Saturday, September 25, 2010

Hermit crabs and the universe

These are hermit crabs.

They're called hermit crabs because humans decided to call them that. If they knew, they wouldn't care.

While wandering across the Villas tidal flats, which extend hundreds and hundreds of yards out from the high tide mark, I stumbled across a posse of hermit crabs. Every time I walk the flats, I think of the Five Chinese Brothers.

They were grooving and fighting and loving and just being their ornery hermit crab selves, fighting for shells, for space, for love.

I was hunting for quahogs, found a few (but not enough) for dinner, not even thinking about the hermit crabs before I got there.

I am thinking of them now.

I teach biology to sophomores. I teach AP Biology to seniors.

A mother brought her three children to the flats today, one still young enough to remain attached to her hip the whole time.

She stumbled on the name of the horseshoe crab. But that hardly matters.

The children were in fairly new clothes, probably bought for school this year. The mother told the children not to worry about that.

She knows what matters. I wish all parents did.

I teach in a public school, and proud to do so. Not sure what happens when our culture loses the concept of "public," but until the whole thing falls apart (or I do, mortality has its disadvantages), I will continue to do what I do.

We had something good here in the States.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Oprah, Cory, Mark, and Chris

My sister believed that so long as people are capable of change, and they are, we keep fighting.

I believe that within a decade or two, given the insatiable appetite of the economic elite, public education will be unrecognizable, if it even still exists.

So why do I teach?
  • Because the world is a wonderful place.
  • Because our essence requires that we dance, no matter what, no matter how we're judged.
  • I believe redemption is possible.
  • And most important, I believe we need to pursue excellence, truth, and love no matter who's banging at the gate. A lot of civilizations more honorable than ours have been extinguished. I pray a lot of civilizations more honorable than ours will rise again.
If you do not know why you teach (beyond the paycheck), please get out.

Somewhere in Newark my signature lies on several death certificates of children who should still be alive.

Somewhere in Newark my signature lies on orders written in vain (and ridiculous) efforts to save children the city, the state, the country, and the universe refuse to acknowledge.

I failed.

I wish for the sake of the children that Governor Christie and Mayor Booker and Oprah and Mr. Zuckerberg succeed. Maybe we need a knowingly ignorant Quattuorvirate to come in to save this town.

But I doubt it. I really do.

And in the meantime the children continue to suffer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

September afternoon

Once or twice a year I get a day that reminds me that while it's great to be human, we're not the whole story.

I saw a hawk struggle to carry its prey as a squirrel, no doubt kin, chased after it.

I saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of monarch butterflies wend their way south. A few hesitated at the Cape May ferry jetty, flitting at the edge of the canal. Another would come by, the two would chase each other, then together, would cross.

I saw a huge hawk moth hover like a hummingbird, unrolling an impossibly long proboscis into 4 o'clocks, Lepidoptra porn.

I saw an osprey carry a fish in its talons.

I saw small blues chase peanut bunker out of the water.

I have never regretted a single moment outside. I've been chilled to the bone, sunburned, airborne, and scared.

We belong under the sky. We'll all be under the ground soon enough.

The photo was taken a few hours ago--the bush was covered with dozens of monarchs,
as well as a few buckeyes and red admirals, wasps and bees.
It was like Peaceable Kingdom for the Six-Legged.

Hard to kill what you know

I was out squishing a variety of critters munching on my Brussels sprouts when I stumbled on this fellow.

He's still munching....

Harlequin stink bug eating my food....had Leslie had taken the photos, they would be focused.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Technology even a Luddite can love

Just a quick peek in--it's the beginning of the year, and things are lovely, with the exception of a very local, very sad loss that will remain both local and sad--Bloomfield is a true community. We miss you, Michael.


A few fish moved in this morning, a lot of roly polies will soon follow. I've brought back my wooden flute, seeds, a rattle back, a huge horseshoe crab shell, and a variety of other tchotchkes that make a science class a science home.

But that's not why I write.

Social media gets expensive--I buy this, I sign up for that, and before I know it I've frittered away both hours and money on shiny things that I will never use. My wife thinks I'm a magpie.

Even a stopped clock, however, is right twice a day. Some twit dude named @fnoschese tweeted something about using plain vanilla whiteboards in class. No batteries. No lights. No code.

And only $2.

I'm cheap. I'm a neo-Luddite. And I like shiny things.

When I tutor one-on-one, I love using scrap paper. I scribble, the student scribbles, I scribble some more, the student scribbles some more. When we're done, I offer the pile of scribbles to the student. Usually the pile is tossed.

