Breaking Bad – drugs, chemistry and teaching

I hardly watched any TV before having children. I was not familiar at all with American drama series. But along came my children and my entertainment habits had to change. It was at that time that I came across Desperate Housewives and in a manner completely out of character, I became addicted to the series.  As it turns out Desperate Housewives was my rite of passage. Because shortly after that, it was Dr House that got me hooked and then Fringe, which excited my imagination and triggered so many discussion about time, the universe and everything else.

The latest offering that has me glued on the screen is the American drama Breaking Bad.  This is the story of Walter White a struggling secondary school (high school in American terminology) chemistry teacher. His diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer triggers a landslide of changes in his personal life and choices that shatter his morals and values. He turns to crime producing high quality crystal meth by taking advantage of his chemistry expertise. Through his illness and his drug dealings he emerges a completely different person – not in the best possible way.  The series is a condemnation of the country’s health service, but also a thought provoking observation on human nature.

I am intrigued by the storyline, the building up of each one of the original characters and particularly by the main character whose metamorphosis occurs in a most unconventional way.


But what is really spoiling it for me is the school scenes. They unsettle me and make me disengaged. Walter White’s teaching is one-way and instructional.  He does not interact with his pupils except to ask questions about facts. He bombards them with information and spends most of the time writing on the board while talking to the students. His pupils are not engaged in any way, and it seems to me that their learning process is limited to taking notes. There are no experiments and demonstrations, no whole class or small group discussions.  His class is boring, his teaching dry and uninspiring.

The teaching style reminds me of my teachers and my own school experience 25 years ago. Walter White gets across as an old-fashioned teacher.  He stands behind his bench and delivers the lessons.  It looks like the role of this bench is for White to define his territory.  He does not cross over to reach out to his pupils, but maintains a distance. As we occasionally get glimpses of White teaching chemistry, I cannot help but wonder. Is it an accurate representation of science teaching in the USA? Or is it just the case in the state of New Mexico? And will the Common Core initiative improve science teaching?

If you have experience of science teaching in the USA, please share in the comments section. I would like to find out more about science education in the country.


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