It's not gross, it's science!
May 14, 2009 4:18 PM   Subscribe

No reaction allowed is the rule in Mr. Rubin's forensic science class at New Rochelle High School. Many high schools around the country are offering forensics science, including Eagle High, which will be starting next year. John F. Kennedy High School's forensic science class has their own blog.
posted by grapefruitmoon (7 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ooooh. So cool. My high school offered a lot of awesome classes (film studies! Russian history! Intro to philosophy!), but not forensic science. If they had, I am all but certain that my career path would have been much different.
posted by scody at 4:56 PM on May 14, 2009

Learning to react professionally is probably one of the more important things I've learned in medical school.

It began with anatomy class; I don't think the transition to working in this seemed to be as difficult, probably because these bodies, when preserved, are stiff, and almost unreal. It was much easier to create some distance between ourselves and the these bodies.

But the range of reactions among my classmates when it came to the autopsies (we were all required to witness at least one) was different: these bodies were unpreserved, we learned how each person had died, could almost imagine that these people were sleeping, and not dead, and during the autopsy, could smell the blood and viscera. The smell was what really got to people.
posted by archofatlas at 7:28 PM on May 14, 2009

My high school offered a lot of awesome classes (film studies! Russian history! Intro to philosophy!), but not forensic science. If they had, I am all but certain that my career path would have been much different

I taught introductory forensic science for three years at the university level. My background is in chemistry and biochemistry. I was pressed into service in this role because the class (which was co-taught with criminal justice faculty) needed a science teacher. Along the way I got to learn a few things about the profession--the analytics of it were fairly standard scientific analyses, all things considered.

There were so many students, typically coming into it from the criminal justice side, who go so excited by the subject and dreamt of having a career in the field. Most of them hit the wall when they realized that if you want to be a forensic scientist, you need to be a scientist first. People don't get hired to do that kind of specialized work, the outcome of which has absolutely enormous consequences, unless they have rock-solid training. A very few students then embarked on a chemistry or biology degree as a result.

Furthermore, there just aren't that many jobs in the field. The state patrol in my state runs the forensics labs. Not too long ago when they had a single position to fill for DNA analysis, they had hundreds of applicants. The liaison for our class from the medical examiner's office was a terrific young man who had pursued the opportunity to be an ME death investigator for years, literally, after job-shadowing briefly when he was an undergrad.
Certainly there are lots of jobs in law enforcement where it is extremely useful to know about forensic science, so that evidence is collected and preserved correctly, etc, but this is generally not a huge part of those jobs.

Looking at it from the perspective of a science teacher: forensics classes in high school are really just an oblique way to lure kids into thinking about science. Looking at that blog from JFK high it couldn't be more obvious. As a scientist, I say, more power to it--science *is* completely awesome, and using the power of science to catch the bad guys (and equally importantly, to free the convicted innocent) is terrific.

However, the #1 thing I hated about that teaching assignment was that almost inevitably, students were fired up about dwelling on the grody details and unraveling the mystery and catching that bad, bad perp...without realizing that the case studies were describing real events that happened to real people and had real, oftentime very very terrible consequences. Serial killers are not cool. They are horrendous. It was appalling to see sweet young undergraduates grooving on signatures at crime scenes and how different types of murderers are classified. No connection to reality at all.

For a couple of years my co-teacher was a man who had 30 years of detective experience. He had extensive case files and brought in photographs of actual cases he'd worked. The first year he showed photographs so gruesome that some students got sick. Lord knows they're burned into my brain and I wish they weren't. And so, so many of his stories were about violence against women, particularly young women--as a mother of two daughters it was just so terrifying to hear.

Bottom line is, I hate glamorization of crime and violence, and I hate that science education is turning toward forensics in order to get kids interested in the field. The world is full of so much amazing wonderment that we could dwell on instead to get the subject across (I'm nearly 40 and it still totally trips me out that photosynthesis means that trees, I mean huge freaking honking TREES, are constructed literally out of thin air). Instead kids practice their applied geometry on "blood" spatter patterns, think about physics in relation to bullet trajectories, contemplate different chemistries in regard to different latent print development.

What a shame.
posted by Sublimity at 9:37 PM on May 14, 2009 [10 favorites]

I can't tell if you're assuming my enthusiasm for it comes from having watched too many episodes of CSI or not (which I certainly haven't, because they're so shittily written that I've literally never been able to sit through a single episode in its entirety), but for the record, I actually genuinely loved chemistry, biology, and anthropology in high school and early college, but I resisted majoring in a science because I didn't want to go to med school. Had forensics been available to me, I might have seen that I could have done something else with my interest in science besides becoming a doctor or a researcher, and therefore instead of majoring in two humanities, I would have majored in one alongside a science. And that might very well have changed my career trajectory, even if I never wound up doing blood splatter analysis at a crime scene (especially given that I wound up volunteering many years in my 20s and into my 30s as an activist/advocate for the wrongly convicted).

But yeah: violence, woo! /sarcasm
posted by scody at 10:31 PM on May 14, 2009

I've always imagined forensic science must be the most boring thing imaginable, at least for the technicians. Most of the genetic tests and such are standardized and you're always working with the same species and the same assays, so you'd basically end up doing the exact same laboratory procedure again and again forever. Eventually you'd get cabin fever and change fields.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:50 PM on May 14, 2009

My sister spent the first two years at university wasting her time because she changed from a lifetime ambition to study zoology to studying forensic science based on spending her senior highschool years watching shows like CSI and deciding it was so cool. She soon (well two years soon) learned it wasn't all she thought it would be.
Considering her father was a police officer you would have thought she might have asked him a few questions first ...
posted by Megami at 1:52 AM on May 15, 2009

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