Monday, January 21, 2019

The whitewashing of Dr. King

When I die, I hope nobody mistakes my kindness for niceness. I am not a nice man.
Dr. King's life profoundly affected mine.


I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice....Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr., from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
***

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.

Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.
Do not confuse kindness with niceness.

During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed "cooperation." Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools' "People Must Work Together" King contest wrote "That's what we must do today - demonstrate cooperation." This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.

"Love" is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. "Cooperation" is much safer, more sanitary.

And it's the wrong message.
***

My Dad joined  the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.

My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.

Read "Letter From a Birmingham Jail."
Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it's complicated. Life is complex,

You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don't "cooperate" with those who would steal his image without his words, the Mike Pences, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow today.

Take a walk, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King's letter and read it under the January sunlight.

Share it. Live it.
Don't let the dream die.




The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963)  is from the National Archives and is the public domain.
This is a repost.

Friday, December 21, 2018

5:23 P.M.


5:23 P.M. here--the sun stands still, shifts its mass*, and heads back north.

6 months ago, when we sat on the opposite side of the sun, I celebrated the summer solstice, a joy tinged with the weight of knowing the sun would start its slow, long course southward.

Winter is only hours old, and winters can be brutal here. The light, however is returning.

When I was a child, winter meant cold, summer heat. I did not, could not, grasp why the elders got so excited late December, at the cusp of winter, when we faced long wintry days.

I get it now.
***

I stood outside last night in the chill with my youngest, now a quarter century old, watching our shadow drift across the moon, a wavering copper-gold washing in from the moon's left.

My mom used to tell me she could see me as an infant even as I stood before her as a man. I laughed, of course. I am big--over 200# big.

I get it now.
***

I still give tests, more out of habit than sense now. Performance on science tests a few days before the Christmas break follow a predictable pattern, and my students did not fail to fail.

We do a lot of things because we do them. If mastery's the goal, then a class average of low 70's with a bell-shaped curve, a science teacher's dream a generation ago, marks my failure.

On my board today two-foot numbers announced the time of the solstice--5:23 P.M. Solstice literally means the sun stands still.

Very few students notice how far the sun has shifted since class started just 3 1/2 months ago. There's no need. Food comes in boxes, heat in radiators. The whole world of technique is magic to them.

In Ireland this morning, the sun rose, as it has, as it will. A shaft of sunlight flashed through a chamber in Newgrange built thousands of years ago, before the Great Pyramids, before the Celts arrived, before Stone Henge.

We will not study this in science, nor will our students study this in history class. We will create a class ready for the 21st century, for the abstract, for a culture that confuses bank profits with economy.
***

If children owned the winter solstice, the dying light, knowing what waits for each of us before a 100 winter solstices pass, would they come to school?

Would you?

I believe schools can be worth the time children invest in them. I am not convinced we're there yet.

At least not as long as I keep practicing education as religion, using a script written generations before me.



*The sun may indeed change direction if we use Earth as the reference point, but "shifted its mass" is, of course, incorrect, since it implies uneven forces were applied to it. Since I have yet to find a better explanation for "mass" beyond "the amount of inertia stuff has," even a poetic license does not give me permission to spew such nonsense.




But I spew it anyway....

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Christmas comet story

Another comet hangs in the sky. Here's a story from years ago.
Philipp Salzgeber, CC
She was a kid.

She was dying.
Everyone knew, and yet no one would say it.

Her mother asked that no one tell her child what was going on.
I saw her after her surgery, her head wrapped like a genie, sitting on her bed.

Her mother wanted me to promise I would not tell her.
I told the mother I would not lie if asked.

The comet hung in the sky like a jewel that summer 20 years ago.

It was evening.
I was tired.
The mother was tired
The child was dying.

I asked the other if I could take her child to a room where the comet was visible.
The mother said OK.
She did not come along.

I knew what I would say if the child asked.
The mother knew as well.

And the child never asked.

But she saw the comet.
The last one she saw.
Not the last one I saw.

And Hale-Bopp makes me sad every time I see a photo.




She never asked so she could protect the adults around her.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The pursuit of happiness


I took a walk barefoot along the edge of the bay today.
It's December, so I am re-posting this.

A rose hip in December.
The dark days. Again.

My imagination fails me, as it will, surrounded by human light, human sounds, human smells. I cannot remember the smell of honeysuckle or the soft glow of lightning bugs or the warmth that wrapped around me in early summer.

I keep a small jar of rich soil dug from my compost pile on my desk in school. Now and then, in the middle of class, I take a whiff. The children see my joy I get from the earthy aroma.

My lambs know by December that I want them to have happy, useful lives. They know I want this for every one of them.

Why else bother teaching?
***

Thomas Jefferson got the tone just right when he penned "the pursuit of happiness." It is not an idle phrase, though it does sound a bit embarrassing in context of the modern classroom, the modern office, the modern mall.

Jefferson lived before we learned how to distract ourselves with twisted visions of immortality. We have become our own gods. Mortal illness comes as a surprise, dismissed as an inconvenience. Our cultural psychosis belittles those among us who dare to expose our mortality--if they only believed hard enough, they would be cured.

Ironically, the generation closest to achieving immortality is least equipped to deal with it. Time spent on-line chasing zombies or aliens or a Nazi nation long since quelled hardly seems worth all the fuss.

We no longer seek a life worth living. We'd just rather avoid death.

Death is inevitable. Pursuing happiness is not.
***

Yesterday one of my students came running up to me with a pot of tiny basil plants she had sowed a few weeks before.
"Smell it! Smell it!"

I did. And I glowed. Growing a plant in a classroom fits in the curriculum. A child sharing her joy at its sensuousness is not.

