Sunday, August 26, 2018

Lichen and the local economy

Lichen on one of our chairs
I saw a wasp attack a patch of lichen on our Adirondack chair.

Wasps are fascinatingly creepy as they stalk prey among the flowers, but this one got fooled. It stalked the lichen, then made its attack. After a moment or two of trying to do something with the lichen, it flew a couple of feet away and then cleaned its legs, classic displacement behavior.

(It was embarrassed.)

The chair was made by a local man, the price not cheap, but more than fair, and he was surprised we opted not to oil them. We like to see things age as much as we do, and, in the local way of acceptance that is under-rated, he nodded and went on his way.

Because we chose not to oil our chairs, they have turned grey and are covered by lichen. They are now ten years old, and will likely last another 5. With oil, they may have outlived us.

When we need new ones, we’ll seek the same man. We do not need chairs to outlive us. That's what plastic is for.

Because we chose not to oil them a decade ago, I got to see a wasp explore the lichen, which might not seem like much, but I enjoyed seeing that a wasp could be as easily fooled as a human.





We are all easily fooled--life is foolish, in the best sense of the word.



On collecting seeds

We trust our words more than our hands, the abstract more than our senses. This will make you unhappy (even if it makes you rich).

Dill seeds from the garden

I collect seeds to let my fingers be fingers, the dexterity and subtle touch I miss when just hitting a keyboard or groping a pen.

I collect seeds because each one has a story, each one has a shared history, each one is alive.

I collect seeds because I can imagine the flower it once was, and is no longer, and the bees that visited, and may still be around.

I collect seeds because I am sloppy, and some will scatter and get washed by the rain to the crack in the driveway, where a singe dill plant once stood.

I collect seeds because I like to be outside under the sky.

I collect seeds because I like to. I buy them anyway, because it’s easy (and cheap) enough to support folks who still trust their hands, and I end up with plenty of leftovers in cute packages that I share with my students.


Never underestimate the value of a cute paper packet to a 14 year old child..


Saturday, August 18, 2018

Baby trees in the classroom

I have access to baby trees. Odds are pretty good that you do, too. Look around your yard, your park, your school grounds, and once you know what to look for, once you know that there's something to look for, you will see them.

Every weed you pull out of the ground has a history, a family as deep and ancient as yours, and a yen for life. A sapling has no need for a rosary to know what matters.

If you pull a tiny tree out of the ground carefully, put it in a pot with some dirt, some water, and some sunlight, there's a good chance it will survive.

Knowing that that baby trees exist, knowing what's possible, that's the point.

For less than a dollar a pot, I have a chance to change a child's world.

National Forest Foundation plans to plant 50 million trees!

The problem with human imagination is that it cannot hold the natural world within its vision. Nothing on a screen can replicate a small pot holding a tree. a tree that will be much bigger than the child who holds it, a tree that will, if planted carefully, outlive the young person who planted.

We hide this from kids, their mortality. We fear our own mortality. We do not talk of the dead in America.

(Yes, I know each of our tribes have the stories, and each of our tribes shares the stories, and each of our tribes commune with those who have left this Earth, but that is not the American story that refuses to accept limits.)

Most kids will not want a tree, and a few who want it will be too fearful to ask. A few of the trees will die before next spring.

But a few will survive this winter, settle into the Earth, and will grow, knitting carbon dioxide into the stuff of trees, the stuff of us, and a child will notice the tree, long after I am dead, because the tree is interesting.




What else could a teacher possibly want?
My camera is not working well--photos whenever I can.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

STEM is not the answer

A year ago young adults marched through an American city carrying torches.
One was wearing a shirt suggesting he was an engineering student.
So I'm throwing this up again.

The push for STEM rests on the misguided premise that public education exists to serve the nation's economic and military interests, as though our economic and military objectives are set in our Constitution.


There are many good reason to study math and science in school, but serving the international economy is not one of them. Maintaining the world's most powerful military while decimating its diplomatic corps is not a good reason, either.

I'm betting that the young man on the far right (see what I did there?) is not wearing the ARKANSAS ENGINEERING tee just for show.

Why is he marching? He's probably angry about something. Maybe engineering isn't as lucrative as he had hoped, maybe he blames the rising tide of Indians or Korean or Japanese, maybe he's unhappy because he's been chasing a carrot he realizes never tasted good.

Maybe he really believes that the young woman who kicked his ass in fluid mechanics got an extra 20 points on her final exam because, well....

If you are a science teacher, never forget that any compulsory education, science or otherwise, is never politically neutral. You have the same ethical obligations to our students that your social studies faculty have.

Don't hide behind "but I teach science." Don't hide behind "but I'm color blind."

You're teaching children some exceedingly powerful stuff--help them develop the maturity needed to handle it



(It's all I can do without sputtering....)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Nagasaki, again

Nagasaki, again--because we must never forget.



On August 9, 1945, just over 2 1/2 pounds of plutonium was converted to energy 1650 feet over Nagasaki.

Two and a half pounds--about the weight of a 28 week premature newborn baby.

長崎





Italic


Yosuke Yamahata, A Japanese army photographer, took this picture the day after the Fat Man fell over Nagasaki.

More of Mr. Yamahata's photography can be seen here.







The photo and the quote are from © The Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu

Yes, this is a repeat, and will be repeated every year that I maintain the blog.
We must never forget what we are capable of doing.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hiroshima,again

Hiroshima was destroyed on August 5th, 7:16 PM, our time--just under an hour before our sunset.


 

広島



Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. ... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. . . . What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.



It happened on this date, this "greatest achievement."




New technology used to "solve" an old problem. We cannot help ourselves.

Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, suggested "we ought to stay out of the nuclei." Until we have a clue what we want, sounds like good advice.

You cannot separate tools from the critters who use them. Teaching science as some compartmentalized thought process without cultural context is a dangerous game.

What is our responsibility as teachers of science?
As citizens of the United States?
As human beings?

***
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer



And now I teach science to (very) young adults. I have a responsibility to them, to the state, to myself.

Harry S. Truman called the bombing of Hiroshima "the greatest achievement of organized science." If that does not give you pause, you should not be teaching science.

You should not be teaching anything at all.




This is posted every year, as a reminder to me.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Why prepping for the new school year is an absolute waste of time.

The hardest (or rather impossible) part of prepping for the new school year is not knowing my students yet.


I have access to their prior grades, their neighborhoods, their IEPs and 504s and whatever else defines them on their permanent record. I even have their photos (which, as a parent in the same district, I find a tad creepy).

But I do not know them yet.

And that is all the difference.




And yet I try each year anyway.
The triumph of hope over experience.