Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ungated communities

"You think you've lost your fur and your tail for a purpose spelled with a capital P and sold to you in some book that explains how everything was just a prelude until you came. If you do, you're happy I take it, and you'd be better off not to be following me or this crab or lifting up stones and looking under them."
I like to follow ghost by Tracy Parris, NPS

Our district is in trouble.

We're facing 10% layoffs, and the possible loss of our extra-curricular activities. We're paying to revamp our technology to enable us to take the PARCC exam in a couple of years, an exam just about guaranteed to demonstrate we're "failing" while we silence our musicians.

Few of those making the big bucks in our district live in our district. Those of us who live in town are subsidizing the lifestyles of folks who would never consider living here.

Our town is not the only one caught in the tidal change in our national economy where the efforts of folks in towns like Bloomfield pay for someone's grapes from Ch√Ęteau Margau. Things are getting grim for many of us.

Lifted from All My  Eyes

I can take on Bill Gates mano a mano, but his dollar-driven army (and those of his ilk) will likely win in the public battles that matter. Teachers, parents, citizens have sat silent too long.

So why do I bother teaching "science" in a system that has been rigged to fail?

Here's why: the natural world, the one that matters, the one that feeds us, the one that brings joy, the one that was here long before words were uttered and will be here long after all of us are silent again, that world, is virtually unknown to most of us in our culture.

Know this world, the world that matters, and you can still forage for food, and know grace.
Know this world, the world that matters, and you can still lose yourself, and find peace.
Know this world, the world that matters,and you can still sleep, and feel restored.

Most of the kids I teach face dim prospects if they define themselves by the rules of Bill Gates, if they judge themselves by the shiny objects that drive them to debt, if they cannot see the larger picture.

If my lambs learn nothing else in my classroom, they at least witness the creation of food from their breath and water and little else. They are reminded of death. They are gently prompted day after day after day that there is a world larger than any of us in a drop of pond water, a teaspoon of soil.

Should I ever meet Mr. Gates, I'd give him a basil seed, a small pot of peat moss, and a prayer. I'm sure he "has people" that could do this for him. I'm sure he is reasonably happy, or thinks he is, and really, what's the difference?

 Here's the secret--there's a huge difference. 
Children who know the wild sing more robustly, dance with more abandon, sleep more soundly than children behind the Gates. 

Photo from NPS site, should be fair game...will replace with mine once I find one of the 3 gazillion ghost crab photos we've taken.


Lee said...

I confess to not understanding much of what is happening in the education world these days, only gleaning what I can from the "news" (and I use those quotations on purpose), but what I hear scares me.

Keep fighting the good fight, Michael! Even if only one of your lambs makes it through unscathed, it has to be worth it in the end.

William Chamberlain said...

Your writing always rings with a poetic truth. You give a way for free what Henry David Thoreau charged good money for.

niskymom2four said...

I love your vision for teaching students what is fundamentally important through science...though perhaps I joined the conversation Bill Gates
The Enemy (an enemy?) just because he is wealthy?

Mike Thayer said...

@niskymom2four: Bill Gates is not "The Enemy" because he is wealthy. Bill Gates has a vision for public schools that has no basis in anyone's reality but his own (and those like him). And because of his money, he can influence policy like few others can.

Let's be really clear about this: what Michael is describing in his own district is coming to yours. Maybe sooner, maybe later, but it's coming. Art, music, and extracurriculars are going to disappear because of the pursuit of almighty test scores - which Gates and his ilk believe is the only measure of the quality of a school.

You can choose to ignore this or you can choose to do something.

doyle said...

Dear Lee,

I will--it's all I can do (lessen I go back to pediatrics...).

Dear William,

Not sure Thoreau charged for his wisdoms, but that was one of the nicest compliments I ever received....

Dear riskymom2four,

Read my other posts--I am not allergic to the wealthy, my Dad married well the second time.

But when the wealthy think that their wealth gives them a right to dictate how the rest of us live, they can kiss my psoriatic, crinkly ass. Let them drink their fancy grapes, and let the rest of us live.

Dear Mike,


cope said...

Teachers in my district are fighting a holding raises in some several years; heaps of standardized, computer-based high stakes testing, oppressive Marzano know the drill. I have chosen my classroom as my Alamo, so to speak. I want to last as long as the class of 2020 but have my doubts.

I try to lead my science department, I try to lead my students and I try to squeeze in some appreciation of the natural world in my astronomy and earth/space science classes. However, I am hard pressed to compete with the shiny geegaws and gimcracks that seem to give my students so much delight.

My personal mantra is simply to go about sharing what I (and others) know and hope that some of it sticks. Maybe things will change but if they don't, I will be comfortable in knowing that I did my best.

Western "civilization" is not looking like it has its own best interests in heart. I am always telling my students that I am glad I am old but I am also sorry that my generation is leaving them such a mess.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Stopped me in my tracks when I saw your Loren Eisley quote--he the man! I have reread his Immense Journey more times than I can count. (Glad to nip that quotes website, also.) Funny to hear him mentioned (by others) in the same breath with Thoreau, whom I am also drawn to.

doyle said...

Dear Cope,

I like the attitude. While I hope public education maintains a shred of "public" (and "education" for that matter), right now things not looking so good. That edufolks adopt nonsense like Marzano-speak and Gsrdner's multiple intelligences as gospel only fuels our demise.

No matter--I'm teaching science in Room 362 while I can, and will continue to teach it so long as I can on the bay, under the stars, or wherever my feet take me.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

Whole post started when Leslie quoted a line from him in the morning:

If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.

Still working on that....

Kathryn J said...

Leslie's quote is truth. Water is the most amazing substance - based on its size, it should not be a liquid at room temperature but the electrons and their distribution make it so. It is small enough to slip between atoms and dissolve things we need so that they can be transported to and through our bodies. It is the most essential substance for human life.

Yet the best part might be the way it can soothe just by being near a still pond or watching waves roll into shore.

OK I just went completely off topic but I was depressed at the end of this blog post because there is so much truth. I am very glad I read to the end of the comments because just thinking about water calmed me down a bit. Perhaps enough to be effective when my next group of Chemistry students enters in just a few moments.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

Leslie is like having a tide pool around all the time.

In the end, I truly believe that life will go on, as it has, as it will, and conscious beings will continue to appreciated the water's edge. Just not sure those conscious being will be H. sapiens. Not even sure the modern forms count as conscious beings anymore.