Monday, May 25, 2009

In Which I Discover That I Am A Parasite On Society

My daughter's class is learning about Jobs People Do. The class has created an imaginary city and, after being presented with a list of possibilities and job descriptions, each child gets to choose 3 jobs they think they would like to do in their city.

The other day, my daughter told me that she was interested in being mayor, attorney, or DJ, and she listed for me what her best friends chose as possible professions (reporter, gift shop owner..). At some point I interrupted and asked "Didn't anyone want to be a scientist?" She told me that this was not an option. Scientist was not on the list of possible professions. "Why not?" I wondered aloud.

My daughter said she asked her teacher (yes, the same teacher) this question and he replied:

"Because scientists don't contribute to the economy or society."

OK..

The next day my daughter told me that she had narrowed her employment choices and had decided to run for mayor. I asked her what her main issues were, and she said "Well, for starters, we will restore science to its rightful place."

I would vote for her. A kid who quotes Obama, supports science, and knows exactly what her constituent/mother wants to hear would surely make a good mayor of an imaginary city.

35 comments:

A Life Long Scholar said...

When I was a child I attended a school wherein the Principal was a major problem. I don't recall the details, but my mother was so disturbed by it that she joined the local PTA and they got him fired for incompetence. Honestly, should you decide to do this for this teacher, I would support you. His earlier comments were inappropriate, but no more damaging/harmful than say, watching 1950's TV shows. The scientists comment on the other hand, indicates to me that this person has no right to have access to the minds of children.

Susan B. Anthony said...

Good for your daughter!

And good thing the school year is almost over. I bet neither of you will be sorry to have this teacher out of your lives.

James said...

Very funny. But we can't forget that scientists typically don't contribute *directly* to the economy. If so, people all over would be offering to pay us for our services. Of course, this does happen to some scientists, but probably not most. In any case, we certainly don't want to make the argument that the only people who contribute are those who contribute directly.

So it is worth repeating whenever necessary the argument for why people might want their taxes to pay for basic research. I guess all I'm trying to say is that if the teacher or anyone else thinks that scientists don't contribute, we should view that not as her failure but as our failure (i.e. to get our message out).

epigal said...

Yay! I'd vote for your daughter too. :)

No Mist said...

proud mom !!!

your kid warms our heart greatly ... I hope she retains her 'worldview' after growing up.

Mrs. CH said...

That teacher needs a swift kick in the butt! That is so aggravating!

Good for your daughter for knowing what's important!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

What kind of dumbfuck teacher is this!?!?!? Seriously? Where does this imbecile think *all* the neato shit of modern industrial society that *he* surely relies upon every single moment of every single day comes from? Magic?

ChemProf said...

I can understand that the teacher does not get it that scientists involved in basic research, as a group, do contribute to the economy, but your daughter should ask him why he doesn't think that pharmaceutical companies and the scientists (chemists, biologists, etc) who work for them are contributing to the economy and to society!!! Perhaps he doesn't consider those people "scientists"! Clearly it is time for a good sitcom on television analogous to the Cosby Show where the parents work for Pfizer and NASA.

Tea said...

your daughter sounds like a very insightful child. If people not in her class were allowed to participate in the election, I would vote for her as well.

Doug Natelson said...

Wow. The stupid - it burns.

Anonymous said...

oh... my.. god..

This man really DOES NOT get it. Apparently, he doesn't like using computers, or iPods, or any other technological device that came from science/engineers. And hopefully he never needs antibiotics or cancer therapy as scientist certainly would have contributed those.

Please do more than just move your daughter away from this man - notify the principal/school board of his behavior and lack of ability to teach and inspire kids. We need GOOD teachers and he certainly isn't one of them. Too bad he's not the only ass out there.

Mad Hatter said...

Scientists don't contribute to the economy or society? Um...how does this teacher think our advances in medicine, technology, etc. came about? Not to mention the progress in our understanding of "how things work"?

Note that the teacher apparently thinks DJs contribute more to society than scientists. Not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Academic said...

ELEVENTY!1!1111!!!!!

That's just ridiculous. They probably didn't have jobs like 'Engineer' available either.

Dr. Lisa said...

I like your daughter, but the teacher deserves a long, sit-down talk. And hopefully he won't need to rely upon a course of antibiotics or want to use his cell phone in his city he's building.

Cynthia said...

Yay for your kid! And pthhhpt to the teacher.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I could understand scientist (and other occupations) not easily working with the activities the teacher may have planned (e.g. having the students advertise their businesses and sell things to each other or you roll the dice and get sick and have to pay the doctor $x, etc). HOWEVER, his stated rational is INSANE and completely inappropriate. What happened to encouraging kids to go into science???

The year is over...it's time to compile a detailed list of all of his delightful insights and give them to the principal and PTA chair... Don't suggest any action, just tell them you thought they'd find the enclosed informative (that usually works better).

Unbalanced Reaction said...

Her comment cracked me up. But seriously, what is up with her teacher? Geez, with teachers like that, no wonder that kids get discouraged from science careers. At first I found it semi-amusing, but the more I think about it, the more disturbed I get.

Anonymous said...

That is the cutest thing I heard in a long time!
I had the most horrible teachers in a South American public school in the middle of one of the most brutal dictatorships in the 70s, which proves that teachers are rarely harmful. Having you and your husband as role models is much more powerful than anything that happens in that classroom.

Kris said...

On a related note, we had difficulty not so long ago finding Playmobil scientists. The closest we could come at the time was the chemical waste cleanup crew (that now inhabit our bathroom). We did mail them at the time but got no response (you could even get playmobil accountants!)

A quick check and they now seem to at least have 'scientist explorers' on one of the new kits ...

