Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hubris and humility

The primary social consideration for savants is purely and simply one of professional duty. Savants are people who are paid to manufacture science; they are expected to manufacture some; they feel it is their duty to manufacture some....

The spirit of truth is nowadays almost absent from religion and from science and from the whole of thought.

Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

Any chance of me becoming a researcher ended the moment I pulled the head off a living cricket under a dissecting scope because, well, I was told to.

And now I teach my lambs about DNA polymerases before they can see the difference between a dandelion and a plantain, because I am told to.

And that's wrong. Not illegal, and maybe even not immoral. But it is wrong. I won't pull heads off a living creature, and I shouldn't be wasting a child's life on polymerases before they know about the plants they walk on.

Why? Because a child is a child for finite hours.

Despite all the nonsense that has been going on in Jersey, I work under a reasonable and bright principal, and a team of building administrators that give a damn enough to allow real discussion.

Meanwhile, the state has confused me with a super hero, able to overcome poverty in a single bound. 

I'm supposed to teach science, and I'm pretty good at teaching what passes for it. If I ever managed to get a child to grasp the awe that surrounds us, though, I'd fully expect that child to just get up and walk out of class--she can learn a lot more staring at a patch of earth outside the building than pretending to know something about polymerases.

So far, no one has done this. This surprises me.

They're that well trained--Mr. Cerf would be proud. They may not be college ready, but Lord knows they're career ready.

Whose life is it anyway?

And yet they sit there.
OK, Simone Weil makes no sense in January, and too much sense in May. 

Cricket photo from The Pest Advice


Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

As a RI teacher, I know what the state standards where I am look like. I expect the NJ standards are similar. I try to picture the standards we would have if you were emperor...

Unknown said...

Oh I'd like Emperor Michael.

Scott said...

Rachel Carson has written:*

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune
that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring,
is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy, who is
supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in
the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing
antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with
things that are artificial, the alienation from sources of our strength.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he
needs the companionship of at east one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy,
excitement and mystery of the world we live in. Parents often have a sense of inadequacy when
confronted on the one hand with the eager, sensitive mind of a child and on the other with a world
of complex physical nature, inhabited by a life so various and unfamiliar that it seems hopeless to
reduce it to order and knowledge. In a mood of self-defeat, they exclaim, “How can I possibly
teach my child about nature—why, I don’t even know one bird from another!”

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so
important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom,
then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must
grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have
been aroused—a sense of the beautiful; the excitement of the new and the unknown; a feeling of
sympathy, pity, admiration, or love—then we wish for knowledge about the object of our
emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for
the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”

(1965, pp. 42-45)

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

I am constitutionally unable to be emperor of anything, excepting, perhaps. ice cream. You's have to ask Mr. Eliot.

Dear Scott,

Ain't she wonderful?

In a word, love. It comes down to knowing what matters. So few of us even dare ask the question anymore.