Monday, May 8, 2017


You never know how it's going to go, especially acts of faith.
Which, of course, is what makes them acts of faith.

You toss a root into the ground, cover it with dirt, and hope.

And over the years, some take, and many do not.
But the ones that take define who we were, who we are, and who we become.

We can hide behind metaphors, of course, and day to day we (mostly) do.

But to the few who know us, a horseradish flower plucked under the rising sun of our 35th wedding anniversary seems enough.

For our 35th wedding anniversary in our 40th year together.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Beltaine, again

Liked it 5 years ago.
Still do.

“It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.” 
Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle

The increasing light, the returning horseshoe crabs, the bay rising, falling, and rising again, remind me what I'll forget again in a moment. If I were not mortal, the forgetting would not be sin.

But I am, and it is.

Bealtaine again.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

High tech clamming, or why it's OK to reject the latest edugadgets

I went clamming yesterday, a dreary mid-April day, wearing shorts and sandals, while bundled up above the waist in multiple layers, anchored by an Irish sweater knit on the Aran Islands, made for weather like this.

I used a simple clam rake that has worked well for years, designed to scritch the bay's muck, allowing me to get enough clams to feed a few folks for a day or two.

A bit after I started, soon after the tide had turned, another clammer showed up in a full neoprene wetsuit, sporting a commercial bull rake.
"How many you'd get," amiably asked.

He wasn't satisfied with that, and ambled over to my bucket to see. He let me know he got five in the short time he was there. His bull rake did work faster. It requires a bit more strength, and does a bit more damage. If "enough" is your goal, the bull will get you there faster, but since my goal is clamming, something I love to do, I have no need to save time.
"Aren't you cold?"
"No--a bit warmer than February."
He looked at me askew, looked down at his full neoprene wetsuit, then looked back at me and unzipped the top. "Come to think of it, I'm a bit too warm."

Now there have been days when I would have envied his fancy clamming clothes, but today was not one of them. My old wool sweater was made for days like this.

I wished him luck, put back the smallest and the largest clams I had  back into the mud at the edge of the bay (a practice I started years ago--that way I know there will always be clams), and walked away.

"i" in iPad does not stand for "infant."
Image by Steve Paine via Flickr

Before I adopt any new technology (and clam rakes and neoprene both count), I want to know if adopting it will, in any way, reduce increase overall happiness or well-being, for me, and perhaps even more importantly, everybody else.

Not my efficiency.
Not my net worth.
Not my students' test scores.
Not my attractiveness.
Not my credit score.

Not anything beyond a very basic question first:
Will this tool improve joy?

The question is a difficult one for many of us, not so much because our limited imaginations do not foresee the consequences to both us and others down the line, though that is an issue--rather, too many of us no longer allow ourselves to live for joy.

Or even know what joy means anymore.

If you know what you want, you're a lot more likely to find it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


13th century Seder, via Treehugger

I went to a Seder this week, my first one. I was a little bit nervous, at first--I was raised Irish (OK, Roman) Catholic culture that will not share Holy Communion with outsiders

I was welcomed by all, not unexpected, but still nice.

I read (and learned) from the Haggadah, something I did not know even existed a week ago.

Turns out Judaism (at least my brief exposure to it) values questioning (the Haggadah) over education (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), and (dare I say) kids over priests.

I think I am now a better teacher for it...
(Oh, and one more thing--turns out I love gefilte fish and matzoh stuffing.)

Kale soup

This one is for me.

Misty March day, with an occasional tease of sun reminding us what's possible. Perfect day for clamming but for the tides, and one cannot negotiate with the tides,

The kale and Brussels sprouts have survived the winter, as they do, and have not yet bolted, as they will. They're different versions of the same plant, in the same way a dachshund and a bulldog are versions of the same animal, and both tolerate south Jersey winters.

Our parsley plants (mostly) got through, too, and the rosemary bush is now about seven years old, flowering through much of the winter when most everything else is dormant.

We also have some Simpson lettuce growing in the cold frame, planted way back in December in the basement, then moved outside late January or so, when the light was just returning.

We decided to pretty much throw everything together, and it was good.

In the iron skillet, warm up some olive oil, then toss on 4 or 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary. Let the rosemary sizzle in the oil a few minutes, then remove. (Yes, it's wasteful, we've been spoiled by our perpetual rosemary bush).

