"Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon." ~ Gloria Steinem

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Personal Breakthroughs for 600, Alex

I've just had an epiphany--an epiphany about myself. (Incidentally, this is one of my essential characteristics of a critical thinker--the ability to continually discover new things about oneself.) Throughout high school and college, I received several Bs. Each time, as one would expect from an ordinarily straight-A student, I decided on a reason for the B--in order to internalize and deal with the situation, and thus move on from my perceived failure. I offer a list of the Bs that stand out in my mind, with accompanying reasons for their existence.

Chemistry (High School): I'm bad at science.
Pre-Calculus (High School): I'm two years ahead in math.
Gender and Society (College): I skipped some classes that resulted in missed quizzes, and I didn't like the professor.
History 105 (College): I never went to class.
Forensic Science (College): I'm bad at science.
Linguistics (College): Lingustics is hard, and I'm not really interested in it.
Anatomy and Physiology (College): I'm bad at science.

Notice any patterns there?

With the exception of any "I'm bad at science" answer, every reason on that list is completely valid. I was indeed two years ahead in math; I did indeed never go to class; Linguistics is indeed hard and uninteresting (to me, anyway). In retrospect, I got a B in forensic science because the course was heavy on entomology, which I am decidedly not interested in. I got a B in Anatomy and Physiology because the course was heavy on physiology, and I hadn't taken a basic biology course in about 5 years, and hence was rusty on central topics like cell function and replication, enzymes, the like. Straight-A students are monsters in that they expect to consistently excel; when I got a B--a B, for chrissake!--I assumed I was bad at something.

Except, not always. I didn't assume I was bad at math when I got a B in pre-calc; I rightly recognized that I was in an advanced course and so found it a bit challenging. I didn't assume I was bad at gender studies when I got a B in it; I rightly recognized that I didn't like the professor, and so skipped class as as well as failed to give the course the time and attention I should have. I just kind of blew it off. But these are things I've always known I'm good at; I've always been good at math, and since I usually got As in my major, I knew I wasn't bad at anthropology, just didn't care about Gender and Society. I also didn't decide I was bad at anthropology just because Linguistics is hard; I didn't dismiss an entire field just because one piece of it was hard for me.

So. Why do I think I'm bad at science? I'm clearly not. I did exceptionally well in classes on things like evolution, human biological diversity, research-oriented statistics,  and archaeology--all clearly science-based topics. As an anthropologist, I have regularly excelled in an field that relies on scientific methods to explore cultural and societal issues. Now, if I were really bad at science--the fucking foundation of most of the things I'm good at--how could I possibly be good at anthropology?

I can think of two possible reasons.
  1. We did a lot more of everything else besides science when I was homeschooled; it was more a function of a homeschool environment lacking equipment rather than because my mom is a bad teacher or doesn't know anything about science. When I started public school, I had less of a science foundation than most of my peers; consequently, I may not have excelled as easily at science as I did in other subjects, leading to the belief that I was naturally less adept.
  2. My culture tells me women are bad at science.
Both, maybe?

My point is, I'm not bad at science. I am currently a scientist, and I'm damn good at it. I decided against forensic anthropology because I thought I'd be bad at it, but I probably shouldn't have. Getting lost in an entomology class doesn't mean I can't be a forensic anthropologist; getting a B in Anatomy and Physiology because I lacked a solid cellular biology foundation doesn't mean I'm bad at physical science. Even if I'd taken an actual forensic anthropology course and gotten a B, all it would have meant was that I'd have to work a little bit harder at forensic anthropology than I had to at, say, the trigonometry course in which I earned roughly a 99% and learned absolutely nothing.

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