“It is a miracle that curiosity survives a formal education”
I remember sitting in front of a computer following our first lesson in a real science laboratory. How was I meant to write this “lab report” I had been assigned? In primary school, Science lessons had been fun, and we got a taste of what feels like to question the world; I had thought that Science was going to be a lot more fun than completing a layout of instructions and using the right kind of font for an assignment.
And yet here I was, struggling to remember what I did in the experimental class, and how many drops of some solution I’d added, or whether the flask I’d used was called “Erlenmeyer”.
This is how I fell into the awful habit of asking the teacher to spoon-feed me the expected results, to steal her hypotheses, and to avoid – wherever possible – making a connection between what I learnt from a book and what I did in the lab.
The perennial Monday morning deadline meant that every Sunday night I would make my eyes sore trying to figure out what it all meant, forever cursing the lab work and the lab reports for making science such a dreadful experience.
But that was then.
Today, I realise that it had less to do with the reports themselves than the extreme lack of interest I had in the science I was being forced to study. And I have come to realise this because today I consider myself to be a person intrigued by the empirical process, who has dedicated ten hours per week to Science this academic year. I came to recognize the vital element I had been missing.
I had been taught to accept unquestioningly the words in textbooks – especially if the letters were small and the pages adorned with diagrams I did not understand. It took time for me to realise that the things I learnt in class were relevant to the world beyond my desk. Who could have guessed that the diagrams I failed to decipher explained how my body managed to keep me alive?!
Coming to the realisation that I do not have a clue about how my body works at a smaller, more complex, level helped me to begin to frame questions which have become unrelenting. This is the motor that keeps the sciences advancing. Without questions, knowledge is reduced to complicated words that kids and adults alike can’t be expected to care about. As humans, we have created a compendium of facts and information because there have been people who have asked the right questions, and people who have found the answers.
If I could go back in time (although according to my bud Stephen Hawking, not a plausible scenario…) I would tell 13-year-old me that there is a world of knowledge she hasn’t explored yet, and that if she takes an interest in what goes on in the lab, not only will she save herself from painful Sunday nights trying to complete that report she doesn’t care about, but she’ll also surprise herself with how contagious it is to learn.
They say that curiosity killed the cat, but at least it gave life to Science.