Sunday, March 11, 2018

Back into September light

September shadows return tomorrow.

March lettuce, started in the fall

The grackles, my favorite bird, are back, strutting around like they own the place, giving me the yellow eye, tossing over sticks and leaves and clam shells, eating pretty much anything that moves.

A lone crocus flower opened up for business, ready for any late winter bee foolish enough to wander out on this chilly, windy day.


I found the lettuce pushing up on the cold frame window. I may leave the frames open now, answering the prayers of the rabbits readying their nests for bunnies.

A March garden dinner sounds like peasant fare--kale, Egyptian walking onion, rosemary, various lettuces from the garden, bread and potatoes from Acme.

The first peas are tucked in the earth now, a week early, despite the nor'easter threatening to hit in two days. I have plenty more to plant.

As you get older, you realize you have far more seeds than you do time. 

Daylight Saving Time, again....

An hour shorter makes for 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 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....

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lenten prayer

Wheat in our classroom window a few years ago.

The miracle was not so much the resurrection, such as it was.
The miracle is that any of us are here at all.


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Snow day!

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.

I love teaching, and even a bad day teaching beats a good day at work. I once played a doctor in real life, and "snow days" meant bringing an extra pair of underwear to the hospital.

I occasionally ask students what they would do with a million dollars--and they are not allowed to invest it. Really no point in making scads of money if you have no idea (beyond surviving) what to do with it.

Snow days are a good day to take inventory--teachers are occasionally blessed with free time. (I am not sure how many teachers get how blessed we are to be in this profession.) How we spend it tells us a bit of who we are and what we want. 

So I cataloged my snow days. Here's what I've done the past couple of days: 
  • I scrubbed the labels off about 50 bottles.
  • I bottled 5 gallons of beach plum melomel, each plum picked from a couple of backyard bushes.
  • I tended to my eggplant and pepper seedlings.
  • I shoveled some snow, something I enjoy.
  • I read a stupid mystery--I am always reading stupid mysteries.
  • I contemplated what I can do better in my classes, finished a set of plans, toyed with a lab. 
  • I planned my next melomel--thinking of dropping some vanilla beans in a clover honey mead. (I have 4 empty carboys and only one with a blooping airlock.)

  • I chatted outside with neighbors.
  • I visited some students.
  • I read Science magazine
  • I worked on a NYT crossword puzzle.
  • I chatted with my local liquor store guy (been going to him for 34 years now) and bought some beer.
  • I drank some beer.
  • I wrote a blog post (or two), and started two letters. I am not so good at finishing letters.
  • I resurrected my Twitter account, only to put it down again. 
  • I watched the snow fall.
  • I watched the snow melt.

Before I go to bed tonight:
  • I'll order a few more seeds.
  • I'll plant some lettuce.
  • I'll wash some dishes, do some laundry, take out some garbage.
  • I'll watch a hockey game with my adult son. I am truly blessed that he still wants to hang out with his Dad.
  • I'll dabble some more in school plans--I know I'm supposed to complain about this, but it gives me joy.
And I'll breathe and break down some organic compounds into CO2 and water, inch a little closer to my final breath, thump a few thousand more heart beats.

How we spend our snow days serves as an accounting of how we spend our lives.

It's a good life.
If you read nothing else today, at least read Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day."

On mending a fence

Near Higbee Beach
The earth breaks.
The rains come. The mud heals. The sun returns.
Then the earth breaks again.

For a few dozen cycles of the billions life has been around, you get to share the dance with others, ignorant of where the music comes from, but audible if you listen.
The fence post a few years ago.
The nor'easter blew over a stockade fence post I dug into the earth a quarter century ago. I got out my tool bucket,

A couple of my tools are from my grandfather. He was born in the 19th century, an ocean away. He ran away from home, ended up on the front for two weeks out of three for a several years "fighting" for the same folks who starved his people not so long ago. He lost all his teeth (a toothache bought you an extraction and a day off the front) and got shot in the back of the neck ("I'll be damned if I got shot in the front, I was always running.")

