High School Chemistry and Me

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I don’t know why they made me take chemistry in junior high and high school. I never got it. Never came anywhere close to getting it.

High school chemistry was worse. Because I had done so well on other subjects that had absolutely nothing to do with chemistry, I was rewarded by being placed, the next year, in the advanced chemistry class! Along with kids who built their own computers. You got an extra grade point just for being there, so all my F’s were transformed into D’s. Can you give me hallelujah?

And at the end of the year, the dreaded Lab Final. It counted for half your grade. And it was do or die. Mr. Dennison handed each of us a small sample of an unknown substance, and we had two hours to identify it. If you were right, you got an A on the final. If you were wrong… bye-bye.

Now, I had no way to go about identifying the tiny bit of white powder that had been doled out to me. Confectioner’s sugar? Baking powder? Itching powder? How the hell do I know? You were supposed to subject the material to various laboratory tests–but I couldn’t remember how to do any of those tests, or what they meant, etc. etc.

Oh! Wait! I remembered one single thing from eighth grade chemistry! Just one. “This is the flame test for sodium,” I remember Mr. Buckelew saying. It was the only freakin’ thing I remembered in two whole years of chemistry. It didn’t even rise to being a lucky guess.

So I performed the flame test for Sodium. Waddaya know?? That’s what it was! Sodium fugazi or something. I wrote it down and handed it in. Only ten minutes had gone by since the exam started.

You should’ve seen the look the teacher gave me when he saw my correct answer scrawled across the page. He knew I didn’t know! And now I’d ruined his whole testing regimen. His format hadn’t accounted for a lucky guess by an almost total ignoramus.

But I walked out with a passing grade in chemistry!

And never went anywhere near it ever again.

11 comments on “High School Chemistry and Me

  1. That reminds me of how I finally passed the swimming test in my required PE class. We were supposed to do the Australian crawl for the length of the pool and back, with face going in and out of the water for breaths and all that. My experience had been that I always breathed at the wrong time, almost drowning myself in the process. So for the test, I took a yuuuuuge breath and held it for the duration of the test, face going in and out of the water without any breathing going on. I should have gotten extra points for good lungs. But I was happy just to have passed … finally.

  2. That’s hilarious, Lee. It reminds me of a test involving trigonometry where I literally measured the drawing to get the answer. That was many years ago, at a school which was long ago torn down and (probably) replaced by a fast food joint. Since then, my trigonometric skills have, at the very least, improved dramatically.

  3. hmmm, the thing wouldn’t even accept my reply- didn’t like what I had to say or whatever. Anyway, I was just saying I hated all science classes including chemistry. I got A on everything else, but was lucky to come away with a C on that garbage.

  4. I never could understand college chemistry, even though I somehow bluffed my way to a B in it. (I didn’t have to take it in HS because I entered in the 10th grade and chemistry was a 9th grade course.) But I sometimes think I might have done better if I’d had a different teacher. After all, in high school I thought I hated physics, although I did pretty well in it, but in college I loved my two meteorology courses and got A+ in both, almost becoming a meteorology major– probably because no one told me that meteorology was a branch of physics. Maybe if my chem professor had told us chemistry was a branch of music or something I might have taken to it more. 🙂

    1. I finally approached some of it as an art project, drawing all those diagrams of how the atoms connected with each other in the molecules. (Sing along now: “The oxygen bone connected to the carbon bone, the carbon bone connected to the hydrogen bone….”) 🙂

      I guess that’s why I liked geometry and trig better than algebra, i.e., I could draw pictures. And later in life I really took to programming when I realized that the programming language was just that, i.e., a language. And logical, to boot. What fun! — unless you leave out a close parenthesis or an ENDIF and spend half a day trying to figure out where the missing piece is. 🙂

      I have to say, though, that what made me decide not to major in meteorology was finding out how much calculus I’d have to take. Blech. Back to the Humanities.

  5. I think so often our school experiences depend on our teachers. My high school chemistry teacher had worked for Dow or some other chemical company, but decided to finish out his career teaching. His real world experience and love for kids made it a great class.

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