Some Quakers weigh in...
On Their Science Education

Dixson/Ross/Heller/Shaw/ Dalke

Anne sent the web version of her talk on Science as Story: Re-reading the Fairy Tale to her Quaker writing group. Here are their responses, which they've given her permission to share. It might be interesting to think together further about the connections between difficulties described below, w/ science learning, and the complexities of managing web dialogues: is one form of learning "too" directed, the other not directed "enough"?

David Ross:
As I read this play, I had in mind and tried to be true to Anne's comment that "I find that what really interests me w/ your texts is what ground they lay for me to go forward: what's the NEXT step? I don't find myself lingering, listening, loving the sounds of the words--I find myself thinking, "of what USE is this? how does it lead us ON...?"

So this is my response, rather than my commentary.

"I was a very curious child." I liked "science" but hated the laboratories, for precisely the reasons you described. Because I couldn't make the labs come out and my handwriting and inability to draw or diagram made my lab reports a disaster; I'd barely pass the lab component and ace the exams. There is something rather offensive in the fact that I won both the Chemistry and Physics prizes in high school. Science-in-school was such relief in contrast to the humanities, because there were right answers. (It's interesting how saying this brings back all the anger, humiliation, and frustration of having to deal with high school poetry and the penumbra of philosophy.)

Humanists seem to love the dance, the conversation. I just wanted to know, to have an explanation that felt right.Ę

"I found that the notion of "science as story" a very productive one. -- My! This paragraph went in a completely different direction than what I expected: I thought you were going to say that you liked "science as story," because it allowed for multiple interpretations, multiple ways of understanding the same phenomena. (This seems to be the thrust of the "From the Syllabus" quotes at the start of Act III.) Instead, you highlighted the Homeric quality of science--a story with no single author, but rather one that evolves with each retelling. And the story can't be harmed if one retelling brings in some graceless notes: the next reteller can chose not to keep those.

a better story does something else: it generates further stories. -- Better for you, not for me. A good story is one that satisfies my itch ("It rained because a cold front bumped into a high pressure system.") My questions have no end. So, answering one question frees me to go on to the next. Your children must all have gone through the "why" stage. I never outgrew it; I was socialized to be a bit less obnoxious about it.

Liz suggested that we might learn to be more effective writers by learning more about how different disciplines write. Effective in what sense? What effect do you/Liz want your writing to have?

"Acts (Facts). Why must facts (truth?) be "a dominant, negotiated consensus story"? Can't it just ring true to you? The story is right/true if it answers all the relevant questions with no obvious contradictions-- and I'm the judge (in consultation with God).

I lost the thrust of Act IV. Is the issue that all observations are selective? We focus only on those aspects of a phenomenon seemingly relevant to that which we wish to explain? And doing so, may obscure the big payoff (like those scientists who filtered out evidence of the big bang because it was messing up their experiment).

Act V also went over my head. I didn't see the progression in the quotes. Was I looking for something that was not there? Did I just get tired?

"Insistance on a Single Right Account Reduces the Natural Desire of a Curious Child To Explore (=To Discover? To Write an Alternative Story?)" -- Finding a right account satisfies the natural desire of this curious child for the answers to his questions and encourages him to continue his explorations. If at the end of the maze, I find only ambiguity, then I wonât hunt for the cheese next time.

Mike Heller:

Anne --

I am not sure I ever found on the web site what I was supposed to read for October! I went to http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/~adalke/fairytale.html and read what seems to be a summary of the play rather than the play itself. Am I reading the wrong thing?

I read also the web page with the inserts from our last month's responses. It feels good to read your responses to Barbara's and David's responses. I put a star in the margin (my paper copy) of the response to David. I like the idea of not forcing or even seeking the last words. "No last words" is a theme that has been with me for a long time as I have thought about nonviolence and communication. When we try to say the last words, they never are. And the attempt is intended to end dialogue.

And I love the list at the end of this piece defining tragedy and comedy and, "in Mead's terms," not spending too much effort meeting others expectations!

Reading these responses makes me realize I can send in my comments to Paul Grobstein, if he wants to include them.