Add the chopped onions to the oil, let them simmer a couple of minutes, but do not let them caramelize. (I guess you could if you want--maybe I will next time)

Toss the wine into the skillet, then add the chopped kale--it looks like a mountain, but will ease itself into the wine soon enough.

Add the parsley, a dash or two of Tabasco, then salt to taste. Let this simmer for about 10-15 minutes.Add a dab of butter while simmering.

Meanwhile, heat up Leslie's veggie broth, toss in a couple of chopped potatoes, and let simmer. Once the potatoes are oft, dump the skillet goodies into the pot, and let this all simmer another 10 or 15 minutes.


Happiness V: Get outside

Happiness I: Parable of the hired hand
Happiness II: Eating
Happiness III: Making Noise
Happiness IV: Keep moving
Oystering in North Cape May
That's it, enough to fix most of what ails most of us.

No point in walking a mile in someone else's shoes if you never bother to while wearing your own. (Barefoot works, too.)

Walking and being outside are not synonymous, of course, but each makes the other better.

Enough said--I need to get outside.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Were humans inevitable?

Wrestling with how to tackle evolution in class this morning--Br>hard to pretend religion has no place in a public school classroom when
most of America believes God, at minimum, had a hand in our evolution.

Stumbled on this from a few years to thoughts.

Too often high school biology teachers take the soft way out when confronting challenges in the classroom.

"Science and religion answer different questions."

This is more convenient than true. How humans came to be is a religious question. It's also a science question. Trying to placate a student by insisting otherwise diminishes science, religion, and your student. If you think guiding a child's grasp of the natural world matters, then teach science.

If you think convenience matters more, get out of the classroom.

We have Disneyfied Darwin. (To be fair, we have a habit of sanitizing just about all the great thinkers in history.)

Darwin did not come up with the idea of evolution any more than Newton discovered gravity or Columbus proved the world is round.

Darwin's genius, the reason Darwin's ideas are so powerful and frightening, is this: once life was here (for whatever reason),  natural selection is sufficient to explain how humans (or any other organism alive today) came to be.

If natural selection is sufficient, then the Hand of God becomes superfluous. Not wrong, of course, and certainly not falsifiable--the supernaturalists will always have that edge over science--but folks get understandably peeved when the Almighty becomes a footnote.

If you're a 15 year old child with a firm belief in the omnipotence of a creator, and you get even an inkling of the repercussions of Darwin's concept of natural selection, you're going to feel like someone just ripped your world apart.

Because someone just did.

So, yes, science doesn't have much to say about whether God's Hand directed the traffic of evolution--it's no longer an interesting scientific question. Most of my students, like the vast majority of adults, do not get this. Heck, most people who "believe in" evolution don't get this, either.

It's easy to hide in this cloud of ignorance, to pretend science and religion serve different masters. I suspect many biology teachers (who, for the most part, are not biologists), do not themselves have a deep understanding of the repercussions of natural selection.

If Darwin was right, humans were not inevitable. That can be profoundly disturbing to a sophomore high school student.

I know it's disturbing to at least one 53 year old science teacher....
Michelangelo drew those hands, of course....

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dredge spoils

This is more for me than anything else.

We get bogged down in SGOs, PARCCs, CCSSs, PSATs, HSPAs, UbDs, SATs, NJDOEs, KWLs, SQ3Rs, QQPs, IEPs, ESLs, NAEPs, NCLBs, AYPs, IDEAs, ADHDs, ADAs, FAPEs, ODDs, PDDs, TBIs, TTYs, CSTs, OCDs, DYFSs, SLDs, and all kinds of other capitalized nonsense that define a very limited human world that catches up with most all of us.

And then I find myself on a moonscape.

From 7 years ago today.
A reminder of what matters.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Christian science

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Genesis 2:7, KJV

Looking several stories down on the west coast of Ireland.
I do not have a death wish. There is no need for need for one, it's pretty much guaranteed.

I do have a "how to die" wish, and a "when to die," ideally a quick arrhythmia as the days are lengthening. I could add a "where to die," perhaps a mudflat teeming with life, but still pondering that one.

Plants spin life from air. Animals spin flesh from life, muscles that contract to pull our hard bones to do our will, tearing and ripping up earth and life. We use our flesh to destroy what we cannot comprehend. We are our own incarnations, air to plants to flesh.

