Friday, February 13, 2015

So that's how it is
"Do you know what I like about our kind of work? You can be happy or unhappy; it makes no difference. It doesn't matter if you like what you find or hate it. You look at it and say, 'So that's how it is!'" -Rosalind Franklin in Double Helix

Watching the BBC's classic story of the discovery of the structure of DNA, today with my biology students, two things stood out.

1) They looked bored. I like to show the film because it depicts science as it's really practiced, with all the political and interpersonal realities. I love the brilliant contrast of Watson's focus on the goal of discovery (and the fame) and Franklin's zen-like devotion to the process of discovery itself. And I want to light that same fire in my students. But maybe there's a better way than this film. I recall a tweet from a teacher friend on Twitter: "If they are bored, STOP."

2) Rosalind Franklin, played by Juliet Stevenson, backs this up. For all my good intentions and all the movie's merits, if it is not the best way to light kids fires for science and siscovery, then it's not the best way. Instead of defending my past practices and habits, I need to look at the data, with Franklin, and say, "So that's how it is." Then adjust my strategies accordingly.

And this may mean I've made a mistake. It may mean I've been doing it wrong. So be it. This is just one movie, but the same principle applies to all my teaching, even the new mastery-based teaching methods I'm piloting now. (It may apply to my whole life.) But when I'm worng, I need to take Rosalind's perspective. I love what she said at the end of the movie when veiwing Watson and Crick's model of DNA, which they deduced from the meticulous data she produced: 
"It doesn't matter. THIS (DNA model) is what matters. Life is the shape it is for a purpose. When you see how things really are, all of the hurt and waste fall away. What is left is the beauty."  
And neither does it matter if I end up having been wrong. What matters is what's true. I want to see things as they really are, regardless of the implications for my pride or lifestyle.

As Sagan said, "It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

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