Saturday, August 7, 2010

On ignorance

The sun slips toward the water. The breeze brings with it the thump-thump-thump of a karaoke box from Harpoon Henry's, a shore joint just over the dune. We barely here it over the waves, but we hear it.

I wandered into the muddy bay, up to my waist. The water is a little chilly, but my toes, buried in the sand, are warm, leftover heat from the sun hitting the beach before the tide rose.

A jelly comb drifts by, its edges marked by iridescent waves. A small crab scurries over my foot.

I am alive, as alive as I can be, and so is the jelly comb.

Tonight we're eating basil and cucumbers from the garden; yesterday we ate the tomatoes, and before that, the beans.

The tide rises, the tide falls, an incomprehensible volume of water moving twice a day a stone's throw from here.
Why? The moon, the sun, gravity....

Why? Well, the moon and the sun pull...

Why? Good Lord, child, no one knows why, no one....


The standardized tests allegedly test what we know. I want a test that tests what we don't know.

If our culture collapses in the next generation or two (and there are signs it may do just that), it will not collapse because of what we think we know.

It will collapse because of our stubborn refusal to acknowledge what we cannot know, or what we pretend to know.

If you watch a comb jelly even for a few moments on a late afternoon in August, really watch, allowing yourself to be washed by the beauty of a creature as foreign as Jupiter, you will (if only for a moment) grasp that we know nothing at all about anything beyond our human conceits.

And if you see the same creature glow at night, you might even worship it.


What would a test like that look like? How do you test for true ignorance?

Ignorance is easy to feign--some kids are motivated enough to study arcane ideas for hours in order to do well on tests that will get them ahead in life.

A child can be coerced into memorizing the equation for photosynthesis. Few kids grasp the significance, and why should they in a world dominated by lust and image and inopportune zits? It cannot be taught in a day, a week, a unit.

I could spend weeks on the sun alone, a magnificent star, a sphere of plasma. I could create plasma in the classroom, get my lambs excited about energy and matter as the boundaries between the two dissolve. Nothing here happens before the sun's existence.

But we do not worship the sun anymore.

We worship our words, our buildings, our cleverness.

So how would you assess ignorance, the awareness of how little we really know?
And should teachers spend more time showing what we don't know, instead of what we do?

The photo of Ra is from Falgun Angadia.
The sun photo gets credited to NASA--one massive solar flare hurled towards Earth, and it's lights out.


Mr. David M. Beyer said...

I don't always agree with you, but I like the way you make me think.

doyle said...

Dear Mr. David M. Beyer,

Thanks--those are the highest words of praise a blogger can hope for.

And to be fair, there are days when even I don't agree with myself.