No flesh, no Christianity (of the Nicene sort, anyway)--a religion based on the senseless destruction of a man incarnate. Air to dust to flesh then to dust again if you choose the ground, air if you choose the crematorium.

Still, the plants keep building things right back up, with a huge hand from bacteria, the "lowlife" grabbing nitrogen molecules from the air, ripping them apart into manageable pieces, making nitrogen available for all proteins, all DNA, all of life.

The Host is made of no more (or less) than flour and water, spun out of air by wheat and bacteria. And while the Host must be treated reverently, you will eventually lose it as tiny pieces, mostly exhaled by your breath, that same breath of life that goes back eons

God (or whatever you call this) kissed the bacteria long before we came along, or perhaps the bacteria invented god, no way to know.

But I do know this--too many biology students "know" biology without ever sensing the mystery of this life, the only one we know, because we reduce science to something more palatable to those who have more faith than sense.

The devil is in the details....
Yes, a  repeat, but needed to cleanse the palate after the last four posts.

Happiness IV: Keep moving

Happiness I: Parable of the hired hand
Happiness II: Eating
Happiness III: Making Noise

Mary Beth,  my sister, on the left

"Mary Beth is equally famous in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area because of her contagious, positive, dynamic personality. Among her circle of friends are musicians, artisans, professionals, and regular folks of every persuasion who have all enjoyed the best conversations and 
dancing of their lives
because they shared them with Mary Beth."

You'd be hard-pressed to find a picture when she was still. She moved more in her lifetime than I ever will, despite losing her to the errant driving of a self-described Christian missionary.

Mary Beth knew deeply that in many ways humans are fucked by our own behavior, something most of us deliberately ignore. She also knew she was mortal, and lived that way--mortality made her fearless.

Still, she danced.
And danced and danced and danced.

It's hard to be unhappy when you are dancing, even when you are aware of so much sadness.

She changed much of her part of the world--she worked nationally on environmental issues that affected all of us, and her work required all of her.

But all of her included dancing.

We tell our children to sit down. We train them to sit still for long periods of time.
We do this even though we now know that this is dangerous.

Mammals were never meant to be compliant.
Social, yes--doing things together is not the same thing as compliance.

Our bodies are meant to move, to twist and wiggle, to walk and gallop, to sprint and jump and, yes, to dance.
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

W.B. Yeats, from "Among School Children"

The dominant culture does not trust dancing so much, no surprise since it does not trust our bodies, our mammalness, our humanness. Our culture needs bodies, of course, and when it did not have enough, it took them and tried to strip the human from them.

Many pale folk fear what they perceive as a monolithic black culture--though praise it for entertainment. This is no accident, and is only genetic in a cultural sense.

If white folk can't dance, it's because we, as a culture, have chosen not to, and do not trust our bodies/ourselves to be mammals humans again.

It's always OK for children to dance for joy. Same goes for you, dear reader.

Happiness III: Making noise

Happiness I: Parale of the hired hand
Happiness II: Eating
Third part of several on pursuing happiness:

Kids love to make noise.
Fart, sing, clap, hum, rustle paper, snap gum.

In class, we only let them do it briefly, unless it's music class, when we make them make the right kind of noise.

The look.
"Our Miss Ramey, 1924" via Shorpy

Watch our cousins outdoors--the birds, the squirrels, even the bugs create a cacophony of chirping, chattering, and buzzing

Even a fruit fly hums to his lovers (followed by, well, licking..) And don't get me started on fruit bats. Ahem, back to noise.

Here's my anecdotal observation: kids who make noise in class (other than the one trying to disrupt) are generally the happy ones. Humming, singing, chattering away, despite years of admonishments.

Mammals love to make noise, and humans are pretty good at it. Most humans are pretty happy when they are singing for themselves, and until the last few decades, the only singing a child heard was that of those around them.

Today we "consume" music, and singing in public gets odd looks (unless you're very good at it and doing it for money).

I know--I'm a singing fool.

So to recap so far:
Grow stuff. Eat well. Make music (or even just noise).

Happiness II: Eating

Happiness I
Continuing my hubris....

"Pursuing happiness" is a big deal in this experiment called America. Public education is a big deal, too. Both are under fire.

I think a lot of unhappiness stems from our cultural break from our mammalian roots. (That's not a thesis, just an idle thought.)