I do not use his tools because of his stories--I use them because they still work. But the stories make the tools feel warmer in my hands.

As I was digging out the dirt from around the post, an earthworm wiggled halfway out of its hole, looking a bit concerned that the earth had disappeared. (I do not communicate well with worms, but it was wiggling a bit, and seemed stressed). After a few minutes it scooted back into its hole.

Cabbagehead jelly seen on an evening paddle

Many have danced before you, mostly not human. We've only been dancing on this earth a short while--but it's no more earned than the air you just breathed in.

I forget this most days.
Today is as good a day as any to remind myself.

And maybe a better day than most--thinking of a few of my lambs today,

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

On a bad day, good news

Expo markers used on the floor to draw models of DNA replication do not come off easily.
Another minor disaster in a day of teaching.

Kids you love more than you know get sick.
And almost always get better.

And here's hoping and praying that one more does.


She's going to be OK....

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Aerial bombing of America, 1921

106 years ago an enthusiastic Italian reconnaissance pilot snuck a few grenades aboard his bird, and threw them out of his open cockpit aiming to harm a few Turks.

No one was hurt, but a lot of folks were shaken up by his audacity.

One of the earliest bombers, the Taube
[indirectly via National Geographic]

Less than 10 years later, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was more effectively bombed--though even the local historical society has no comment on that.

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.”  Buck Colbert Franklin via the Smithsonian.

It's called the Race Riot of 1921. It was not. It was a pogrom.

Tulsa burning from the top down
 Several hundred people of color were killed, over 6,000 were interned, and their town was destroyed, deliberately, from the air.

Reading two books that have been synergistic, and highly recommended.
Inequality in the Promised Land by R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy, and Air Traffic, by Gregory Pardlo--I got lucky and a pre-release copy fell into my hands.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On a missionary's death

The Reverend Billy Graham has died.
My sister was killed by a Christian missionary who told me it was God's will.

Not saying they're connected--not saying they're not.

Gardens die in the fall—without the energy to keep itself together, a plant falls apart. As the summer sun slides off its altar, reminding us who reigns, the world around us dies.


From a tired garden in October.
Life will return when the sun does, in its glorious ooziness of critters and plants and archaea and bacteria and fungi and whatever else has crawled from our common puddle of life eons ago.

I enjoy being part of this oozy thisness, but we only get to play in its rhythms for a short while, metaphorically for most, literally for some.

If my sister can die, so can you. So can I. And we will, in due time. 
I spent part of the afternoon ripping up autumn earth, rich with life, getting ready for the time when the sun will return. Then I took a walk along the edge of the bay, whipped up into a brown frenzy by the blow we’ve had the past couple of days, looking for fossils, reminders of lives long past but still with a remnant of order, a "fuck off" to the entropy that will eventually turn even the stoniest fossils back to dust.

I found two, a broken shark tooth and another I could not identify, and I’ll carry them around a few days until I lose them or give them away. (My students love fossils as much as I love the idea of fossils, so I’ll keep collecting them because it gives me pleasure.)

As I walked up the short but steep sandy path back to my bicycle, passing a ghost crab burrow along the way, I realized, again, just how lucky I am, doing pretty much what I want to do just about every single day, for no particular reason beyond the joy it brings me.

Two Mile Beach, photo by Leslie Doyle

I break clods of rich sod with my hands, drink hoppy ales, ride on an aging recumbent bicycle the kids think is cool, bang on various stringed instruments, rake up clams from the flats, walk along the edge of the sea, stare at the stars and a galaxy or two at night, share what we know about the natural world about half my days, and get to walk barefoot until it snows, and even then sometimes. I live with my best friend, and my kids are decent adults leading good lives.

Oh, and I get to write long, unedited nonsense, which I have not done for a little while, about a pointless life, but that, you see, is exactly the point.

Live every day as if it could be your last, and give the same courtesy to your students, at least while you can. I’m not a bad science teacher, nor am I a great one, but I pointedly live a happy, pointless life.

Mary Beth's life was not pointless....

