Saturday, December 1, 2012

On electrons, Yahweh, and stories

I tend to be nuts at the sun's extremes--it's December again.

Delaware Bay, December 31, 2011

One chilly evening, I saw a pair of pale, glowing orbs glide several feet over the bay's edge
I don't believe in ghosts...I don't believe in ghosts...
The eerie blue glow crept closer...I froze, too frightened to approach, too curious to run.
I don't believe in ghosts...I don't believe in ghosts...
As the two phosphorescent blobs drew nearer, I could now see their eyes and noses, ghostly faces bouncing just over the wash. 

No ghosts, just two hooded humans, staring at their devices, living in a very human world. Turns out I was not the one having an out of this world experience. 

I felt another cold wave wash over my feet, and walked on.

Our culture depends on the myth that everyone can be everywhere, and that your everywhere is the same as mine. We like standards, at least the human kind.

Every step we take towards a standard reflects our cultural confusion. The Common Core State Standards  "are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world...," the world of ghosts by the seashore, the world of the "global economy," a world removed from mortal matters.

Still, even with our phones and iPods and televisions, everyone of us lives in a tiny, real  piece of the universe, knowable only by the electrons around us.

All electrons that affect us are local--they have to be. They don't travel well, most don't travel particularly far, and our only hope of recognizing something "outside" is if our electrons get dinged, one way or another.

All sensations, all thoughts, all consciousness is ridiculously local.
Most of us remain blisffully unaware of this, and it is killing us.

How do we sense anything?
Electrons get pushed, electrons get pulled.

Electrons in a wire move slowly. Very slowly. If you mark a particular electron and follow it, it will bounce and jiggle and vibrate, but its average velocity will be towards the cathode at less than a snail's pace. Literally.

The hectic "real" world that scurries us through life to regrets we face in our last hours does not exist.  It is our creation, and it is hubris to call it real.

The ancients said we're living souls, made of dust, made alive by Yahweh's breath.
The moderns say we're organic material, made of atoms, essentially empty space defined by electrons jostling against each other, balls of energy.

Neither story is truly comprehensible, nor complete without the other. The are both important stories. They may even be the same story.

Who has time for stories anymore?
We need facts and truths and certainty and standards, or so we believe at our peril.

The next Next Generation Science Standards draft comes out this January. The full name of the document is Next Generation Science Standards for Today’s Students and Tomorrow’s Workforce. I just looked at the disastrous first draft again, specifically looking at its references to electrons, and it's clear that "tomorrow's workforce" has different priorities than tomorrow's physicists or storytellers or musicians or citizens.

The concept of electron has been stripped to words devoid of stories.

Electrons have a story to tell--Princeton University know this! From Ali Yazdani's work.

We need our myths to stay grounded.
We need our myths to remain true.

The ghosts on the edge of the dark sea may be connected to something, but it's not the real world.
We owe it to our children to show them what they will miss if they let other humans far far away control what they ought to "see."

I have yet to meet a child more fascinated by a phone than a frog. Really.


Anonymous said...

I just heard about this yesterday, on QI on youtube .
So I am delighted that, in the limit, we might all be made up of the same stuff: after all, most of our volume is the space where the electron/wave might be.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

I almost tossed this post into the trash, because, well, just because, and then the universe sends me a message like this with a link well worth the time.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes you have to accept our love.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I am pretty ignorant of these standards, this organization. But one thing I know: STANDARDS HAPPEN. And the "local" ones may be scarier: who makes them? How is it they know science or kids better than the "national" folk? I like your emphasis on hyper-local learning, aimed towards bigger truths. But I don't see how national standards have to derail that. I DO see how local standards MIGHT. When I first started teaching (Jr. High), I went to a fellow teacher and asked about 7th grade curriculum. He described a curriculum he and others had put a lot of time into, only to see it rejected. In frustration, the team copied out the table of contents from the prevailing textbook. It was approved. I never asked for a curriculum at that school again.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

In this case, the national folk are not science folk--reason enough to be suspicious.

National/international standards dilute local practice--there is only so much time in a school day.

In the era before the testing craze, I'd not be so leery--in practice, standards are all well and good.

With the testing, however, our children are compelled to focus on more nebulous, abstract ideas before having a handle on the hyperlocal. If you do not know the ground beneath your feet, you cannot know the ground under everyone's.

Science is science, I get that--but I no more expect a child in Denver to "get" horseshoe crabs than I expect a child in Bloomfield to "get" a mountain. Some things need to be experienced to be even remotely comprehended.

I urge you to learn more about Achieve, about NGSS, about the money behind the ed reform movement.

(To be fair, I may be overstating the case a bit--I'm OK with reasonable standards, even if developed by those with ulterior motives. It's the propaganda I was attacking in this post.)