The seed, no larger than the head of a pin, darker than a cloudy December night, grew in a pot of peat. Shiny green leaves erupted from the seeds, now effusively shedding aromatic molecules that made me grin in December.

Something from nothing, at least nothing we could see. The poets have something to say, but so do the biologists. The aroma released from the leafs was made of carbon captured from the breaths of the same student clutching the pot.

If you've never sown a seed before, this is a big deal. If you've sown seeds for much of your life, it's still a big deal.

A hundred years from now, the human world may be very different, but seeds will still grow when planted.

(I am having pesto for dinner tonight from last summer's garden.)

None of us know what this world is all about. A few among us will tell you to live a certain way in order to reach worlds that no one has seen. A few among us will tell our children to live a certain way to strengthen abstract concepts like country, or economy, or success.

Success is a slippery word, but happiness is not. You know when you're happy, even when you're not sure how you got there.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness--how many of these fit into your district's curriculum? How many fit in your classroom?

If we continue to raise our kids for a better economy, a better nation, a better world while neglecting their inalienable right to their pursuit of happiness, we risk the "blood-dimmed tide" Yeats spoke of.

Happiness is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.
Mortality is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.

Why did you walk into your classroom today? Did you give your lambs at least as good as reason?




Photos are mine, and yours (CC, yadda yadda)....

Sunday, November 18, 2018

A monarch and a meteor


It's a mid-30's chilly, a bright Venus, dawn sliding up over the east, Sirius fading over the bay just west of us.

Most of the of the stars have faded out, deferring to the early light.

 A little late to be searching for meteors. And then a spine-chilling, brilliant flash, streaking west. A Leonid.

I had almost given up, except the early morning light itself was wonderful, and I had forgotten (because it is easy for modern humans to forget these things) how deep a joy the early dawn sky brings.

My son and I once waited a long, long time on a very chilly November night, 16 years ago, to see the Leonids, and at dawn we were rewarded--several brilliant Leonids every minute, a spectacular light.show. We were seeing dust left from a comet's pass back in 1866.


Yesterday, Leslie and I took a walk along the edge of the Atlantic at Two Mile Beach. The long light of late autumn drenches everything in gold.

I was bumbling around looking for sand dollars, which I rarely find, when I saw a fluttering flash of orange. A monarch butterfly, soaked, wings flattened against the sand, its antennae twisted together like a cartoon.

It was alive, so I picked it up. It grasped my finger and tried to unfurl its wings. The edge of one wing was lined with sand.

We walked it back to the dunes, found a starthistle bathed in sunlight, and (after a bit of resistance) managed to get the monarch off my finger onto the plant.

We took our walk, and when we returned, the monarch was still there, but in a better position, its wings and antennae in better shape. It might still be there now.



And we might be here now, when we choose to be...
Both photos by Leslie.



Saturday, November 3, 2018

Abrogation of the Big K

"It follows from the new definition of the SI described above that, effective from 20 May 2019...the definition of the kilogram in force since 1889 (1st meeting of the CGPM, 1889, 3rd meeting of the CGPM, 1901) based upon the mass of the international prototype of the kilogram is abrogated."

 A last link to a world still small enough to be known by humans
A reminder from 1889 that the world was once real.

A small cylinder of  metal, mostly platinum with some iridium, sits inside a bell jar, which sits inside another, which sits inside a third, like some illustration from a Dr. Seuss book.

To get to it, you need three keys, each key carried by a gnome--well, no, people,not gnomes.

Le Grand K (the Big K), the kilogram, the operational definition of the kilogram, a hunk of metal crafted by human hands in 1889, sitting in a basement just outside Paris.

Electrons had yet to be discovered. the current model of the atom inconceivable.

In less than two weeks the General Conference on Weights and Measures, the Olympics of metrology (and like the Olympics, meet only every 4 years) will gather together and change the standard for the kilogram.

The new standards will be based on "the present theoretical description of nature at the highest level," and the last vestiges of measurement still tied to our direct relationships with the natural world will be severed.

And the Big K? It will be "abrogated," a perfect word for our imperfect behavior, eliminating by decree of something real for something perfect, perhaps the tragic flaw of humanism.

This Luddite prefers imperfect reality to the world we've created.


I get why redefining the kilogram matters, and feeling sad about it borders on the sentimental.
The human world has long drifted away from the natural world.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Samhain, again

I have spent, in the basest sense of that word, hours
of my God-given life working on a document required of teachers here in Jersey.
That I do these things speaks to a cultural insanity, and mine as well.


And here it is a year later, and I'm doing it again.



Do ghosts exist?

I've lived  long enough to know that they don't.
I've lived long enough to know that they do.

That odd, inexplicable events happen, and happen daily, is evident to anyone paying attention. The shame is that so few of us are paying attention to the natural world, we miss the rhythms and the mysteries that  envelop our modern minds every moment.


Today is All Saints Day, to celebrate the sanctified among us, as though following some moral order could save us from the coming dark, a world in which wasp larvae eat hornworms alive, from the inside out, and humans die monstrous deaths lying in ICUs with multiple tubes pierced into the body, hoping that like St. Sebastian, we will miraculously recover.



If you need a video to be convinced ghosts exist, you don't truly know what it means to know that the dead are among us.

The question of ghosts is not an idle one. We follow spirits of our own making all the time. We follow rules and rhythms of our own making now, wrapping ourselves in a sad cocoon of  hubris, wiling away our hours fulfilling nothing more than deadlines upon deadlines without a hint of irony.


I'm headed out to a mudflat tomorrow, under a wet and wild early winter sky, to rake up a few clams, alive as I am, and as alive as I am, I will be as dead as those clams will be tonight in less than a lifetime.




Until you believe in the ghost you will be, you cannot truly live.
Originally posted 4 years ago. I like rhythms.