The Ground-Breaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America
by Cheryl Harness
I read this book aloud to the children at the end of this year along with our American History studies. I respect the story of his life and his undeterred search for education. He also has a connection to Kansas and his birthplace in Missouri isn't too far off our usual travels to be out of reach for a little visit. I should have read my own blog, though, and would have remembered I read the book myself a few years ago and didn't care for it.
The Groundbreaking, Chance-Taking Life of George Washington Carver and Science and Invention in America (Cheryl Harness Histories) by Cheryl Harness was a book I really wanted to like and started out enjoying it. Ms. Harness has interesting illustrations throughout and a fascinating timeline of George Washington Carver's lifetime, showing events around the world, along the bottom pages of the book. I was a little annoyed by her use of initials. Sometimes (not always), George Washington Carver was GWC. Sometimes (not always) Booker T. Washington was BTW. Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes TR. I really should be able to get over that. I was also concerned by the description of a black man accused of raping a white girl and then brutally murdered before Carver's eyes. The murder was horrible and my children don't know what "rape" is yet; I'd rather not explain it until after they've learned more about married life in a good and beautiful way. (The rape was not described, just the murder.) I did appreciate the discussion in the book of the differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. De Bois. Overall, I'm not interested in giving this book to my third grade son to read on his own and at the moment don't have any other recommendations. I'm open to other suggestions. (library copy)I agree with all I wrote then, though as I was reading aloud I was able to pretty easily adjust the story of the rape and murder. This time through (reading aloud to a 7th grader, 4th grader, 2nd grader, and kindergartener), I was more concerned with the introduction of the physicists working on the atomic bomb. It didn't go into great details, just enough to get my kids asking and talking about it for a few days. I wasn't excited about explaining the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to my 8 year old.
The last paragraph was the worst in the book, though. I actually tried to skip it but made the mistake of telling my children I had. After all their questions, I just read it aloud and we talked about it.
Was the atomic bomb a good use of science and scientists? It is a desperately difficult question, but, as George Washington Carver would tell you, that's what science does best. It guides you to a never ending questioning, answering, and then more questions, such as what should we do -- or not do -- with our knowledge?I have an undergraduate degree in cell biology and genetics. I have worked in labs at universities and corporations. The pursuit of science does indeed foster never-ending questions. One of the glorious gifts of our Lord is a physical world we can never completely understand, fostering (hopefully) a greater love for it and its creator. But science does not properly ask or answer the question of what we should do with our knowledge or our quest for it. Frankly, our society generally neglects asking those kind of questions until it's too late and action has been taken. When those kinds of questions are asked, they are in the realm of philosophy and ethics.
Hopefully next time I'll remember not to read this book again.