While too many times ethnic celebrations in schools break down into match-the-food-with-the-culture, they do provide a teachable moment when a child of the dominant culture mutters "But I'm American-- we don't have a food."

And there may be some truth to that.

Clams from the bay, tomatoes from the garden.

Mammals need to eat a lot of food, a cost of our warm-bloodedness. Most of our cousins spend a good part of their waking hours getting and eating food. Much of their social interaction revolves around getting (and sharing) food.

Until very recently (past hundred years or so) much of American social interaction involved the multiple steps needed to eat. We cheated a little bit of the time by using slaves, only considered 3/5 of the rest of "us" (and only considered human at all so the South could have a bigger voice in Congress), but still, much of any given day was dedicated to sowing, reaping, slaughtering, prepping, sifting,  grinding, rolling, frying, kneading, baking, churning, chopping, hauling, and, well, eating.

Pretty much everything eaten was local and in season, and I'm betting also pretty good most of the year.

From our classroom, grown from a wheatberry

How do I know? I am blessed with local, fresh food several times a month. Even in February, I can rake clams from the bay, pluck Brussels sprouts from the garden, cook the clams with rosemary and parsley from the garden, then chase it down with honey wine from my daughter's bee hive.

You do not need much space to do this, and it doesn't even have to be yours.

My neighbors mostly plant grass. Not the good kind like wheat or oats or corn. Kentucky blue grass (which would be interesting if it were truly blue). Chewings fescue. Bermudagrass. All clipped before they give off a hint of sexuality.

If you have a southern window, you can nibble on fresh basil all winter long.

Basil on a windowsill.
I teach children biology, or at least pretend to. Hard to teach children about life in a culture that uses Round-Up like water, in a culture where few children have slaughtered anything but mosquitoes, and where too few children have eaten anything they planted themselves.

So child by child I try to change this, but not so they can survive in some post-Apocalyptic world.

Carrot grown in our classroom.

No, I just want them to have a shot at pursuing happiness.

What do you think hands are for?

Happiness I: Parable of the hired hand

I am one of the happiest adults I know. Grumpy, true, but anyone paying attention to the world around us should be barking mad at times.

I also realize (at least cerebrally--some things cannot be truly internalized wearing only a mask) that I have been graced with the pedigree that allows one to swim through this cultural sea oblivious of the flotsam.

To talk of one's happiness is bad enough, to advise others on how to achieve it infuriating--feel free to stop reading right here. Still, if one teaches children in a public school (and I do), and believes "the pursuit of happiness" is a civic duty (for democracies cannot thrive if we pursue merely money and pleasure), well, that's reason enough for this post.

Back  in my doctor days when I occasionally hung out with the upper middle class sort, I was invited to a pool party by one of my attending physician supervisors. Not going was not really an option, so on a rare day off my clan piled into an ancient station wagon and headed to some gilded hills.

Her home was beautiful, the pool large and inviting, and she had several beautiful gardens. I was far more interested in the plants than the pool, and while chatting, she made it clear she had a gardener. (Why anyone would have a gardener escapes me, but I listened politely, looking for an escape.)

She became wistful "My gardener seems so happy--must be nice to be so simple not to have to worry about things."

She was envious of her gardener's life (or at least the one she imagined he lived), the same gardener who likely could not afford to bring his children to his employer's pediatric practice.

I thought of suggesting to her that she might want to get her hands into the dirt herself, mammals that we are, but that was not her point, of course.

She simply did not have the time.
She is still practicing medicine, and I am not.

So what is the lesson for my lambs? "Pursue your dreams" is impossible for most their age--their dreams are the dreams of their parents, and they know little else.

But they know this much--the person standing in front of them day after day prefers teaching over medicine. And he seems happy--not because he became a teacher, but because he loves what he does.

You are not a "job title" or a "profession" or "unemployed." You are, for hours a day, whatever you are doing during those hours. That's how it works, at least among the mortal.

But she did have a wonderful garden.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Teaching, not preaching, science

Here are things I wish teachers would stop doing:
  • Telling kids the world is round (when it is obviously flat).
  • Telling kids that spontaneous generation is a myth (when every child paying attention can see life develop in a cup of water in just a few weeks).
  • Telling kids that the Earth spins completely around in just a few hours every day (when it's clear that it is the sun inches its way across the sky).
  • Telling the kids that the universe was an incomprehensibly small point an incomprehensibly long time ago (when every child paying attention knows you can only crush stuff so far before it becomes impossible to smush anymore).
We teach science as catechism, then wonder why our children are so gullible. so fearful to question, 

We give children less evidence to believe "science" than we did when we bullied them into believing in Santa Claus with half-eaten cookies and bribes of toys,

Kids believe what the adults around them tell them. If you want a child to know science, you're going to have to accept their models of the world until you can show them why the "adult" models work better.