I must confess that if I had my druthers I wouldn't mind if you could send out a plain-text version of the writing -- I am just not very good (or patient) with going to the various levels of web links. I realize that that might not be possible because the web is a medium in itself. I am not quite patient with the idea of reading the dialogues on-line either. Some ring of my limited experience with list-serve dialogues. I don't want to have to sort through a lot of dialogue -- maybe it is my problem and says nothing about the writing.

That said, I am glad to read what I was supposed to read if I missed it, and to give a more sensitive response. I am out of time today, so I will stop for now. (Forgive me if I what I was supposed to read was in front of my face and if I have been an irresponsible reader!)

Barbara Dixon:

Anne. The hard one, for me. I found, when I looked at our conversation as a potential entry on a public website, that I have different things to say when it feels public than I do when it feels private. For our little group of dear friends, for this cozy, comfortable group, I'm afraid I fudged a bit. I said I didn't feel smart enough for your site's demands, and that's not true. I'm reminded of a time in the life of Martha Quest, the character at the center of Doris Lessing's five-volume sequence which draws on Lessing's own life experience. Martha finds the old "Matty" version of herself emerging when she first comes to London and lives with the dockside people, in The Four-Gated City. Matty is the version of Martha who can make a little joke and so evade responsibility, who can portray herself as a bit bumbly and so get the affection and forgiveness and even appreciation of those around her, without having to live up to their expectations. So it seems to me that's a bit like what I did.

What's true is more that I don't find theory on its own especially interesting. It seems to me that pure academic theory is to academics as dogma and catechism are to the religious. Religiously, that's one way I appreciate being a Quaker. We do advices and queries, but not dogma. Reading Britain Yearly Meeting's Faith and Practice, I find that the advices tend to be embodied in story. For example, one on truth recalls the experiences of Quakers living in Europe during the Second World War who were clearly led to conceal the whereabouts of Jews, and yet felt no sense of having failed the truth testimony. Lately, I've been reading a series of books made from the journal reflections of Madeleine L'Engle. The third one, called The Irrational Season, focuses on theology. I've been slogging through. When L'Engle talks of the resurrection of the body and waxes abstract, I find myself reading and rereading sentences, then sighing exasperatedly and finding my book mark. When she reaches toward her experience of forgiveness through the story of discovering her lovely icon, which she had hooked to the side of a favorite tree, shattered by a shotgun blast, then I am moved to empathy and reflection.

Okay, those are my comments on the second offering.

On the first one, "A Tale Re-Told": I just went back and reread it. I gave myself permission to be interested where I was interested, not where I was not. I love Anne's voice. I enjoy the acts. I like the quilt-like aspect of it, bringing bits of all sorts of things together in a patterned way. I find some of the sequences startling (naked ladies to medical technology), and some of the ideas tantalizing (non-local causation). I see that, while I can read this with pleasure, I would find the actual conversation, with many voices embodied and present, powerful and a delight.

Deborah Shaw:

Anne (dear Anne!)

first - I felt very embraced and lifted by your preamble to your comments on our September writings. The sentences "I find that what really interests me with your texts is what ground they lay for me to go forward....of what USE is this? how does it lead us ON?" led me into another way of looking at our writings. Thank you. and thanks for your comments about my work. Mike has been suggesting to me that the body piece be expanded and submitted as a possible pendle hill pamphlet - and I will rest with your call into the 'poetic' dimensions -

Re-reading the fairy tale you were writing about me, Anne! not in the specifics, so much, but in capturing my struggle, especially felt during college days, in the following sentence: "Insistance on a Single Right Account Reduces the Natural Desire of a Curious Child to Explore" (or 'to speak' or 'to offer up an idea') Thank you for naming that so clearly. I also found resonance in the way that you talked about science as story telling - I have heard that articulated before - but, again, not as clearly as you have done in this story. I wrote in the margin "I just veered off at first resistance - you (Anne) invite me back in..."

As I read the 'dialogue' piece, I found myself thinking of the testimony of integrity with regard to our speech - in hallways, etc., - taking care, but not obsessively, with what and how we say things - being mindful of the enormous halls (like the mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings) that yawn invitingly behind every word or phrase we use... and I enjoyed the succint summary - "On you." ...and the appreciation of us taking on that responsibility...


See on-line forum for continuing conversation and to leave your own thoughts.




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