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

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

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

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....