And if you do not know why the science models you thrust upon children work better than models that work well enough for children (and for the rest of us, too), you're preaching, not teaching.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Clamming in early March

I went clamming yesterday, mostly to get clams, but the other reasons matter, too.

The breeze came in from the northwest, the temperature hovering around 35° F. Not so bad if you stay dry, but chilly on the flat if you insist on clamming with bare hands.

The moon and the breeze pushed the waters back, and the bay's edge lay unexpectedly exposed, glistening like a tendon, more surprised than embarrassed.

The back bay gives and gives, and I take and take, all unearned.

The tide rises after I leave, smoothing out the scars I left with my rake.

I gathered some kale, parsley, and rosemary from the garden, also unearned, and also taken.

The shells now lay under a tree in the backyard, the essence of the clams now part of those of us who ate them, and part of the air around us.

I teach biology, but I live life--and the chasm between the two reflects the difference between an education and a living.

We owe it to our children to make sure they know the difference.

Daylight Saving Time, again

An hour shorter makes a longer week... 

"...[T]he shift to Daylight Saving Time (DST) results in a dramatic increase in cyberloafing behavior at the national level."
DT Wagner et al, J Appl Psychol. 2012 Sep;97(5):1068-76

A quarter of the world's population will be groggy tomorrow. A few people will die traumatically. Students' test skills will deteriorate. A few more people will die of heart attacks. The stock market may crash.

And yet we still do it.

Stonehenge time
You cannot save time.

You cannot add an hour of sunshine to your day.

You can, though, manipulate human conceits. If nothing else, Daylight Saving Time is an excellent way to demonstrate to children the folly and the real consequences of humans believing they control more than they control.

Tomorrow my 1st period lambs will trudge through before dawn through blackened banks of snow to get to school. Broad Street in Bloomfield will look like the zombie apocalypse. We'll tell them to keep their heads up (or at least wipe the drool of their desks before they leave), but we are bucking millions of years of evolution.

Photo by Eugene Ter-Avakyan, cc-2.0

Humans need sleep. Adolescents (still considered by most to be a subset of humans) need more than the 97 minutes my kids average on Sunday nights.

And why not? What better way to prep for college and career readiness in the global economy than making students take life-altering assessments while comatose? Have kids knock down a few Xanax pills, and chase it with gin and Adderall cocktails to make it really authentic.

Stonehenge photo by Resk, released to PD
Yep, a repeat--I ilke cycles....

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Imbolc, again

An Cailleach Bhearra wandered around back in the 10th century in western Ireland,
eating "seaweed, salmon, and wild garlic" (my kind of woman), looking for firewood.

If the day was bright and sunny, beware--she had gathered plenty of wood and was set for many cold days ahead.
If the day was gray, she didn't bother, and she will make the days warm up again. Sound familiar?

Imbolc again.
The daffodils have broken through the earth. My words shrink as the sunlight grows.
Groundhog Day has always been a favorite of mine.
We are trapped by words.
A few days ago I watched a crow at the ferry jetty caw caw caw at a gull sharing a light post. The gull did not respond. The crow then swooped down, picked up a piece of paper, then returned to its perch near the gull.

The crow carefully ripped up the paper, piece by piece, dropping each piece, one by one, watching each piece until it hit the ground, looking at the gull between pieces as if to say Hey!

When done, the crow cawed once more, and this time the gull squawked back. The crow, now seemingly satisfied, nodded, then flew to a trashcan and cawed at a few humanfolk, one (not me) who cawed back.

I have no idea what that was about, nor could I justify discussing it in my classroom. So I don't.

Curriculum stops at the point where humans are besides the point.

That makes sense if you live in a world of words. It makes less sense at the water's edge.
A child can parrot the Calvin cycle without knowing a thing about a seed, about food, about the billions, trillions of other organisms teeming around him.

If we keep ignoring things where humans are besides the point, we will become just that.


