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Amanda Peñaloza-Banks

When I was young, I remember feeling the pressure of deciding what I wanted to be and do when I was older. It started very young. An early memory, from when I was maybe seven or eight years old, was of being asked precisely that inevitable question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember feeling flustered and anxious about this question, not knowing what to say and feeling that I ‘should’ have the answer.

As an older teenager, a crossroads stood before me, it was time to choose between two passions; dance or nature. I chose dance and have had a wonderful journey ever since, but occasionally I have veered off the path to delve into conservation pursuits, and every so often I dream that dream; the one where I am heading off into the wilds to track a wolf pack….

Today, I realize that this curiosity about science and nature is still with me and the yearning to exist in a world of ‘art and science’, rather than one of ‘art or science’, is real and dear to me.

Working for CoTA, I am fortunate to be able to merge these two disciplines. It is my most rewarding challenge; to take a scientific concept and imagine how its embodiment might aid a child’s understanding of it. To use the body’s brain as well as the head’s brain to forge academic connections, and to create dances that meaningfully communicate some fundamental aspect of a scientific process. I am also fortunate to see the fruits of this endeavor; witnessing students totally immerse themselves in becoming the monarch butterfly on its migration, or two vast tectonic plates drifting immeasurably past one another, or an atom on a quest to find another atom to connect with.

I think the notion of ‘science and art’ as opposed to ‘science or art’ is important not just to me personally, but on a wider stage of education and life in general. Yes, sometimes we do have to choose between one thing or another. And yes, we may have to dedicate many long years to become the master in our specialized field. And, yes, it is important to respect the embodied knowledge and instinctive skill-set that is gained from a lifetime’s experience in one discipline.

But, as with all things, there is a balance to be found. Specialism sits on one end, and on the other there sits a breadth of focus, a widening of vision, and a curiosity for and appreciation of learning in all its forms. In our modern world of compartmentalization, specialism and divisiveness, finding the connections is vital.
We give our children a wonderful gift when we encourage them to embrace learning in all its diversity. We are after all a species that has evolved a consciousness and a sense of wanting to grow to our fullest potential. That growth requires soil, water, sun, air and space; having one without another would only stunt us.

If I could go back to my eight year old self being asked THAT question, I would answer with a laugh and a mischievous twinkle in my eye as I said “Well, I want to be a scientist, a dancer, a conservationist, a philosopher, and a mountain climber… But I’ll settle for being someone who will always be curious about the universe around me… Oh, and in amongst that I’ll earn enough to live a decent life!”