Sunday, January 13, 2013

Biology vs. school "science"

Darkest six weeks of the year are behind us now.
In a few weeks, the crocuses break through the ground.

The solid stuff of crocuses is mostly made from  carbon dioxide--we release some with every breath.

Backyard crocus, February 2011

The carbon dioxide we release wended its way from deep inside our cells, from our mitochondria, tiny membrane-wrapped bodies that strip the electrons off the food we eat, electrons trapped in awkwardly unstable positions, ultimately relaxed again as they join with oxygen molecules, to form water.

Mitochondria are not human--they have their own DNA, reproduce (mostly) without our help. Every one you have came from those in your mother's egg. They have their own history.

When we starve, we lose most of our weight through our lungs as countless particles of carbon dioxide.

It takes a lot of energy to split those water molecules again, to excite those electrons, to smush CO2 back into the stuff of plants.

The sun provides the energy. And it's coming back, as it has again and again and again.

I hardly teach biology anymore--I teach sophistry. Learn the magic words, and the patterns among the magic words, and you are wise. 
        peptide bond
            phospholipid bilayer

I get paid reasonably well to do this, and so long as my students fill in the Holy Scantrons read by the Great Machine in Trenton, and if the pattern comes close enough to the patterns discerned as truth, my students are certified as worthy of participating on our new global workforce, machina ex deus.

If you never care to watch the sun's annual demise and rebirth, you will never be more than a technician. That seems to be OK to just about everybody these days--technicians are a lot easier to manage than philosophers, and they're certainly easier to please.

And if I accept my role as just a 21st century teacher, delivering some bon mots to help my lambs pass the PARCC exam, then I will never be more than a technician, either.

The sun has started its climb north again. The winter chill reminds those of us closer to our end than our beginning that maybe, just maybe, safety isn't the primary goal in a life that will certainly end in death.

Time to get moving.

It's really not all that complicated, this life/death thing. You are, and then you're not.


Jess said...

Great post. Aren't we lucky when, if even for a moment, those we teach see this amazing breathing living dying life in its eloquent biology?

doyle said...

Dear Jess,

When all is said and done, as I put away the day's detritus that accumulates in a science class as the sun falls below the horizon, I remind myself that I am one lucky pup.

Yes, we are truly lucky--I teach for those moments. And they do happen....