I teach biology, the study of life, in a culture that fails to recognize death. The children spray themselves with Axe, yet shy from the pond water and the mud brought in from outside.

I can hardly grade a child on her ability to keep a plant alive in a public building . I cannot ask a child to slaughter a calf in class. I can ask her to tell me how many NADH molecules are generated from one molecule of glucose during the Krebs cycle.

With the return of the sun comes the return of my sanity, when I feel comfortable letting go of the words again, learning (again) that what I thought was besides the point is the point.

Photos by us.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Are POTUS claims fair game for CER exercises in public schools?

Part of inaugural parade route via NPR: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Next Generation Science Standards focus on doing science--making observations, drawing inferences, making claims based on evidence and reasoning.

It's unfamiliar to students who are used to being schooled, and it's unfamiliar to teachers who are used to schooling.

As much as I have grumped about the particulars of NGSS implementation, I am a huge fan of its underlying foundation--teaching students how to discern the natural world through careful examination of evidence and the models we create to make sense of that evidence.

And here we are, with an administration blatantly disregarding obvious facts, even trivial ones, if they challenge Trump's worldview of himself.

  • Trump did not draw the largest crowd ever at his coronation inauguration.
  • The number of Metro riders was not greater on his day (Friday) than Obama's 2013 inauguration--it was about 27% lower if my arithmetic is right. (And my arithmetic is more right than most of Trump's cabinet picks.)
  • Nowhere near a million people attended Trump's inauguration.
  • It is very unlikely that "probably everyone" of the several hundred CIA employees gathered to hear his speech had voted for him.

So here's a question to my fellow teachers--will you use these blatant examples of out-and-out lies as authentic test cases for claim/evidence/reasoning exercises?

I was initially going to ignore the noise, but given the power of the source of the misinformation and the availability of public records that allow us to check the evidence, I'm now leaning towards using the administrations own words for such an exercise.

A primary function of public schools is to maintain an informed citizenry, no?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inaugural speech and education, II

"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. ... An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."     Donald Trump

In light of our POTUS's history, this comes off a tad creepy.
How soon we forget.

"I am going to be dating her in ten years. Can you believe it?"      Donald Trump

Inaugural speech and education, I

"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. ... An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."       Donald Trump, January 20, 2017

"All knowledge" is an odd phrase, perhaps accidental, but likely not. These were prepared words spoken at an inauguration speech.

To be fair, I start off every year telling my students that they will know less by June than they think they know in September. And, mostly, they do--trying to get a handle on how the natural world works will do that to a person.

Part of me fervently wishes this was a reference to Socrates' paradox:

"I know that I know nothing."


Mr. Trump has made it clear that he made a break from the natural world a long time ago. It's an illusion, of course, entropy conquers all of us eventually, but for the moment, ignorance trumps science. And many of us are going to pay for his ignorance.

I am trying to parse the sentence, but I keep getting lost.

Is "all knowledge" a reference to the tree in the Garden of Eden? Is "all knowledge" some code understood by the extreme right?

Does he believe schools act like giant brain leeches, sucking out gray matter through our children's eyeballs?
Poster lifted from The Hannibal 8

Monday, January 16, 2017

I am a racist--if you're white, chances are you are, too

If you're white and celebrating Dr. King's life today, may be a good time for a self-examination.

I come from an unusual school in an unusual school district. We are not a mostly white or a black or a Latino school. We are Muslim and Jewish and Christian and Hindu and Sikh. We hear Bengali, Spanish, Greek, English, Patois, and maybe another couple dozen languages and dialects in our hallways.

Crispus Attucks, first death in American Revolution
via Crispus Attucks Museum website
I'm not going to ruin all this by claiming a Kumbaya moment, but what makes this building work maybe better than most others is the constant infusion of immigrants into our town, an infusion of confusion, that keeps us all wondering who we are.

I've heard several times a different version of that discussion, as a small group of kids will discuss just which banner they fall under.

And that's a good place to start.

The other race conversation is the one acknowledging the price of color in this fine land of ours. The problem is not starting "the conversation" about race. Most kind, nice folks I know are eager, too eager, to start the conversation.

The problem is getting past the niceties, the politeness, the veneer of civility that subtly reflects our standing with each other.

The problem with the hard conversation is that most white folks I know truly believe two things:
  • They're not racist.
  • If they're not racist, then this does not involve them.
This skirts the whole issue of privilege, neatly tidied up in a universal statement of our humanity, and who could possibly argue with the idea that an unbiased, nice person who just wants everybody to get along had nothing to do with, well, John Crawford? 