Anonymous said...

In many countries mining makes an important contribution to the GDP. I take it that the geologists/metallurgists and their like don't count as scientists?

I'm glad you daughter has the insight to question her teacher. Many children accept/believe that because their teachers are adults what they say is accurate and true so the children don't question what is taught or said in the class room.

Hanna said...

I love your daughter.

I read this story to my roommate, and she provided the perspective of someone who did this activity herself in grade school--they didn't have options like "scientist" either, because they actually spent time each day "acting out" their jobs: she was a reporter, so they'd go around asking for stories. People could "sell" things, the DJ could play music, the mayor could make laws, the lawyers could go around asking if there were any disputes. It all sounds pretty dumb to me, but her point was, it isn't clear what a scientist would do in this case. She wanted to give the teacher the benefit of a doubt, in that what he really meant was that "in this activity we're doing, it would be difficult to give a scientist something to do that would simulate their place in the city." Other "jobs" that she doesn't think existed (I asked) include teacher and doctor.

I'm not really willing to give the teacher the benefit of a doubt on this one, but if jobs like teacher or doctor also weren't options for your daughter, it would be interesting to hear his explanation for why they aren't on the list. And if they ARE on the list, then I don't see any reason why "teacher" is and "scientist" isn't.

engineering undergrad (just had commencement so grad?) girl said...

This kind of vaguely reminds me of an "industry vs. academia" discussion I had a while back with some PhD students and professors. We were saying how in academia, a professor's job is to increase knowledge of the field, but then its the job of those in industry and businesses to turn this knowledge into a useful, marketable product. Both are equally important.

I do think that sometimes, good ideas are trapeed in labs and journal articles simply because academia doesn't have the resources to commercialize good ideas. I once listened to a speaker on business plans and he said a lot of hihg-tech start-ups fail not because the idea isn't good, but because scientists are so focused on the science and forget how to turn their ideas into a real world application. Bad for industry, but it's what drives the discovery of new knowledge in academia, new knowledge that might one day (if not immediately) become useful.

pablo said...

Well, do teachers "contribute to the economy"?
You should kindly ask him... :-)

What about mayors?

Anonymous said...

To James and all others who think that scientists typically don't contribute *directly* to the economy...

Every time I hire an RA or technician, I give someone a job. This contributes directly to the economy.

Every time I buy a piece of equipment from a company, small or large, I contribute directly to the economy.

Every time I publish a paper in a journal, and I pay for page charges, I contribute directly to the economy.

Every time someone reads about my research and uses that information to DO something, that contributes to the economy. Scientific research is not like reading a novel - people read scientific research in order to USE it for something.

I am sick of this argument that scientists don't contribute to the economy. It's simply false.

Liz said...

Can I throttle that teacher?! And I adore your daughter.

Doctor Pion said...

I offer, for your daughter's teacher, the Lithium ion battery. Most of the major developments have come out of universities, so without scientists we would still be using "brick" cell phones and would not have any hope for efficient electric cars.

Minos said...

Oh, wow. That is simply...weapons grade stupid. It's rare that you actually meet someone with such reified numbskullery.

Scientists don't contribute anything to the economy or society...in this, they have something in common with elementary school teachers (though shockingly, a mayor makes the list as a non-parasite) for much the same reasons. Perhaps you should suggest to this teacher, "turn your hat around, pull up your pants, and get a real job".

John V said...

I'm guessing the teacher knows what your kid's parents do, and is teasing her.

You described just a month ago your nonplussed response to his comment at a parent-teacher night about how girls should set their feminine aspirations, maybe he sees your disrespect for him more clearly than you suspect, perhaps aided by your daughter's daily outspoken comments.

That wouldn't make it right, but would make it less appropriate for all us scientists to get our dander up about about his pejorative statement.

I think science is among the most respected professions in the nation, and it is unlikely we're being unduly dissed as unproductive much behind our backs.

Kate said...

I second what everyone else has already said about the teacher and situation.

I hope my daughter is like your daughter. Good job with the parenting, FSP!

steph said...

That is adorable, what your daughter said. It made me laugh. Gosh kids say the darndest things.

Anonymous said...

here's a snippet of a conversation heard between two scientists:

Pinky: Gee, Brain, what are we going to do tonight?
Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky - try to take over the world!

Lurking Asst Prof said...

Ditto to all the "what an idiot teacher" comments. I had to pick a bone with the undergrad engineer's comment "...a professor's job is to increase knowledge of the field, but then its the job of those in industry and businesses to turn this knowledge into a useful, marketable product. Both are equally important."

Engineering undergrad has apparently not noticed how many of his/her professors have developed their own products. Most engineering and pharmaceutics profs have at Research I Universities.

Gee, do you think said teacher would agree that patenting then developing your product counts as contributing to society?

Carl Friedrichs III MD said...

Basically, your kid is a lot smarter than her teacher. Teachers are not always really bright, and if one is bright, one is likely to remember several examples of obtuse teachers in their own academic history.
But, unless this guy changes careers to become a textbook sales representative, he will continue to work diligently to dull the minds of his charges.
Maybe your daughter could buy him a T-shirt labeled with "The earth really IS flat!" for an end of the year present.

Gingerale said...

Your daughter's makin' me cry. In a good way.

60naranja said...

If the real reason is that the "scientist" profession wouldn't be compatible with the teachers' activities, then this has to be one of the hackiest, least creative teachers in the world. What about letting the prospective scientist go to the library to do "research" and come back with proposals for new inventions? Or to develop vaccines for the epidemics that might sweep the little city? You could add an element of chance, too, to reinforce how science doesn't just depend on good ideas but also perseverance and good luck.

Man, now I kind of want to draw up a curriculum plan...