Escape From the Woo Zoo
My first escape from the Woo Zoo, and the birth of my interest in science and skepticism, came in fifth grade. I had one of those teachers that every child loves to have, both because she was so nice, and because she was easily steered into tangents from the lesson plan by asking the right questions. In my case, Mrs. Grubbs loved science, and would enthusiastically tell us about the latest developments in astronomy and earth science to the ability our fifth grade minds could comprehend.
There came a day when Mrs. Grubbs, with some crafty manipulation by our wily 10 year old minds, was again drawn away from the curriculum to animatedly tell us about black holes. It wasn’t long before our questions were no longer tailored to keeping her off course, but of genuine interest, and no hand went up more than mine. Black holes, these invisible monsters in the sky, roaming about, eating stars… maybe eating Earth?! Whoa. It was the middle eighties, and our understanding of these phenomena wasn’t what it is today, and certainly not well understood by children, but I was hooked. Fascinated, I went home after school, and pulled out the World Book Encyclopedias. I did the 1987 equivalent of wiki-surfing for hours, reading about space and stars, asking my mom questions and animatedly telling her of this terrifying and mysterious new threat to our existence. My mother harbored her own interest and fascination with science, and encouraged me to learn all I could.
Which I did, and still do. I remained entranced with astronomy to this very day, and I still credit Mrs. Grubbs for being the catalyst that propelled my interest in the direction of the stars. I don’t vividly remember much else about what she taught us, but the day I learned of black holes is etched in my mind with exceptional clarity. I still think of it fondly when I’m reading of the latest research in black holes. It wasn’t my biggest escape from the Woo Zoo, no compelling story of how science busted me out of the monkey cage, but that day Mrs. Grubbs handed me the blueprints to the whole zoo. I could find my own path out now, with the spark of interest she had lit in me, and that interest has served me for over twenty years in escape after escape. I’ve become quite like her, easily steered into animated monologues about current astronomy research to anyone interested or polite enough to listen.
Thank you, Mrs. Grubbs, for being a wonderful teacher, and for the gift of understanding how amazingly cool and powerful science can be, for being so excited and compelling that I had to learn more. I’m still just as fascinated as I was back then, and I hope you’re still sparking the interest of the next generation of scientists and skeptics.