Thursday, July 11, 2013

"I don't want to know..."

The essence of science is digging deeper into the natural world, scientia (from scire), to know. Conscience comes from the same root.

We pretend that our economy depends on knowledge, but if we did not temper our knowledge with "I don't want to know," our economy would collapse in a week.
  • I don't want to know the person who made my shoes for less than a dollar an hour.
  • I don't want to know what pesticides do to developing human brains.
  • I don't want to know where the 50,000 pounds of shit produced by my town today goes.
Helen Keller paraphrased--I work in a good place.

It take a special kind of thinking to take the pleasures we gain through our economic dominance while ignoring the costs to those of us we do not (and care not to) know.

Public education does this much well--it teaches children to compartmentalize. Separate what's real from what matters, and you've produced the perfect consumer.

Separate science from the arts, separate math from music, separate the quantitative form the qualitative, and you can produce the kind of citizens that, well, we have.

If you compartmentalize science, frame it within a classroom and some predictable "experiments," you strip a child of her right to see the natural world as it is, which is a lot more difficult than it seems.

Egg lain in my garden, where it sat for days.

If you give her the tools to see, question what's true, to be skeptical without cynicism, you have made her world magnitudes larger. (This is what happens in any good class--high school literature has opened far more doors than high school biology.)

I don't talk much about the work I used to do for a lot of reasons, but the strongest has been this--the children I spent years trying to help heal have been exploited by so many in the name of good that I feared my voice joining the Dudley Do-Right White Flight Choir.

I'm a teacher now, haven't faced up close the grinding wear of poverty I used to see daily. Oh, a few of my students face it every day, but schools are compartmentalized enough (Crisis/Guidance/SRO/I&RS Committee) so that I no longer see it closely.

Even our magic is compartmentalized...[Photo:  Leslie Doyle]

I used to steal medicines from various hospitals for families that had to choose between food and medicines. It was an open secret, and while it made the few who helped me feel like Robin Hood's Merrie Crew, and while we managed to put out a few fires here and there, we were just Band-Aids.

(I think just the act of being available, every day, even when all we could do was hold hands, mattered more than the medicine we practiced.)

Some of these children are in your classroom. Children need to know worlds exist beyond their limited spheres. Some of our teachers do, too.
Conscience requires knowledge, and knowledge worth acquiring requires conscience.

I teach science, but science can no more exist in a vacuum than literature, or music, or wood shop (where some of our students are clandestinely fed), and all matter.  Our little spheres of influence fail if we do not share the larger sphere of humanity.

Yeah, I'm on a soapbox--I can see better from up here.


Justin Stortz said...

I love reading your words because I rarely know how to respond with words of my own. I have an emotional response to your posts that's hard to describe. So, I'll just say thanks for getting on your soapbox.

- @newfirewithin

Rhoni McFarlane said...

This is the truth! We need to stop living in bubbles of comfort. We open our kids up to violence and sexualised behaviour at young ages via the media and don't bat an eyelid, but heaven forbid we look to admit the atrocities and inequities around the corner. Ones that we can act upon and make a difference.
School needs to be about REALITY and giving our kids opportunities to solve REAL problems.
Thanks for standing up.

Kate said...

"Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin' fortunes better than they do
For me this boardwalk life is through, babe"

Magic is getting kids to think for themselves. I tell my students at the end of the year that not believing in what the media and the talking heads tell you, that reading for yourself and thinking for yourself is both the most patriotic and dissonant thing that a they can do. They look at me a little funny, but I hope some day they will know what I mean.

My current biology teacher is going to be the death of me. She is ordering a textbook. They are seventh graders. They just need to get messy. They don't need kindom phylum class order..... I just want to see mud under their nails!!

doyle said...

Dear Justin,

Thanks for the warm wwords.

Dear Rhoni,

Our classrooms need to reflect what's real. Students know when we're fudging.

Dear Kate,

Time to get subversive... =)