On my walk home one day, I see a small plant before me. Its glorious emergence from the sweltering tarmac was enough to prompt me to capture on my phone. I then begin asking myself, how long did all this take? What mechanisms made it possible for this plant to push through the ground? Where were the bulbous muscles that enabled it to carry out this feat? This and many more questions populated my mind as I slowly recalled several key moments from my early teenage years.
Black & White Biology Textbook.
Even as my YouTube search for “how plants grow” returned a thoroughly engaging video on the topic, complete with animations and even a robotic character to ask questions, I was immediately taken back to a time when one of my biology classes used a black and white biology textbook. Black and white! As if that was not bad enough, the front cover design was actually in colour. From what I can recollect, the design was a magnified pollen grain on a brown background. It’s like you get captivated from the cover, but as soon as you open the first page, a small part of you dies inside. Why?! Surely that was no way to prepare scientists of the future. How dreadful and dreary! A freaking black and white biology text, used in a classroom with little to no interaction with the outside world; brilliant!
I remember one day, I was on my way to school. This was back when I lived in The Gambia. And then almost out of nowhere, I noticed the oddest thing. A tree that I walked by every single morning, today had water dripping from its leaves. I’d never seen anything like it. It was as though clouds had formed over this tree alone out of the dozens of other plants surrounding it. I was in awe. I told my mum to drive off without me. Yes! I noticed this while in a car, told her to stop as I inspected this magic tree. And then asked that I walk to school as I admired this wonder. I then rushed to school to tell one of my teachers about my discovery. Let’s just say that was the last time I ever spoke about that tree to any of my teachers.
With tools like Socratic that take camera input to answer various homework questions, it seems the possibilities are endless for schools to take advantage of technology. But one question I ask is, could my biology class have been more engaging if it incorporated the wondrous raining tree, or my muscular tarmac plant? What if Discovery sessions (draw, take notes, or capture something interesting in your surroundings) were followed by some sort of Questions and Discussion sessions? I can only wonder what schools are like today. My guess is not much has changed.
I have so many questions about my educational background, but I think the really big one is why so much of my time was spent in a classroom effectively memorising textbooks and spewing out answers during exams at the end of the year? It felt all too structured. All too sage on the stage, you’re the vessel to be filled with teacher’s knowledge type set-up. From what I remember, there was little freedom to explore. The world is outside! I’m sure I could come up with an endless list of gripes about school and what we call education.
Just like I rushed to capture this moment in the plant’s life, and shared it on snapchat for my friends to see, the young scientist from decades ago in The Gambia, yearned for a Biology class that enabled him to discover, question, and explore his surroundings for things he found interesting. However, even as this photo would disappear 24 hours later, forever lost among the millions of other ephemeral images, I too had to settle for memorisation, a mediocre understanding of core biology concepts, and like most, quickly forgetting the content of exams right after completing them.
As I took this image, the young scientist and explorer in me came alive. Like my teenage self, I yearned to understand the arduous journey that this plant took to now grace the Earth with it’s prolific presence. “I pushed through 15 centimetres of tarmac this week Shlomo, what did you do? Hm?”
This photo was taken three months ago. Today, while on my break at work, I felt the need to compose a post about it. I weave what was a simple photo, with some reflections from my teenage years.