Friday, August 31, 2012

August light

The days fade quickly now--in three weeks we'll have an hour less sunlight gracing us than today.

We will assault children with a sterile view of science, reduced to a method and streams of vocabulary, "ideas" we can test.

The sun slides south without notice as we huddle under the subtle, damning hum of fluorescent lights, each one filled with vaporized mercury, coated with phosphor, a steam punk amalgamation of  early 20th century technology and vision.

We talk little of either, the sun or the hum, the light of our lives.

Here's the heart of biology: We're matter put together in an orderly fashion by light. When light fades, we fall apart.

Follow the energy--the breath you take brings in oxygen that allows you to convert the toast you ate this morning back into carbon dioxide and water. You literally breathe out a few bites of your breakfast  by noon.

Wheat grown in our classroom

The toast, of course, is mostly wheat--these days we take out the best part of the grain and feed it to animals (flour keeps better on the shelves this way), but what's left over , is still wheat, a plant, like most plants, that combines carbon dioxide and water into marvelous strands of carbon compounds, weavers that rival Rumpelstiltskin--the miracle is in the flax, not the gold.

And yet when we talk of "photosynthesis" the kids groan under the weight of the terms: photolysis, ATP synthase, electron chain transport, chemiosmosis....sighing vast quantities of carbon dioxide molecules, drooling on the desks.

Yes!...there's your breakfast, in the sighs, in the drool!

The fading light is not metaphorical--it is real. Outside the classroom windows the living world is dying, as it does every fall. The hunger season is coming.

We start the school year in late summer, as we do, as our bodies, still untamed, feel the dying light. We pretend otherwise, talk of the "new year" and of "objectives" and "benchmarks"--as the sun slides slowly south, the shadows lengthen ominously, and the ice returns.

We teach children to stop paying attention to what matters, to focus on the trivial. That is how you survive in a world of concrete and glass, in a world where many of our children would not recognize their breakfast in its raw form.

Biology is the study of life--let's shine our light on what matters.

Back to school is a bittersweet time...


Tom Hoffman said...

Vivian had a nice time collecting a bouquet of dandelions on our walk to school today.

Sue VanHattum said...

>in three weeks we'll have an hour less sunlight


Anonymous said...

So in three weeks we will have an hour less sunlight where at, just in Colorado or every where?????

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

We all need more Hoffman parents and Vivian children in our towns. I trust you know the import of that thought.

Dear Sue,


and Dear Ethan,

Depends on your latitude and your hemisphere. The farther away from the equator, the greater the swing you have (a swing that is at its highest velocity around the equinoxes). Australia is headed towards its spring right now.

The hour less sunlight is for my latitude (roughly equivalent to NYC, almost 41 degrees north).