Monday, October 11, 2010

Infinite jest

I am very careful not to tip my hand in class. While I am responsible for teaching my puppies how to think, I am loathe to tell them what to think.

I trust that most humans with open minds and reasonable tools for observation are kind, rational, and loving, and I have yet to see anything that demolishes my hypothesis.

My job? Keep their minds open and teach them how to observe.

It doesn't make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees with real-life results, it is wrong. That's all there is to it.
Richard Feynman

Why does this come up now?
I'm teaching our interdependence unit, ecology.

Not the hippy-dippy squirrel-kissing tree-hugging VW lovebug version (as much fun as that might be) but the real thing--interdependence.

It's a hard unit to teach, not the least of which is the creeping hubris that wanders into any discussion about "solutions."

Life changes the planet. It makes messes, it continuously molds the environment, often making it unliveable for myriad species. Heck, we polluted the atmosphere with a strong oxidizing molecules over two billion years ago when our ancestors were single-celled cyanobacteria.

Humans appear to be particularly good at changing things--we're in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction, but life will muddle its way through, even if humans choose to step out of the party.

Still, it's not something I want to throw at sophomores before their 4th decade on Earth, and most of them will have graduated from high school by then.

We are consuming more calories than our green cousins can capture from the sun, literally living on borrowed time, energy stored over the millenia by organisms now reduced (that's a bio pun, son) to petroleum.
Should I share this?

Our current industrial agricultural practices are unsustainable for more than a few generations.

Should I share this?

Economic "growth," a cornerstone of our Federal policy, ultimately depends on what the Earth can give, not on what we can extract, no matter how much we posture. (We've just about made "capitalism" and "democracy" synonymous, no?)

Should I share this?

I do share this much.

Life requires an influx of useful energy, just about all of it coming from the sun. The amount of sunlight hitting the Earth daily is finite.

Ultimately we are, too.

None of us will live forever, shocking news to a sophomore, and no doubt I'll be a bit surprised, too, when my cells give up the ghost.

If by the end of the year my puppies realize that limits exist, unforgiving limits at that, yet still see the joy in the flutter of a swimming scallop, well, I've done my job.

The crab took us on just a couple of days ago.
He was, apparently, the self-appointed guardian of the Delaware Bay.
After I took its picture, we wandered away, but he continued his steadfast defense.
I think it's an Asian shore crab--any thoughts?

The scallop video was uploaded by Cas1920.


Sean Nash said...

To steal a page out of your playbook...

Here we are behind glass and plastic keys. Here we are sheltered from heavy metals hidden in this box of light. Here: ...children become toxic by scraping through our scrap.

Where exactly does that fit into the lesson series?

Shermira said...

Yes, I must agree that you definitely would have done your job!!
Hi, I am new to this sight and I was browsing through some pages. Your entry was beautiful and meaningful. I live in the United States Virgin Islands where I teach 9th grade English and Reading.
I guess teachers everywhere seem to have a common goal and I must say that we can tell them how to walk down the path, but only they can figure out how to place one foot in front of the other. Connecting lessons with life will always draw their interest and create critical thinkers.