Sunday, June 13, 2010


Paddling directly into into a 20 mph breeze for 40 minutes burns a lot of calories--figure about 500, give or take 150.We gathered two dozen clams, from little necks to chowders, and probably burned another couple hundred calories.

Our clams provided us with maybe 350 calories.

Oh, we got all kinds of goodness from them, fresh clams scream with deliciousness. We got sunshine, we got salt spray, we got the good kind of sore muscles.

But we also got negative calories. This is unsustainable.


What does this have to do with biology?

Food is biology. It provides the stuff and energy that allow us to build a few trillion cells to become who we are. It ultimately comes from sugars built by green plants, carbon dioxide and water joined together, fueled by the fusion of our sun.

If it costs more energy to get food than the food provides, we starve to death.
OK, we get it. Besides, we got plenty of food, we don't have to rake for no clams, the supermarket got everything we need, sheesh, teach, you're weird...
The foods we get from our grocery stores require more calories to produce than the calories they store. This is easy to ignore in a culture that spends billions of dollars a year to shed calories.

We use more energy than we get back using today's industrial farming methods. Petroleum comes from ancient organisms, once food, and the energy released from it was captured from sunlight hundreds of millions of years ago.

Industrial farming feeds a lot of people, but we're living on our savings, calories stored over millennia. Artificial fertilizer takes a lot of fuel to make. Manure works, too, but it is heavy, hard to spread, and the animals are raised far away from the corn these days. The only farms my students "know" no longer exist.

We could fix this, of course. A good public school education could teach children where things come from, where wastes go.

We could focus our values on creation instead of consumption. We could teach a child how to grow basil, how to raise and slaughter chickens, how to make compost, all in the name of biology and good citizenship.

I know it's impossible to start a farm in a studio apartment, but it's not impossible to grow a sprig of basil in the window. Education is about possibilities.

We lie to the children and tell them they can grow up to be the President of the United States, that they can be whatever they want to be if they try hard enough, yet rob them of life's experiences as they sit under the hum of fluorescence, learning how to manipulate quadratic equations without once ever shelling a pea pod.

I think an hour or two of hanging around outside every day, mucking in clam beds or gardens or just plain mud, would wreck the grade point average (GPA) of some of our finest students. (I also think it would do them a ton of good.)

I think an hour or two of teaching self-sufficiency each week might also wreck the GPA of some of our students--not because of "lost" instructional time, but because a few might start questioning what they are doing in school.

Some of my brightest students never graduate because they started asking what the function of school is before they are mature enough to wrestle with the inconsistencies and paradoxes thinking adults face daily in our culture.

A major goal in my class is getting children to realize that we all know a whole lot less than we think we do, another to help them learn how to make connections, a third simply to teach them how to observe.
I live in the same town as the children I teach. I like to be around happy, autonomous people. If they want to learn how to be sensible, however, they best avoid a teacher foolish enough to kayak in a 17 knot breeze scratching for clams and buy the canned chowder instead.


Leslie said...

But fresh picked tastes better. Next time, we'll pay more attention to the weather forecast.

doyle said...

Dear Leslie,

Got to get to those clam trees at their peak!



Leslie said...

Oops! guess I was mixing up the clams we "harvested" from the peas we "picked" from the garden.

A mistake anyone could make! Both were delicious.



KPd. said...

@my parents
You guys are cute.

doyle said...

Well, at least the Doyle clan is reading this....