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A mild day in February

The tiger lilies and irises are erupting through the earth, again. I like to stare at them.

Time to sow, again. I planted beets in the cold frame--I booted out the previous tenants, an overcrowded plot of kale. (Not really--I simply lifted up the cold frame and plopped it on another section of garden. The kale will do fine.)

I skated, again, first time in years. Mice had taken up residence in the boot, so the skates were not wasted.

I measured the water table level--looks like we're going to be OK this year, but you never know.

I biked to the beach, again, and wandered a little bit looking for fossils--low tide in February often good for that, but found none.

I then settled on a pile of rocks. A few herring gulls eyed me, but we all decided to mind our own business. A beautiful black-backed gull soared within 20 yards of me as I sat, the fool on the hill of rocks jutting into the bay. A second one followed.

I replaced a folding door in the bathroom.

I napped.

I soaked some beer bottles to remove the labels--it's time to bottle some cherry melomel, maybe next week's project.

I pulled the Brussels sprouts, got enough sprouts for dinner, left the stalks for the rabbits who have been gnoshing on the sprouts all winter.

I read a stupid mystery book.

I chopped up half a bulb of garlic.

But not a minute on Twitter....

My pinkie

I have a lot to talk about.

Education. Race. Pedagogy of science. EduCon. Wayward black backed gulls. Planting. Harvesting Brussels sprouts in February. Gaping oysters. Planting beets. Brewing my child's honey. Life.

February kale in the garden.
And here I am playing with my pink spaldeen. Bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce.

And it's become (bounce) apparent (bounce) about seven years (bounce) too late for this teacher (bounce) that the kids (bounce) who play with balls (bounce bounce bounce) do so because (bounce) they want to.

Not to challenge, not to distract.

Just to bounce the fookin' ball because, well, it's play.
And we're mammals.

I'm in my 6th decade. I'll likely die before you.
I like my pinkie (bounce bounce).
Reason enough.

Somehow this is related to Passover seder, but I've yet to figure out why--I'm open to suggestions.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Why I left Twitter....

This is (mostly) for me....

Mortal clams, mortal words.

This is an experiment.

I am mortal. So are you. My heart's been bouncy this week, nothing extreme, more like a polite panhandler trying to get my attention, nothing threatening, and it did.

I no longer pretend I know what's real--the dulling of age, the explosion of what's possible, it all becomes confusing. (I've had a lot of concussions.) But I know who I trust.

I have more time for the guitar, for the uke, for learning French (we're traveling to Paris in a few months), for raising Brussels sprouts, for clamming, for dancing and singing and living.

No one gives a fuck on Twitter who I am. But I do.
And so do a few folk I care about.

My blog started out as a public diary.
And it's ending the same way.

I could blame the switch from 140 characters to 280--I truly loved the game, the succinctness, the love of the value of a single word.

But that's not it.

It's the mortality.

You want to meet, want a postcard, want to connect, send me an email, and I'll respond with an old-fashioned letter.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Off the beaten trail (again)....

A dead drum, Delaware Bay.

Facebook is immortal.
Twitter is immortal.
I am not.

David Knuffke asked a simple question on Facebook recently. Is the benefit of a tool worth its cost? The question has been asked before, and humanfolk have dived into its implications for, well, literally thousands of years.

Ancient Greek phoilosopher? David Knuffke?

But not this time. The AP Bio FB group circled the wagons, defending their group without considering the question.

And then I knew it was time to go....

You want to share thoughts, drop me a line.
If not, that's fine, too.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Death on the Delaware Bay

The fish after losing consciousness....and yes, fish are conscious.
I looked for crocuses, but found none, so I went to the north side of the Cape May ferry jetty today, one of my pondering places, maybe the pondering place. The afternoon was February bleak.

The south breeze was about 8 or 9 knots, but the water was flat next to the rocks. I was hoping to find a seal (and I'm always hoping I'll see the spout of a whale again).

I saw a swirl, I thought. Then I saw it again.

