Smelly Hallways

My favorite course in high school was an English course in which we read Summer of 42 and John Updike’s “A&P”. What’s not to like? I wasn’t the most engaged high school learner…and that is an understatement. I was in honors math, it came easily to me, and that is what I ended up pursuing until I started realizing that I really liked science, but that wasn’t until graduate school. If you asked me in high school, I would have told you I detested science, as evidenced by my choice to drop it after grade 11.

So why? I remember dreading the science wing in junior high school. It was in the basement and my science teacher, while I am sure a very nice and interesting person, seemed to fit the bill of basement dweller. But most of all it was the smell. The formaldehyde or sulfur from last period’s experimentation always lingered in the air and the fluorescent lighting and lack of ventilation capped off the experience to ensure nausea and lethargy. I think that may have been the start of my tendency for cutting class.

By early high school, the biology labs moved upstairs and there was an engaging female teacher who probably would have gotten me over the physical discomforts of the lab, but she only taught advanced Bio. I was down with the standard level achievers (all that cutting class didn’t help my marks) and I was taken the least amount of science credits possible. I much preferred the rigor of the baking classes in home sciences, or archery and lacrosse in physical education, so I stocked my electives with those. One of those electives, by the way, was typing – probably the most important skill I took away from high school.

My general science classrooms were again, stuck in a wing with industrial lighting and little ventilation – or connection to the rest of the school. In fact, come to think of it, it was the wing that was Science and Industrial Arts or Shop class. So not only did we have sulfur lingering, it mixed with monkey grease and gasoline. Somehow a walk outside always seemed preferable, even in the dead of winter.

I suppose I cannot blame my late-blooming appreciation for science on school layout completely, but it does make me think about the aesthetics of learning environments. I look out my window at a humming bird or look at the vortices in a stream and think that science is the most beautiful form of expression and perspective imaginable. But you never could have convinced me of that in the dark and smelly hallways of my high school.


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