Sunday, February 8, 2015

Clamming in February--A Teacher's Tale

Dr. Harrison had opened a quahaug a moment before our arrival. it was lying in the half shell, pink-and-white and inviting, on his laboratory table, adjacent to an apparatus of moderately complex appearance. "This is the heart."Dr. Harrison said, extracting a bit of something deftly with a pair of tweezers. The muscle he showed us was smaller than the nail of a child's little finger. He placed it in a small bowl of sea water. "If this quahaug is like other quahaugs, and I presume that it is," said Dr. Harrison, "the heart will continue to beat for about two days after being removed from its parent body."

"The Heart of a Clam," New Yorker, May 26, 1951. 

Local quahogs, their hearts are now breath again.
Clamming requires no schooling--just a rake, a bucket, and some sense of the world around you. You get to take a piece of the world home with you, slaughter it with a prayer, then eat it with grace.

Clamming in the waning sunlight in February has its own pace--the hands are too cold to work quickly, no greenheads to test your reflexes. The clams will keep just fine in the cool February air.

You get what you need, put back the few that you don't, head back to the car where the asphalt feels foreign under your now bare feet as you strip off your gear, then drive back home, heater on, the clams rattling with the road's rhythms. The radio voices remind you of the world you just forgot.

In the warmth of the kitchen, your numbed muddied hands warm up, and the evanescent earthy breath of unseen creatures float into the air, the smell of the flats you just left, incongruous indoors.

I know the clams too well now--of beating hearts stilled by the boiling water heated with the methane stripped off organisms that died millions of years ago.

And tomorrow I will go back to teaching book biology, of mitochondria and DNA, to children whose breath feeds the growth of the plants on our windowsill, children who know nothing of this world that belongs to all of us.

We're teaching children about edges in a world made of spheres. 


Susan Eckert said...

So why not use a clam to teach biology instead of the book?

doyle said...

Dear Susan,

Hard to keep a quahog alive in a classroom, though the salt water tank you helped set up was as good an education as anything I prattled on about in class.

If public education keeps using factory models that are only exacerbated by ed "reform," may need to consider teaching in places that do not require "seat time."

Susan Eckert said...

One of my student's betta died a few weeks ago. She was game for burying it in her young, tender bean plant growing on the windowsill.

This week, she showed me her plant and it was huge! Much bigger than the others in the classroom. She said something to the effect of it being b/c of the fish or maybe her plant got more sun....we don't really know for sure.

Doesn't really matter but I thought it was a pretty good SGO (in my eyes, not the state's).

doyle said...

Dear Susan,

That your student was aware of more than one variable speaks volumes to the kind of science going on on your class.


Mary Ann Reilly said...

I'm contemplating what K4 science learning at school might look and sound like. I like to think you don't need to go too far to learn, beyond the school door surely sketchbook in hand. As I'm no scientist, I suspect my thought may be naive and nonetheless I wonder if wondering, observing, conjecturing, drawing, talking, writing, hypothesizing aren't critical acts . I studied the Cherry blossom and the dogwood trees in my yard for years. I noticed how the brown crayon I had nice used to draw them was incorrect. That the bark was a home to other living things.

We need to understand that learning isn't about getting already answered question correct. It embarrasses me when I think about the mass testing in high school biology this state has orchestrated. Imagine if we redirected, repurposed the billions going to Pearson and company. I imagine we could squeeze out a few learning walks and trips to shorelines for the children...

Susan Eckert said...

Thank you, Michael. I learned from the best. :)

doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

You truly do not need to go beyond any space that is not under a ceiling. I fear a major point of modern classrooms is to distract the child from what's real outside.

"[W]ondering, observing, conjecturing, drawing, talking, writing, hypothesizing" are all critical acts. I take my high school students out now and again just to look at the trees on the schoolyard, and many are amazed at the communities of life that exist on a single trunk.

The two days of biology testing just sadden me, but I've learned to keep extraneous noise from distracting me from my task--sharing the universe with children, helping them to see its patterns.