Monday, February 18, 2013

"You can't pray a lie...."

I enjoy Mary Ann Reilly's words and works. She persistently (though gently) arouses us from the cultural slumbers that allow us to continue to do the things we continue to do, even though we know better.

"You can't pray a lie" comes to us from Mark Twain, of course, through the voice of Huckleberry Finn.

You Can't Pray a Lie, Mary Ann Reilly, 2012

Go read her if you want to wake up from your nap.

We can hide behind our curricula, behind our rules, behind our cultural norms, but when we teach children anything, anything, not worth the time we steal from them, we sin.

We will be playing with dancing daphnia this week--and some of them will be killed either through negligence or just the stress of being placed on a slide. Some will be squashed, some will suffocate under the cover slip. Some will get too warm from the microscope's light. Some will fall in a drop of water onto the lab table, unnoticed, swirling around as the its world slowly evaporates away.

My kids, many of them jaded by years in a system that sees them as test scores and graduation rates, feel bad for the daphnia, at least once they get to know them.  Others will fall in love with vorticella, or with rotifers, but just about all of them will feel attached to life they had no idea existed.

Every year, my kids are much more careful putting their critters back than they were at getting them. The more they learn about the natural world, the kinder they become.

We need to be more careful with what we do in the classroom.


cope said...

When I taught environmental science to lower quartile students (gads, what a modifier to attach to a kid) two years ago, I got them into raising "Sea Monkeys"/brine shrimp. Each student had his or her own two liter bottle that started with eggs, briny water and crushed coral substrate.

As the eggs hatched, shrimp grew and (in some cases) multiplied, the students became very much involved with their progeny. Algae were intentionally introduced into some bottles while in some others, algae began growing spontaneously (there's a mystery they had to ponder and solve). Some bottles thrived through multiple generations while some died out after the first generation (refills were always allowed).

The kids became competitive about their budding colonies and raced in each day at the beginning of the period to record their daily observations on the forms I created.

There is a built-in advantage to studying living things that I don't get to enjoy teaching earth/space science and astronomy this year (though last Friday was definitely teachable moment day in both classes).

I was lucky to grow up in a household with a telescope and a microscope and still remember plucking a twig off a plant (rose bush?) to look at the green aphids as well as the first sight of Saturn's rings "live" through the telescope.

Sounds like your students are in good hands and I hope you can hang in there and fight the good fight.

Brian Bennett said...

I'm back to teaching chemistry full time now, and posts like this always make me miss the life sciences because we can see and experience the life involved.

I remember seeing a community of Volvox for the first time in AP Biology. It blew my mind that these tiny creatures can work together, in harmony, as single-celled critters.

I agree with cope in that there is a major difference in watching a chemical reaction happen and in seeing a critter, alive, carrying that reaction out to just go another hour or day.


Unknown said...

That's it right there. Kindness. I was chastised in a science classroom for feeling bad about the frogs we were dissecting. I didn't like the joking around. I didn't like the fact that the teacher named the frog Kermit when he showed us how to do it. The whole thing felt pointless and I learned nothing about frogs except that I was bothered when they were killed and mocked.

I contrast that to the only year of science that I really loved, when we helped rehabilitate birds of prey. Here, we saw nature in action and it wasn't pretty and we were given the permission to let it break our hearts.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

After dissecting the pithed frog in my intro zoo class, I determined to major in botany.

Anonymous said...

The best method to make the children concerned on environment is to make them love it. That's part of our job.