Field of Science

Why don't students want to study plants?

Others have wondered the same thing? Why is it that plants capable of fascinating the Phactor for so many years are of so little interest to students? There is no one answer, but several factors do come into play, but before outlining these for you, some smallish percent of our biology students do like studying plants, about 10% on average.
Firstly, and most importantly, it takes a certain mental and emotional maturity and sophistication to apprectiate something a subtle as plants. This certainly explains the attitudes of many of my zoological colleagues. Flower children versus colleagues red in tooth and claw. They're just like most of our students, but grown up. Secondly, you have to know something about plants to appreciate them, and today's biology, especially in the USA, has a heavy human biomedical emphasis that even ignores non-vertebrate animals. A student complained about our animal behavior course as being about "insects" rather than animals. Wow! Unfortunately biology students who think biology is about baby zoo animals is all too are all too prevalent, and they become high school teachers. So thirdly, high school teachers educated in this system perpetuate the cycle by treating plants as uninteresting items forced into the curriculum. When the Phactor complained once to a chair that botanists weren't being considered for many jobs, he said, "You won't be happy until half the department are botanists (at the time it was 8 out of 34), but what will they all teach?" Genetics, cell biology, ecology, evolution, physiology, etc. was my answer, but of course, "real" biology is animal biology, so this could not be tolerated. He was dick about lots of other things too, so no big surprise in his attitude. To a great extent generally held preconceived notions about plants (and fungi) color people's attitudes, and even many gardeners revolt, or get revolting, when you try to learn them something about plants, sort of a don't muddle my poor head with knowledge, and never ever use a scientific name (which is why the Phactor blogs every now and them about knowing your genera; oh, it's been that long?). Fortunately the master garden programs are reversing this for many. Even worse, higher education, which should be a bastion of biological diversity, is run by pin-headed "bean" counters so if your area of expertise is on the short end of the stick, well, too bad. No one needs all of biology, just enough to get people into medical school, and so it goes with no real regard for the discipline. It''s like a conspiracy.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

This semester, I'm teaching labs that accompany the second semester of first-year college biology, and I'm pleased to say that MORE of our curriculum is devoted to plants than animals--probably the last time in these students' academic careers that chloroplasts will win over fur. Perversely, students have more hands-on experience with plants in this course than they do when they take the botany course, which doesn't have a lab.

~Shelley

The Phytophactor said...

Good for you Shelley, but how sad for a botany course! The most interesting part of a science course should be the lab, but they take lots of work to make them interesting and they are not cost effective and many of the lessor lights of science teaching aren't good enough, or are too busy with their research and university encouraged pursuit of grant money, to teach good labs. Cookbook labs aren't worth the effort, but proud to say the Phactor's labs are busy, informative, interesting classrooms.

Arati said...

totally unrelated to this post... did you have a post somewhere about the evils of suburban lawns? cna you pls send me the link, i'd like to include it in the next festival of the trees.
thank you