Thursday, January 7, 2010

William Carlos Williams teaches science

I keep thinking about the blue sparks I saw, and heard. Evanescent, almost palpable, rippling under the cotton.

I remember now when I last saw the same kind of ethereal blue. August, at the edge of the bay, I watched an errant comb jelly flash away its last few moments of life.

And my mind keeps wandering back to voltages and electrons, human (though useful) conceits.

No ideas but in things.

William Carlos Williams knew this, I'm still learning it.

We just finished ecology--we started just before the solstice.
I wish I had started with this:

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine—
like no leaf that ever was—
edge the bare garden.

WCW, "Approach of Winter"

No ideas but in things. That's where science starts. In the rolling blue light under a t-shirt is the thing. Everything else about it--voltages and electrons and energy and photons--concepts to explain, epiphenomena, but not the thing.

We need to teach children to see before they can think.
There is no way to test this in a multiple choice exam.

My students are required to observe, and write about, a perennial plant. Each student watches the same plant throughout the school year. A few thought it was, well, pointless when they started, but since it was easy point, I did not get too much push-back.

And now they have grown attached to what they didn't notice before.

No ideas but in things.

The photo was lifted from The Poetry Foundation.

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