When I was at school, I was something of a geek. A swot if you will. I turned up to lessons on time, completed all my homework and actually revised for my exams. Of my own accord.
I remember being about 13 when a member of the cool gang – you know the type; tangerine foundation, no skirt, and eyes which could barely be opened underneath layers of clogged mascara – casually informed me that although I was “like, a proper swot like,” I was still socially acceptable because I “didn’t seem like proper f***ing into Science an’ that.” Oh, and I had nice hair.
Now, I could discuss how it should be possible to be clever and cool, adamant that we shouldn’t put people into boxes. You can highlight all your notes and still care about your appearance you know, but that would be hypocritical. The cool kid I’ve just described is, after all, straight out of a teen soap opera. All we need now is a few nice-but-dim athletes dancing around a basketball court whilst harbouring a burning desire to sing musical numbers and we’d have the cast of High School Musical!
The fact is, most kids (and adults) are desperate to fit in. And, as sad as it may seem, school-goers do tend to fall into one or other category. There are very few who have the courage to stick their head above the proverbial parapet and shout, “Hey, I’m just me!” Let’s be honest, why should they? Being a child is hard enough today as it is.
So, in the absence of bullying, these things themselves don’t really bother me. What does bother me, and I mean really bothers me, I’m not talking a minor irritation or a bit of a niggle, here. I mean fists clenched, blood boiling, steam coming out of the ears kind of bothers me, is this:
Why the hell is it so bad to be bright? Why is it cool to fail all your exams and so absolutely mortifying to be even the tiniest bit academic? And Science? Well, that’s just the geekiest of the lot, right?
Before anyone points out that not everyone is naturally academic, that kids have different strengths and we can’t and shouldn’t judge everyone in the same way, I know. That’s not what I’m saying. I home educate my son largely for this reason. I’m not referring to children who struggle with academic concepts at all.
I’m talking about the fact that so many of our young people, and their parents, seem repulsed by the idea of learning, of knowledge, of a thirst for information – in particular the scientific variety. When I was still teaching in school, I met a parent who, when told at Parents Evening that their child was excelling in Science, actually rolled their eyes and commented, in all seriousness, “Yeah, they are a bit speccy, they don’t get it from either of us!” I almost wept into my desk.
On facebook a few weeks ago, an old school acquaintance was having a virtual conversation with their daughter. They were probably sitting next to each other on the couch. The parent was calling the 11 year old “a geek” for choosing to go into school in the holidays for a workshop.
These are just two examples. It’s everywhere.
Scientists are constantly portrayed in films as mad, crazy, socially inept, psychotic. The list is endless. On the rare occasion when there is an attractive or socially functioning Scientist, it turns out that they’re actually an undercover journalist or also into pole dancing. It’s unbelievable.
Even the New National Curriculum contributes. Quite aside from other criticisms I have of it (which are perhaps best left for another time), the Curriculum due to be rolled out in schools from September 2014 has, in a lot of ways, dumbed down Science even more than it was before.
Let’s take light and dark for instance. Under the Old Curriculum (I didn’t much like that either), children were taught at age 5 that we need light to see, that darkness is the absence of light etc. Pretty basic stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Now it isn’t taught until age 7-8. Earth and Space isn’t taught until between the ages of 9 and 10. So, potentially our children don’t even realise we’re only one planet in the solar system until then. Or even what a Solar System is. Or a planet for that matter.
Here’s where Doctor Who comes in. Finally, I hear you cry, she’s going to stop ranting! Since it was relaunched in 2005 by Russell T Davies, the series has established itself as a firm family favourite. The viewings of each episode in the 2013 series never dropped below 5 million and were usually considerably higher than this. Last week, the marvellous Professor Brian Cox presented ‘The Science of Doctor Who’ with 2.2 million viewings (overnight). Where else would you find people wanting to understand Science? Hiding in laboratories with static wire hair and green potions probably!
We are desperate to find out how we too can travel through the universe. Can time travel really be possible? We want to know the science behind it.
Is there life on other planets? How does a sonic screwdriver work? How could you possibly refuel a TARDIS? How does a TARDIS even work in the first place?
All burning scientific questions even if they have come from a fictional programme.
Even when he’s not talking about the Doctor, Brian Cox makes everything sound interesting. His live series with Jodrell bank a few years ago and his programmes on the BBC all demonstrate how exciting and valuable scientific work is. He makes it accessible for an everyman. Without dumbing it down.
With such brilliant presenters and fabulous Doctors all over our screens at the moment, is this finally going to be the moment when we can finally say science is cool? Will we be able to stop feeling odd for wanting to find things out?
I doubt it.
But at least we can all take heart from the fact that the Doctor will be igniting our scientific minds this weekend in the 50th Anniversary. Maybe he’ll be able to clone our dear Professor Cox and send him into schools.
Are you fans of the Doctor and Professor Cox in your house? Do you love Science? I’d love to hear about it.