This I Believe

Kathleen - San Juan Capistrano, California
Entered on August 28, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: science

I was opening the refrigerator to get the orange juice when my brilliant, lawyer husband posed a scientific query. Because he can remember every single ort of information that stems from early childhood, as well as what the baseball stats were at the game last night, he garners a certain amount of self-esteem from pop quizzes—especially since I rarely know the correct response.

“How many planets are in our solar system?” He enthusiastically chirps.

Now, this seems random to me, initially, but then, I recall our last family gathering for collective birthdays at a trendy seafood restaurant. After someone mentioned something about one of the war memorials, he turned to our daughter who was dabbing her napkin to her chin.

“What was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War?”

I think hard about the planets, reaching back into my childhood science project complete with Styrofoam balls from Stat’s Floral Supply.

“I don’t know…maybe nine?”

“Now there are eight,” he states with smug “I heard it first” satisfaction. “Pluto’s been demoted to dwarf status.”

My initial reaction is to consider how this breaking news will make short people feel. Is this P.C.? I never realized that to be a planet, you had to have achieved a certain size. What will Stat’s do with their inventory of those very small Styrofoam balls? So, what we are saying here is that small is no longer large enough to be counted?

Then I think about the science textbooks. Having been a teacher myself, I sympathize with the coping skills it will take on the part of teachers and students alike to grasp the fact that science—the one subject we thought had a rather unalterable character to it—is not about fact. It, too, can shift in its prejudice and bias.

What’s to become of all the planetarium ceiling-art? Was the Disney character named after the planet? An entire raft of disturbing questions assaults my brain, as I pour the juice hailed by astronauts of my youth to be part of the healthiest drink in the solar system.

What is most difficult for me to understand, however, is the choice of ousted planet. We are all told, over and over, by men and women alike, that size is not what matters. So why not leave Pluto alone and demote the planet that causes the biggest stir in the classroom—Uranus? If we can tolerate such giggling bathroom banter among our children, certainly there’s room for a dwarf like Pluto. We could always rename the other planets: Sleepy, Dopey, Bashful, Happy—well, I guess that would be living in a fairy-tale universe.