This post brings to mind an experience when i first began to teach high
school. I was 55-56 and had spent the previous 10 years as a machinist
at GE. An injury had made it impossible for me to continue there where
i produced good parts and rarely messed one up. When i did i felt
lousy for a few days. So when i began teaching i came to realize it
was a different game. I had little way of determining how well i was
doing, for the products i was producing were not aircraft or turbine
parts but critical thinking human beings. I had no way of knowing how
they turned out because the "production process" took several years.
The second year an article appeared in the town newspaper that involved
an interview with a just-graduated student. This student praised me
saying that i had made a big difference in his life. I was as puffed
up as a bullfrog. Then i thought: "As a machinist i made maybe 200
parts and fucked-up one and was miserable. Now 160 students pass
through my classes in two years and just one says something
complimentary and i'm as happy as a pig in shit." Go figure. herb
George Salzman wrote:
[log in to unmask]" type="cite">
Oaxaca, Monday 17 July 2007
I know that sharing this absolutely unsolicited and unexpected
letter from a former student will be seen as boasting. Of course I'm
delighted to learn of even one person whose life I've had an impact on.
But the reason (maybe a rationalization) for posting it is because it
might indicate the value of trying to teach science in a way that puts
it in its social context. I once had as a guest lecturer Cesar Chavez,
the leader of the United Farm Workers, who was travelling around the
country at the time promoting the boycott of grapes from the Imperial
Valley. He spoke not only of the economic conditions of the workers but
of their exposure to pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. One of the
biology faculty members (Lawrence Kaplan) who scorned the Science for
Humane Survival course as being 'not science but Salzman's propaganda'
criticized that particular class presentation because I had invited
only Cesar Chavez and failed to present the students with a 'balanced
account', since I did not also invite an owner of the vinyards to
participate as a lecturer. At any rate, the struggle to keep the
Science for Humane Survival offering as an accepted 'science' course at
the University of Massachusetts Boston Campus is a story in itself. The
illusion that some participants on this listserv hold dear -- that SCIENCE,
writ large, exists in some rarefied atmosphere apart from all the dirty
business of making money, is the purest nonsense. Only the
technicalities of real science (like chemistry, biology, physics,
geology, etc.) are 'pure'. Enough ranting. Here's the letter:
Subject: A former student fondly recalls Science for Survival
From: Cat <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Tue, 17 Jul 2007 10:03:17 -0400
To: George Salzman <[log in to unmask]>
Am a former student from Dorchester/South Boston Massachusetts. Grew up
in a housing project 'Columbia Point' as a minority and the offerings
in Science for Survival were wonderful interdisciplinary classes and
seminars that opened up my 17 year old, white, project girl mind to
what was going on in the world and connected me in a way that helped me
to live a meaningful life. For the last 20 years I lived on Nantucket
Island and recently have decided to move to the UK.
Back when I attended your courses I learned to enjoy the out of doors
and to realize the value of whole grain. I realized that cockroaches
were my friends and all about the types of spraying that was done in
our housing back then. I learned about the role of woman in science and
that we must take responsibility and learn to speak honestly and
openly. It is there that I realized that I was a feminist.
My family now consists of my friends and my two daughters who attend
the University of Massachusetts Boston, Jessie and Sarah Lambrecht.
When they first applied to schools I have to admit that I was a snob
about schools and was probably counter productive to their search.
Ultimately my older daughter switched schools and landed at the Boston
campus. My younger daughter, home schooled and physics and chemistry
were learned with the help of tutors and many other people involved in
the sciences on the island of Nantucket. Now she is thinking about a
medical career and finishing her second year at U-Mass Boston as a
chemistry major. Both are doing very well, and seem to have adjusted to
a city university.
Anyway, I just want to say thank you for helping me back then (you
probably did not know me.) Your classes were the ones I remember and
grew from in my life.
[log in to unmask]
[log in to unmask]
I wrote back asking for permission to post the letter, which she OK'd.
Maybe her daughter who's studying chemistry and thinking about studying
medicine will join the SftP listserv. I see that Catherine just did.