I cut up two 4 x 8' white shower boards ($25.87 including tax) into twelve 24 x 32" white boards.

Best money I've spent on a classroom, and I've spent a lot.

Mistakes are no longer permanent red marks. A quick swoosh with an eraser or back of a hand, and the board is clear.

Mistakes do not simmer for a day or two; I walk around and we work together to fix misconceptions
on the spot.

I know
immediately where the students stand, a bit humbling when you realize maybe your brilliantly scripted lectures posed as directed discussions are no more effective than the textbook you sneered at with your fellow twits on late summer eves.

And (drum roll please....) the kids dare to think. I mean think as in "Look at me I'm coming up with solutions and I want to share them!" think.

I am not saying anything Frank Noschese doesn't already say more succinctly on his blog Action-Reaction.

The only downside? Fresh cut shower whiteboard smells like a wet dog for a day or two. I only had one student complain, but my wife made me keep the boards in the trunk until I got them to school.

Two freakin' dollars. My Smartboard could have paid for a thousand of them. My Smartboard isn't bad. My Luddite boards, though, are better.

Did I mention cheap, too?

Photo by Adrian Pingstone, released to public domain.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Clamming in September

September, again.
Clams, again.

We paddled past cormorants perched on towers, past egrets looking sideways at shrimp about to die, past a great blue heron that had no time for us.

We got to our clam bed, pulled out a dozen clams, and headed back home as the sun ached its way back south.

Yes, I know the date. I was on Liberty Island waiting for folks who never arrived, and watched the smoldering city as the sun ignored our passion play, and settled down only as a September sun can.

I got out my clam rake, to stalk critters every bit as evolved as me, and now sit with a belly full of quahogs.

I'm teaching, again.

If I could get even a tiny piece of what I did today--harvesting the energy of sunshine caught between the gorgeous shells of a critter that does not know I exist, so that I may breathe another day--into the souls of my lambs, I'd have done my job.

We've created a culture where you can go from cradle to grave without once ever acknowledging the grace that makes it possible.

I do not talk of grace in the classroom. I talk of fusion in the sun, of energy flowing through us, or matter recycling around us. I talk of what we know, what we can know, and of what we cannot.

I talk of descent with modification, of DNA, of life.

I told the kids on Friday I would bring back a shell or two of the critters I planned to hunt over the weekend. I want them to wonder, as I do, why the inside of a quahog shell holds a purple streak almost too intense too bear.

The answer, whatever it might be, hardly matters.

It's the wondering that matters.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Are teachers "professionals"?

A huge tip of the hat to Dina Strasser of The Line, who took my ramblings and made a cogent, succinct post on what I think professionalism means.

She gently (but persistently) pushed me, and her intelligent questioning and subtle editing created something I did not think was possible.

Thank you, Dina!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Opening day goals

Teachers report Tuesday, students on Wednesday.

Tuesday's goals:
  • Find a pair of pants-> iron wash them
  • Find a tie that does not involve alcohol or sex or Disney
  • Find my shoes (I spend summer mostly barefoot)
  • Find a pen
  • Find a pen that works
  • Memorize my student roster
  • Say a prayer for the end of summer
Wednesday's goals:
  • Remind myself the universe is beyond my grasp
  • Remind myself that there is order in the universe (even if I cannot find my pants or a working pen)
  • Remind myself that I am only here to remind my students of the above--anything else is arrogance, nonsense, or both

Photo is "The Sun Sets at Harris Beach, 1938" from the National Archives;
1938 was 72 years ago--anyone who remembers seeing this particular sunset is more likely dead than alive.
But we still have the image.
Even if Homo sapiens goes the way of the Neanderthals,
the sun will still set on this same beach.
Yep, a repeat--school is a cycle.

Another Arne rant

Arne Duncan and company just gave $170 million to develop tests to make sure your child is corporate ready once she leaves high school.

This is an example of the sorts of questions Achieve has already used:

Tom Hoffman just did a quick deconstruction of the Common Core ELA standards. Go read it.

A traditional liberal arts curriculum aligned to these standards, or, for that matter, a project-based curriculum, is only held up in Common Core by a few heavily strained pegs.

A traditional liberal arts education is an anathema to a power structure dependent on, well, idiocy creating a functional but uncritical pool of labor.

Maybe I'm confused--I thought the government belonged to "we the people" and that it exists for our needs.

By design, "Achieve's board consists of six governors (three Democrats and three Republicans) and six CEOs."

