Saturday, January 21, 2012

Proust effect


If we could teach science by shoving a funnel up a child's nose then pour in "knowledge" as a slurry of data, vocabulary words, and equations, I've no doubt that we would--for the glory of our nation and our economy.

That we cannot does not keep Arne from trying to force us to use bigger, shinier funnels.

Arne and his crew will see progress measuring the internal diameter of the nostrils of our students, No Choana Left Behind.* With enough time, our children will have nostrils at least as wide as the Koreans, perhaps even as large as the Finnish. Our economy will hum as every child has the opportunity to master the dismissive sniff of the 1%er.

The world outside the fluorescent hum of my classroom reminds me what matters, and though I have as big a collection of funnels as any teacher could want--SmartBoards, Mobis, digical cams, and 1:1 netbooks--I think a nose has a finer purpose.

I keep the skeletal remains of last summer's basil in a bag--brown sticks with rosettes of seed pods, each pod holding several tiny black specks, each a potential basil plant. I spend a little time each week picking at  the pods to collect the seeds, using my fingers, as fingers were meant to be used.

I keep a Petri dish on the teacher's desk to hold the seeds I gather.

Yesterday some students saw me take a deep whiff of the bag holding the seemingly dead plants, and they saw the pleasure that it gave me.

A few children will take a dried, broken branch of last summer, and sniff. A few children will take some seeds from the same broken branch and watch a new plant grow from a speck.

This past week, a child was upset that his carrots, grown from seed, were not doing well. He had planted several dozen seeds where one would have done. He was trying to save them all.

I suggested that he thin the plants. He plucked the first plant, and held it a moment. I could tell it bothered him.

      Crush it, then smell it.

He looked puzzled, but then did just that. His surprised smile lit up the room.

     It smells like carrots!

I'm not sure where this particular child falls along the norms of the internal diameter of choanae, and, like many children, he's a bit resistant to funnels that stretch his nostrils for no reason that makes sense to him.

The pleasure of the aroma of a freshly crushed carrot seedling in the middle of winter's dark days will not help him pass the New Jersey Biology Competency Test, and his results are not likely to bolster my career. The economy will not be helped by children who find pleasure in using their noses well.

But that's not why I teach.

*I had no idea that the word "choana" came from the Greek χοάνη ("funnel") until after I wrote this.

1 comment:

Wayne said...

Hi Doyle. Why not use this technique instead of a funnel?