Here's a place to start. You're not going to get off the bottle until you acknowledge you're a racist. Not a John Birch Society heavy drinking racist, just the social two-glasses-of-chardonnay kind. The kind who sits on the sidelines tsk tsking away a world that does not concern you.

But it should.
Make the declaration, then let's try having the talk. 

And if it does not, you are in deeper than you think.
This was originally posted a tear or so ago--seemed like a good day to post it again.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, reduced by Kidzworld

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (not "MLK") had had his teeth extracted by the dominant culture, an abominable snowman reduced to a toothless grinning cartoon fit for white folk. I've said as much before. And he supported the poor white folk who voted for Mr. FortySixPercent far more than Trump ever will.

The "I Have a Dream" speech is wonderful, but only in context of everything else he did. If you know him only by that, it's like pretending to know Jesus because he once took a stroll on water.

So once again, I will print out several dozen copies of the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," leave them by the door, and encourage students to read it

Meanwhile, folks will continue to abuse the idea of the man with things like this:

Do the work that matters, and you will sleep better. You're going to die anyway.

May as well make your life one worth living.

As good a lesson as any for our lambs.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The price of today's words

Truth as written by some young folk in B362,

I keep a manual typewriter in the back of our classroom. Kids enjoy banging on it when they discover it, mostly, I think, from its novelty, but it runs deeper than that.

Not all words are meant to be permanent, Most of our day to day words are meant to be fleeting, as ephemeral as the chatter of the squirrels and pigeons that share our neighborhood, and with about as much meaning. When we send off emails and texts and tweets, they feel as ephemeral as the spoken word, but they're not.

Casual words spoken tentatively, spoken in anger, spoken in love, spoken as casual chit chat, all used to hang in the air between the few that heard them, as quickly gone as the next breath few breaths.

The printed word changed that, but it took effort and time to put words to paper. It took effort and time to get that paper to the person who was meant to see them. And in that time, before permanent words had a permanent effect, the chain could be broken. And it often was.

Kids throw out kid words with kid impulses and pay adult prices.

The price is far too high.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dear White Men of America

From my other blog, but with the impending coronation, figured I'd share it here.

Dear White Men of America,

I’ve broken noses, both mine and others, shoveled shit off ships in Port Newark, and worked in the projects; I know the thrill of flying off a bike then feeling the heat of asphalt build up under the leather as you tumble next to your bike down the road; I’ve been knocked out several times, smoked cigars while pissing into the Atlantic, had a man die under my hands after being shot, and yes, I play fantasy football, too.

I drink too much beer, take too few vitamins, have plenty of physical scars with too little faith in the metaphorical ones, stick by my teams, love my whiskey, and slaughtered animals. I’m a white man in America.

We know each other. Or at least I thought we did.

Mr. Trump has done none of these things, has never worked a day in his life, and I doubt he could fix anything more complicated than a burned out light bulb, and even then he’d likely injure himself.

He’s the smarmy kid in class with too much money and too little sense with his crew of buddies ready to beat up the weaker among us. I know a few of you ran with that kind of crew, but I always believed most of us stood our ground when his henchmen came round.

And I was wrong.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

Your fellow white American male

"'Dock stevedore at the Fulton Fish Market holding giant lobster claws.'
Photo by Gordon Parks for the Office of War Information" via Shorpy

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


We're a few hours away from our closest brush with the sun for the year. We are also a few hours away from the darkest 4 weeks of the year. Coincidental, true, but both are good news.

Because the perihelion happens in winter, we're blessed with a longer summer in these parts, and we're blessed with a larger sun when we need it most. (Yes, this is illusory, but so is pretty much everything else we pretend matters.)

As the days lengthen, again, I am reminded, again, of our ties to the light, to the ground, to the air and water. To say as much these days gets you labeled as some kind of Luddite or squirrel-kissing tree-hugger.

And maybe that's my gift to the students--standing in front of them, an old soul still more connected (if tenuously) to the world that sustains us than the one that merely entertains us.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A song is a song while sung

From two years ago today, because I need reminding
Dave Keeney is a friend of mine, who happens to be brilliant, though that's not a word he'd likely use to describe himself. He's an apple farmer, a musician, a story teller, a mensch.

