Wednesday, December 21, 2011

12:30 A.M

Yep, the annual winter solstice news--the tinge of sadness I felt late June now reflects back as a tige of joy.
The sun is dead. Long live the sun.

12:30 A.M. tonight the sun will stand still for an instant, shift its mass*, and head back north.

6 months ago, when we sat on the opposite side of the sun, I celebrated the summer solstice, a joy tinged with the weight of knowing the sun would start its slow, long course southward.

Winter is just beginning, and winters can be brutal here. The light, however is returning.

When I was a child, winter meant cold, summer heat. I did not, could not, grasp why the elders got so excited late December, at the cusp of winter, when we faced long wintry days.

I get it now.

I stood outside last night in the chill with my youngest, now a quarter century old, watching our shadow drift across the moon, a wavering copper-gold washing in from the moon's left.

My mom used to tell me she could see me as an infant even as I stood before her as a man. I laughed, of course. I am big--over 200# big.

I get it now.

I still give tests, more out of habit than sense now. Performance on science tests a few days before the Christmas break follow a predictable pattern, and my students did not fail to fail.

We do a lot of things because we do them. If mastery's the goal, then a class average of low 70's with a bell-shaped curve, a science teacher's dream a generation ago, marks my failure.

On my board today two-foot numbers announced the time of the solstice--12:30 A.M. Solstice literally means the sun stands still.

Very few students notice how far the sun has shifted since class started just 3 1/2 months ago. There's no need. Food comes in boxes, heat in radiators. The whole world of technique is magic to them.

In Ireland this morning, the sun rose, as it has, as it will. A shaft of sunlight flashed through a chamber in Newgrange built thousands of years ago, before the Great Pyramids, before the Celts arrived, before Stone Henge.

We will not study this in science, nor will our students study this in history class. We will create a class ready for the 21st century, for the abstract, for a culture that confuses bank profits with economy.

If children owned the winter solstice, the dying light, knowing what waits for each of us before a 100 winter solstices pass, would they come to school?

Would you?

I believe schools can be worth the time children invest in them. I am not convinced we're there yet.

At least not as long as I keep practicing education as religion, using a script written generations before me.

*The sun may indeed change direction if we use Earth as the reference point, but "shifted its mass" is, of course, incorrect, since it implies uneven forces were applied to it. Since I have yet to find a better explanation for "mass" beyond "the amount of inertia stuff has," even a poetic license does not give me permission to spew such nonsense.


Jenny said...

We talked this morning, my first graders and I, about the solstice and how brief the sunlight is right now. (I try to avoid saying shorter days as first graders are just beginning to grasp the idea of time and a day being 24 hours.) We'll talk more tomorrow. I may share Bed in Summer by Robert Louis Stevenson with them as well. I don't expect them to grasp it, but the hope it gives me as we look toward winter (a time of year that is not my favorite) is worth sharing.

As an aside, reading your words and hearing your voice so clearly (especially in the small print at the bottom of each one)is a highlight of my day.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

i celebrate each solstice. perhaps it is connected to having been born not too far from new grange.

a beautiful post.

Kathryn J said...

Happy Solstice! It has been an important holiday for me for years. I attribute it mostly to living this far north and having such a noticeable change in angle of the sun and length of the shadows.

Yesterday I celebrated with pesto that I made close to the summer solstice. It also involved family, friends, and enough champagne to appropriately celebrate the true "new year". The light returns - sing huzzah!

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

I don't expect young'uns to grasp a lot of things, but my hope is that they will hold on to those things that they can reasonably grasp.

Children notice things like light and shadows, which are a lot more real than, say, the DJIA.

Thank you for the warm words.

Dear Mary Ann,

We are all connected to the sun, to light--not sure how we lose sight of this, but many of us do.

Here's to the lengthening days.

Dear Kathryn,

What a great way to celebrate! We had last summer's tomatoes last night. We have enough pesto left to have a batch every week or two until June brings us new basil, which is really the same as the old basil now resting encased in seeds.