A small striped bass, maybe 4 or 5 pounds, was cutting across the surface. It was not well.

A ferry was on its way in. Ferries cause a lot of current on both sides of the jetty. I know because I watch. (I do not understand the physics, but I know what I see.)

The bass fought against the surge, and when the surge reversed, as it does, the bass slammed headfirst into the rocks.

It floated sideways unconscious, the gills still weakly moving.
And then nothing.

I've watched a lot of humans die, including my parents. I've killed a lot of the living, and some would argue I killed my Mom as I eased her pain with increasing doses of morphine and Fentanyl.

I watched a manchild die on his 18th birthday, back when cystic fibrosis meant early death, when he was finally old enough to demand his breathing tube be removed.

And I am always, always shocked by death's finality. The myth of the soul helps us grasp death's final incomprehensibility, but it's just that. A myth.

I went home and picked some kale, in the middle of winter. We will eat it this week.
This is not a metaphor, a fable, a parable.

It's just life.

Maybe I needed the reminder. 

Educon 2018: Part II

I've been to a few conferences, and they typically end with "WE'RE GONNA CHANGE THE WORLD!" And then we go home all fired up and go back to what we've always done, for better or worse.

Educon was different--the sessions  I attended were not hypothetical woo-woo love-fests. I saw what others were doing, what has been working, and what needs working on. The conversations focused on the possible, on the now, on the work being done.

No, Sir Ken did not keynote this year. 

I've been to a few conferences, and they typically feature education rock stars--personality often trumps pedagogy. Groupies vied for selfies with their favorite silver-haired snakes.

Educon was different--it's not that groupies were not welcome (seems anyone who doesn't mind a healthy dose of criticism is welcome), but there noticeably little fawning (if any). The Science Leadership Academy students ran the show, and not one of them had silver hair (though at least one had a strikingly green mohawk*).

Disclosure: I did get a traveler mug. (Photo from here.)

I've been to a few conferences, and they typically feature lots of swag. You toss goodies into a free bag, shove them into your luggage, and find them when you pack for your next trip.

I got very little swag, and what I got was because I was a presenter--a wonderful Educon traveling mug and a few pieces of Peanut Chews that nourished me on the train trip home.

Inside SLA, via Education Week
I've been to a few conferences and they typically herd folks like tourist in the White House--you see what the tour guides want you to see when they want you to see it. Nothing is askew, and everything is timed.

We had free rein at the Science Leadership Academy building. We could wander anywhere, and we did. The building looks like mine (and probably yours if you work in a public school). Yes, I saw a broken outlet, but in the same room I got to sit in on an impromptu get together with folks sharing thoughts as the sunlight streamed through the large southern window.

SLA Ultimate team and alumni, and a post well worth reading

I've been to a few conferences that had a few folks of color and, of course, the requisite panel member (might be gay, might be black, might be some wack-a-doodle with a British accent) who is supposed to cover up a lot of sins, but cannot cover up the original one.

SLA is an intentional community, and Educon reflects this.

I got called out a few times over the weekend, (mostly) gently, and always with reason--for some behaviors I am aware of, a couple of times for things I had not realized. I expected as much, and am grateful for it.

"Mohawk" is a word I use with trepidation-- but I know more about the Pawnee now than I did an hour ago.

Educon does not pay its presenters (besides the swag), and even Chris Lehman, the Principal and founder of SLA, pays to go.
The money goes back to the school to support its 1:1 program.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Educon 2018, Part I

I got into medicine damn near accidentally. I left with intention.

Which is not to say I did not belong there while I did it, nor does it mean I did not enjoy it. But I left to become a teacher, and it was a good decision. Still, nobody asks "Why did you go into teaching?"

The question I'm asked:
"Why did you leave medicine?"
There are a lot of reasons teaching is better than medicine (and many reasons why medicine beats ed), but one thing medicine has all over education is the Morbidity and Mortality Conference, a regular meeting where, behind (mostly) closed doors, we dissected each other's mistakes.

Some mistakes cost limbs, some cost lives.
We made the mistakes, we were made to own them.

