8/23/11: failing physics

Twice I enrolled in a physics class, and twice I withdrew. The first time was when I was a senior in high school, and I was forced to take another science (meaning I had to enroll in 5 majors, when I only needed one more credit to graduate and there were no AP courses available), and nothing else was left to take. I didn’t want such a heavy caseload, and after the first day of class, I never went back. The teacher apparently took me off the class roster. It took the administration until the end of the first 6-week grading period to discover that I had given myself a free period each day (during which I either left school grounds, read in the library, or hung out at the office of the school’s newspaper).

Oh boy, was the administration pissed to find out that a mere student could get away with this! At the time of the discovery, I had the female lead in the school’s production of Inherit the Wind (the female lead was not really much of a part, the story of the Scopes trial is literally and figuratively about men), and they told the play’s director that I would not be allowed to perform. This occurred during dress rehearsals. I went to the administration and plead on behalf of the cast and morale for the entire student body, and the sentence was commuted, to be determined after the performances, which unfolded quite successfully, I thought.

I was excommunicated from the high school shortly after that event. This was not my only act of selfish rebellion, and they were tired of my shenanigans. I never obtained a high school diploma, but was still allowed, a few years later, to enroll in a community college. There I also enrolled in and (legitimately this time) withdrew from a physics class with no penalty. Although it was not the only obstacle, my fear of physics was a significant reason why I never applied to medical school.

Something about physics scared me. I have to admit, somewhat abashedly, that my fear was simply that I would not manage to pull at least a B out of the class, and this was unacceptable to me. Kind of a dumb reason, I realize at this point. I have a poem that may or may not explain my more metaphysical aversion to physics, which you can visit online in the current issue of The Chimaera.

In any event, as I trudged through life, post school, I have taken on fairly rigorous self-study of several major topics including psychology, religion, and philosophy, for which I have plowed through primary sources with pleasure. More and more, I am curious about physics, but am relegated to “popular” books which are dumbed down for dummies like me. I recently bought a Physics “dictionary” and have been working on improving my physics vocabulary.

I blame my aversion in part to the tendency during my school years, to direct girls away from math and physics. In my own situation, my brother was very good at math (he has a masters in mathematics) but did poorly in other subjects. My mother diligently protected his area of strength (which certainly helped him) by downplaying my strength (whatever there was of it) in math and science, and pushing me towards my natural giftedness in reading and writing.  That’s all water over the dam at this point, I suppose. Although I did obtain a masters in nursing, for which I have a very strong science background in biology and chemistry.

The problem for me now is that I believe I would be a better writer if I had a better knowledge of physics. My brother rarely reads for pleasure. Wouldn’t he be a better mathematician if had more grounding in literature and poetry?

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4 Responses to 8/23/11: failing physics

  1. redmitten says:

    I steered away from the same for the same reason, not realizing for decades that physics was actually what would have nourished some of my grey matter. i raised my daughter differently, and when she started coming home with chemistry and physics books, it was a thrill to witness her glow. now i have a physics book on my night stand (a dumbed down version) and i love the language and the way the language of physics connects the dots, and also reveals dots i hadn’t considered. so yes, your brother would would gain and so would you if the two realms were cross pollinated.


  2. Lee Kirkpatrick says:

    I love that poem, Risa. I was in science, of course, but biology is a very different experience than chem or phys. It’s more verbal, the others talk in equations. I did okay in the courses due to my skill in frantic memorization, but I never got the feel for them. I can understand you feeling repelled.


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