everything!”
In fairness to Mr. Hanlon, there’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about science (or whichever field a teacher teaches). What he didn’t seem to understand is that the students who don’t share his enthusiasm need to appreciate the topic on their own terms in their own time.
That’s not what he did, though. He had a way of talking down to students like me who had the aptitude but not the interest. He had the misfortune of timing being a teacher of mine after I had just come home from Penn State’s Summer Intensive Language Institute where I learned German and realized that I wanted to study languages.
I acknowledge having the aptitude. There was one lab report, for example, where he came out and shook my hand in front of the whole class because what I’d written was more or less what he wanted to see. I had let other people copy my report and I guess they went a little too far in paraphrasing what I had written.
But as the year went on, he made his opinion clear: I’d be wasting my life if I didn’t declare that I wanted to be either a physicist or engineer. At one point, I got so pissed off at his attitude that I wrote a lab report up in French. (For reference, I learned then that the French word for “wave” is “vague”. He made a lame joke about the repeated use of this word in my report before he gave me an A on it.)
In college, I took my mandatory “hard” sciences, and studied the science of linguistics, which started to rekindle things but it wasn’t until my kids were born, that I started to read scientific books again. Thanks to George Hrab’s podcast, I discovered the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. And now I am a booster for science.
Keep in mind that I don’t like most science fiction because they still skimp too much on character development, and I can’t imagine starting to watch TV shows like Star Trek, Dr. Who, or CSI
I don’t know what happened to Mr. Hanlon. If he’s still alive, though, I imagine that he might have been marching this past weekend at one of the many rallies in the March for Science.
I did just that this past weekend in Washington, DC. It’s unfortunate that it was needed, but the anti-science attitude of much of the federal government, needs to be called out and put right. There are stories that allege that Donald Trump was shaken by it. I hope they’re true and that he might change things for the better. Stopping climate change is the most important issue we’re facing. That’s only one thing, though.
We need to follow the evidence in public policy, pure and simple. And if the current administration and the current congress refuse to do so, they need to be voted out and replaced by people who will.