Dave on the left, Old Town, New Year's Eve
(photo by Derek Daniel)

First time he met my Dad, my Dad (once a fighter pilot) was in bad shape after a series of strokes that made him pretty much unintelligible. Except to Dave. After trading stories, Dave got out his guitar and sang one of the funniest songs I had ever heard, "John Denver's Last Flight."

Later, after dinner, I asked Dave to play the song again. He would not.
"Why not?"
"Don't remember it."
"But you just sang it, how could you forget something you know?"
"I made it up."
I still regret not ever hearing that song again, and Dave never gave it a second thought. The song is a song while sung, and that's more than enough for Dave, even as I (and I am embarrassed to say it) thought of the song's potential commercial value..

If the product is the goal, then we lose the "we" in this thing we're doing, whatever this thing we're doing happens to be.

Once an object is made, a song sung, a story scribbled down on the back of of an envelope, it's no longer us, merely an artifact of who we were.

We become machines, we are machines, in our relentless chase to create the perfect product, make perfection a standard in whatever we do. We want everything to be professional, the new code word for standardized.

The us is in the process, the joy is in the doing.
A song is a song only as a song is being sung.

Fuck professionalism, it's no way to live nor love.
I'm going back to my ancestors' world of artisans,

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Curing our children of wanton behavior

Newton, by William Blake, at the Tate

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

A robin redbreast in a cage
Puts all heaven in a rage.

William Blake, from "Auguries of Innocence"

We fear wilderness, and understandably so. We prefer edged lawns to thistle, Lord Tennyson to William Blake, textbooks to open and changeable sources.

A wild child fails in our culture. Thankfully, we do a pretty good job at school, curing our children of natural impulses, of wanton behavior.


Wanton is an old word, now infused with ill will. It comes from wan, or lack (as in "for want of"), and togen, or pull. The roots literally mean "unpulled." To be wanton means to be unbridled. The word used to mean "sportive or frolicsome, as children or young animals."

As we dive deeper and deeper into a culture of efficiency, a culture dependent on artificial standards and goals, a culture that defines joy on its terms, we have less tolerance for the wild ones.


The wild ones got us here:

Isaac Newton (the same man who predicted the Apocalypse may fall as early as 2060, a man obsessed with alchemy and the Bible) "seem[ed] to have shown little promise in academic work. His school reports described him as 'idle' and 'inattentive'."

Einstein, an excellent math and science student despite the myths, believed that “it is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education."

The history of science is littered with bright folks sticking things into places where they don't belong, just to see what happens. If you already know what's going to happen, what's the point?

School is designed to protect the order of things, to keep us safe, to tell us what is going to happen.

Except for science class.

Sparks fly, test tubes erupt and spew off foam and flames, white flies spontaneously generate among rows of peas and carrots that look so incongruous in a government building.

Stains on the ceiling, cracks in the world, and incident reports in central administration remind us that wilderness exists, even in a building where young lives are pre-planned, curricula set, protocols enforced.

If you teach, guide your lambs to the ledge:
  • If you teach language arts, push the wilderness. Read Blake with passion; you grasp that all this is miraculous, and that all this will end. Let your children see you bleed.
  • If you teach history, let the smells and sounds of battle waft into your room, let fear and hope swirl in your room as it swirls around us in the world. Let your children taste the blood that has spilled.
  • If you teach physical education, push a child to feel what reckless abandon feels like, when the body is allowed to break from the human forms of chairs and desks and burst into motion. Let the children fall and bleed.

We do not shed enough blood in the classroom, and there are good reasons for that. We fear lawsuits, we fear unruly classrooms, we fear chaos.

I think we most fear the wilderness. Order is seductive, civilization seduces us all. Schools produce the graduates we deserve.

Civilization matters, of course. I like my hot showers, my iPod, my tap water, my clothes. I like order and the daily insulation from death and entropy. I do not plan to paint anarchistic slogans on my walls.

I do hope, though, that I am a little bit more courageous sharing the wild with my students this coming year.

Yes, I know, we adore Blake now--he is safely dead, tucked in a dead and long ago age we call Romanticism. If you can read Blake without wanting to scream and run off naked into a July thunderstorm on the edge of the ocean, you're missing the point.

The Newton page predicting 2060 as our end is from, fittingly, Armageddon Online here.

Yep, a repost.