Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why I teach (again and again)

 
I used to think that if people seemed reasonably happy with their fantasy lives, living the good life through media fantasies (Did you hear? Robin Gibb woke up!), I had no business reminding them what they may have lost. No one likes an in-your-face John Milton type. But now I am a teacher.

Science is made up of stories that help explain how the universe is put together. The stories are based, as they must be, on how we perceive what surrounds us, and because our perceptions are limited, so must be our stories. Science can never explain everything, nor is it meant to do so. The deeper our perceptions, the deeper the mystery.

I like looking at things, and I like putting things together. Scientists and artists (and you really cannot be one without knowing something about the other) both broaden our views, and ultimately add to the mystery.

 ***


Technologists do neither, but their tools increase efficiency, which matters because that improves profit margins.


I am looking to buy a new clam rake. There are several types available, and a few are much more efficient at getting clams than my rooster style Chatham scratcher.Were I making a living at this, I'd likely get a large bull rake, and tear up a lot more bottom than I do now, gathering bushels instead of dozens.

Either way, I'm hardly making a dent on the Jersey coast, and no one knows what damage I do but me. Still, yesterday I managed to impale a small, soft-shelled blue crab. I pulled it off, still wriggling, then tossed it back in the water, where it feebly swam into the muck, no doubt a meal in less time than it takes me to write his epitaph.

And I guess it shouldn't matter, but it matters to me. As long as I get what I need with my rake, with a minimum amount of damage, I'll get another one just like it.

Because I rake my own clams, I know that it costs lives. If you eat, you kill. In our magical thinking efficient universe, most of my students do not understand this.

If you do not understand the consequences of what you are doing, some things get a whole lot easier to do.
***

Schools should be places of reflection, learning spaces helping children see the world, to see their role in the world, the whole world.

If your building is designed to prepare the children for a global economy, then science and art both lose. "Global knowledge" is an oxymoron, and the "new economy" rips us from the only things we can possibly hope to know, that which surrounds us.

I'll leave that ol' polemicist Milton be--we have Thomas Friedman now, enough for any generation--and end  with William Blake, who, in "Auguries of Innocence," may have written as good a reason for education as any.
To see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.
 And, of course, to love.







Scatterbrained and busy--take with a grain of salt.

4 comments:

This Brazen Teacher said...

Two days ago I pored over a study about using aesthetics for teaching Science to ten year olds. They compared conceptual education models to an aesthetic one... the former focused teacher energy on information transmission, the latter on creating a sense of wonder and anticipation in students. Specifically, students were instructed to write, illustrate and share a story they imagined about the life of volcano rocks. As I was reading about how an underperforming child named Leo out performed the most gifted student in the study through his imaginative inquiry... I thought of you. This is why I like Doyle... this is the type of thing he does. Story. Wonder. Anticipation :)

Sherrie Lynn said...

Very nice! On a more prosaic note about clamming: a friend of mine was in the Coast Guard. He was born in Massachusetts and when he was first assigned to the Oregon Coast some coworkers invited him to go clamming. They laughed at him when he showed up with a rake because you need a shovel to wrest razor clams from the ocean shore.

Malcolm said...

hi dr. doyle,

I keep reading your blog to see what things you are quoting from me:
"Science is made up of stories that help explain how the universe is put together. The stories are based, as they must be, on how we perceive what surrounds us, and because our perceptions are limited, so must be our stories. Science can never explain everything, nor is it meant to do so. The deeper our perceptions, the deeper the mystery."

i think i said that once. i also like to paraphrase a semester long discussion on 'how do we know that?' questions...my answer is: "scientists can be REALLY smrt"

I do so enjoy your rambling notions.

malcolm

doyle said...

Dear Brazen, Sherrie Lynn, and Malcolm,

Thank you all for the kind words.

Brazen: if we're going to abandon fear as a way of teaching (no because it doesn't work--it does, for many--but because it diminises us), wonder is the only way to get children todo the work needed to change synapses.

Many of my students now turn wonder off during the school day, and that's very sad. Many adults in our country have turned it off completely--and that's sadder.

Sherrie Lynn: and you also laugh at us easterners when we try to pronounce geoduck!

Malcolm: science is science, eh? And science folks, like artists, are thieves.