Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Don't take life so serious, son, it ain't nohow permanent."

Some days, often in May when the bees are buzzing, the nectar is flowing and each day is longer than the next, I feel like introducing myself to strangers:
Hello, my name is Michael, and I'm mortal. And you are, too. It's a luverly day. Let's dance!
Or sing, or tell stories, or plant, or clam, or fish, or sing, or skate, or spin, or weave, or grind wheat, or bake bread, or strum a guitar, or hum on a kazoo, or just bask in the sunshine doing nothing at all.

But I never do. OK, sometimes I do, but never in the classroom. Very few of these things are taught, and even then, only taught as "electives."

Living well, and consciously, and joyously, requires knowing mortality. Not in some existential sense, not as an allegory, not as a spiritual retreat, not as some far away event that happens in foreign lands.

But in the fecal leaking, gas belching, groaning agonal breaths that await each and every one of us, short of an errant bolt of lightning out of the blue (or a rather ordinary car crash).

Pretending otherwise constrains us in ways we cannot imagine.

So in Room B362 we raise critters, and we deal with death. We sow, we water, we feed, and occasionally we mourn. On rare occasions we even dance. Yep....

Plastiquinones matter. So does ATP synthase and phospholipid bilayers and cyclic AMP. I teach them because I am required to, and because they interest me.

But I also teach that everything alive, dies. Everything alive is connected to everything else that's alive.

What I don't teach is that Microsoft will outlive me, though it will. I also don't teach that life will outlive Microsoft. If I didn't believe that, though, I couldn't teach children.

I love teaching, and I love living.
The title is from Walt Kelly, my hero.


Jenny said...

I don't know how long I've been reading your blog but, for reasons I can't explain, today I was reminded of my high school biology teacher. I was not a math or science lover at that age and took basic algebra freshman year. Sophomore year I moved up to honors geometry after sheer boredom in algebra. I also decided to tackle honors biology. That one scared me, but I had heard fabulous things about this teacher. I figured I would be more likely to survive bio with a great teacher than with a mediocre one. It was totally worth the risk. He was amazing. And yet, I think he pales in comparison with you and the learning happening in your classroom. I'm jealous of your students. (Well, aside from the fact that they are high schoolers, something I would never want to be again.)

Kathryn J said...

I love Pogo! Today we dissected owl pellets - it was awesome. We discussed the fact that these animals died so that the owl could live. It was an interesting day.

One of my student's cousin was shot in the head last night. Most of them get that life isn't permanent but most of their experience with death is not related to natural causes.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

Thanks for the kind words, but in the classroom, I have constraints I do not have here. I hope my students are learning a few things worth learning, but I am also charged with teaching them a few things that are not.

And that bothers me.

If nothing else, every one of them grows something, and pretty much every one of them loses something, too, along the way--a pill bug here, a slug there.

This morning several of them were gathered around the salt water tank--I figured the shrimp was strutting his stuff (he's amazing to watch, the way he controls each of his "arms" independently of the others). But I was wrong.

The hermit crab had changed his shell. I forgot we even had a hermit crab.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

I love owl pellets AND Pogo! (One of the highlights of writing here was getting a back and forth with one of the Kelly's regarding the use of Pogo cartoons here. I am a HUGE fan of Walt Kelly, may he rest in peace.)

Did you find a lot of birds' heads in the pellets?

As you know, I worked in the inner city for a lot of years, and you're right, death floats in front of many of the children there. Some lessons need not be taught--but if everyone had a better sense of mortality, fewer children would be facing the violent deaths of family members.

Kathryn J said...

We found bird skeletons, rats, voles, and mice in the pellets. The exciting ones were the pellets that had two or three skulls. The kids did great after their initial squeamishness and it was fun to listen to them argue about the shape of a skull or the presence of feathers and talons as they were justifying their identification. I found a great video of a baby owl expelling a pellet too.

Other than the lack of sleep, it's been a great week of teaching. In one of my other classes, we were discussing "what is matter?" using an NSTA misconception probe. One of my students asked if love could be matter because it generates chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. I love watching them make sense of the world!