Friday, April 5, 2013

"Teaching and folly share an interface"

 It's daffodil season again....

"Most educational establishments are mysterious, perhaps because teaching and folly share an interface."
John Berger, Here is Were We Meet

It's spring, and plants are grabbing stuff out of thin air to make the stuff of life itself, fueled by the sun. It all comes down to stuff and energy (or mass-energy for my post-Einsteinian friends), and the stories we share about this stuff and energy.

Science is obviously about this, though we make a mess of this in high school. We somehow manage to make stuff uninteresting. Simply holding a pebble, though, can emanate joy. If you have forgotten this, pick up a pebble on your travels today.

...or basil seed pods or almost anything

We attach too much seriousness to this STEM business, and our seriousness distracts (and detracts) from the joyful nature of just being. "Just being" depends on the play of energy and stuff, which gets back to plants and sunlight, which gets back to teaching biology.

What if we look at everything else we study with the same lens?

History is what we remember about when stuff and energy got pushed this way or that. Physical education reminds us we are made of stuff and energy. Math shows us that stuff and energy dance together in patterns we can visualize.

Economics is all about distribution of this stuff and energy. Politics is about how we manipulate this distribution. Art is nothing but playing with stuff and energy to help us see, to know our place in all this stuff and energy.

When we drift away from our connections to this universe, when we worship our words and forget their physical basis in neurons, in vibrating vocal chords, in the flick of our muscles clicking the keyboard, we lose the whole point of learning.

You can teach to the curriculum, or to the common core, or to "the test," but unless you are sharing the only universe that matters with your students (and they trust you enough to share theirs), this swirling sensuous world of stuff and energy, you are teaching mere folly.

A belly full of folly may make you rich, but it will never make you, nor your students, happy.

Thank you Tom Hoffman for the book. 


Tom Hoffman said...

You're welcome... I guess I should read it!

doyle said...

Dear Tom,

The book is other-worldly and rearranged my neurons a bit.

I can send it along as well as the quahog book I promised long ago--just email me your address, and I'll get to it before, um, July?

Sean Nash said...

There's just not much left to say on this one. You pretty much nailed it. The commonest "core" there is. You succeeded in making a guy who "thinks in paragraphs" (your words) nail a response down to four sentences. Well done!

doyle said...

Dear Sean,

I am jealous of anyone who can speak in paragraphs--it's a triumph if I manage to string together a noun and a verb without being distracted by a squirrel.

Also jealous of your ridiculously wonderful Bahamas trip each year with the students--you are changing lives!

And thanks!

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Love your "definitions" of history, economics, politics, etc.