I don't give a rat's ass what any governor thinks but mine--a governor's authority stops at the state line, no matter what party though 'd be hard pressed to distinguish the two mentioned. CEO's belong in boardrooms, not classrooms--they've already done enough damage.

It is to our utter shame that our government allowed our public education to be hijacked under our noses by private enterprise using our money.

Follow the money....

Thursday, September 2, 2010

This one's for me (and Leslie)

This is a long one, a rambling one, and very possibly a short-lived one. I'm reclaiming turf no one wants anyway.

Shark jumping, anyone?

Well, the Facebook post got over 1,200 hits, but when all is said and done, I changed no one's mind, and it's not a post I'd want to read 3 months after I stroke, bored to death in my wheel chair, wiling away the few hours I have left.

My Dad, a royal pain in the ass in so many ways, enjoyed life. He had a lot of strokes, enough that he volunteered to take a moth-balled A-4 Skyhawk and plant it anywhere in Iraq (with him still strappedin the cockpit) the POTUS ordered. He spent one of his precious last few days careening down a Cape May avenue in a motorized wheel chair, right smack dab in the middle of the double yellow line, laughing--at least I think it was laughing, hard to tell with all the paralysis.

My sister's wake was so joyous some folks crashed it thinking it was a wedding reception.

My Mom's last act of consciousness was a laugh.

We're an odd bunch.

A couple of hours ago I was thigh-deep in a warm, dark Delaware Bay, scurrying up trouble. Comb jellies glow when disturbed, an eerie electric blue as evanescent as phosphenes. Close your right eye, and push on it--see the light? That's a phosphene. Ain't English grand?

I was tromping through the water, whooping like a Confederate on Little Round Top. I'm not sure the jellies enjoyed it half as much as I did, no way to tell. Most of the ones I lit up tonight are going to be beached by Earl in the next few hours. It's kind of neat that I know these things, but even neater realizing that the jellies know things I cannot possibly ever understand.

Why was I on the beach? Hunting ghost crabs. I have a dream--some day I will lead children on ghost crab expeditions, freezing the critters with my flash light, sharing ghost crab tales as the kids marvel at the crabs..

I held my glasses out towards one of the crabs--it pounced on the ear piece,pulled it towards its mouth, then rejected it once it had a taste. This, of course, is of no interest to the reader. But it is of interest to me.

I knew the jellies might glow tonight because I wrote about them last year. Life's funny that way--we are all dependent on cycles, cycles dependent on the sunlight hitting the Earth. If the jellies were here last year at the end of summer, it's reasonable to expect them again now.

They did not disappoint


Everything alive today has been evolving for over 4 billion years. "Evolution" is a misnomer, not a word originally used by Darwin. He called it "descent with modification." Even the seemingly simplest organisms are blessed with gifts beyond our imagination.


A hurricane is looming just off-shore. Earl. Oh, it's just a Cat 2.

I like motorcycles. I used to lgo fast on motorcycles. I like going Category 2 fast--96 mph or better.

If you've ever ridden a bike at those speeds, you know that the wind becomes personified. It's real. It can hurt.

Now imagine trying to carry an oak tree through that wind.

I pray that it misses. A pox on those who wish otherwise.

I just cursed, and cursing works. Humans have selective memories. If one of my readers decides to root for Earl despite knowing that I may be harmed by it, then breaks his big toe in the next 3 months, he may well attribute the broken toe to my curse.

Or cancer. Or death of a loved one. Or any other event that is so terrible that we pretend its probability is near zero (despite the evidence that none of us get out of here alive).

Tonight I saw flashes of light emanating from the shallows of a muddy bay--I don't see this often. If Earl changes his mind (see, anthropomorphizing) tomorrow and destroys my home, I will blame myself for messing with jellies. I cannot help myself.

We find reasons for everything. We are evolutionarily wired to do so.


One reason Facebook resonates so is because of our need to belong. We used to belong to nature. In the 20th century we separated ourselves enough to find solace in clans without nature. Now we no longer need the clans.

We just need electrons.

Here I am beaming a series of electrons into your eyes. I'd rather have you here, sharing grits and grog.

When it gets down to it, I don't give a rat's butt about Facebook or Twitter. I care about the very few who get down this far on a post. /me waves to Leslie and John and Jessica and Sean .

A life dependent primarily on electrons is not a well-lived life. It may be lucrative. It may be exciting. But it's not a life.

I'd rather live the life dependent on photons, on the sun, on the phosphorescent critters less than a mile from here busy eating, and flashing, and reproducing, and God only knows what else.

Facebook cannot do that.
The Delaware Bay can.