I have argued long and loudly that our profession is too nice, we play too well together, we fear criticism.

And then I went to Educon, a convention held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, founded by Chris Lehmann.

He's the one on the left, photo via Jose Vilson's work.
We dissected each other, publicly and passionately. In the next few weeks I hope to share a bit of what I learned in Philly last weekend (including do not smack cars even if it's pushed you off the crosswalk, Philly Pholk are a tad sensitive).

But let me start with this--Educon made me proud to be a pubic high school teacher.

Turns out I'm not the only one who does not play nice....

Sunday, January 21, 2018

January beach walk

The air warmed up, the beach did not--ice and snow lay just beneath the sand. I went barefoot anyway.

Not much to say, except to say words cannot say what I would want to say. Four scoters waddling by, occasionally dipping under for food. A gull slamming a dying crab on the sandbar. A tiny flock of five sand pipers sharing nine legs.

Oysters scattered on the beach, torn off the rocks by last week's ice, still alive. The sand will swallow them up if the birds don't get them first.

Death all around, but death is always all around--it's easier to see when the living retreat for the season.

The deep January colors and long shadows reminded me not who I am as much as what we are part of--but that's a conceit. There was no me for long moments. Or maybe everything was me, which is impossible, of course. Words fail.

When I came back, my tracks had filled with water, which then sought the bay, as water will.

This one is for me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Your screen or your knife?

An essential quality of technology, from the spear to Skype, is action at a distance. Technology enables us to have an effect on people and things far away. In general, the more advanced the technology, the further away it is able to impose an effect. 

Our lives cost the lives of others. That's always been true, and will be so long as we breathe.

Technology allows us to forget this.
Technology encourages us to forget this.

Experts spew on about a global community, but their hands never touch the blood and feces of the life around them. They barely touch their own.

You want every child "connected"? So do I.
It's what's at the other end of the connection that matters.

I have killed other living things, deliberately, but not slowly.
I have slaughtered animals with stones, with knives, with awareness.

We pretend the machines bring us knowledge.
We confound information with awareness.

I wish we spent as much time teaching a child how to use a knife as we do a Chromebook.

I could live without my computer a lot easier than living without my knife.
Modified from a few years ago.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trumped up pedagogy

"No, no, no, I am not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed." 
January 14, 2018

President Trump gets under my skin; if you're here, he probably gets under yours, too.

Many teachers mumble to themselves, and occasionally to each other, how gullible "those" people must be to support him. How can anyone believe what the man says when the evidence screams otherwise?

And then we shuffle off to our classrooms, arms full of papers and books, pockets full of markers, and do what we do. We teach using the best, the very best research education has to offer. And we do it wrong.

We cater to learning styles, we worship the learning pyramid, we tell kids to go figure out this world on their own.

All of it nonsense, but belief (or pretending to believe) is part of the American cult of pedagogy.

Every week or so I immerse myself in the Trump radio universe--I listen to the hosts, I listen to the callers, listen to the myths and the closed loops of reasoning, and it starts to generate an internal rhythm that makes sense. Throw the sense of community in it (and make no mistake, the nationalist/racist movement deep in our bowels depends on this) and this stuff is like cocaine to caged rats.

We do the same thing in education.

A little self awareness goes a long way.

Of course he's a racist....but you might be, too.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

January lettuce

January lettuce, from the garden.
Yesterday marked the last day of the darkest 6 weeks of the year.

The cold snap wounded the rosemary bush, but enough of the lettuce hung on in the cold frames to share with friends tonight. Winter around here is hard on all of us, but the light is returning to put the pieces back together again.

Halfway between the solstice and Imolc, back into November light. 
And we're still here.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Patch for my Dad's squadron.
Chuck was the first adult I called by his first name. I was five.The next adult I called by his first name did not happen until I was an adult myself.

Chuck was a United States Marine Corps helicopter pilot, and a friend of my Dad, a Unites States Marine fighter jet pilot. Both flew off carriers.

Chuck went to Nam; my Dad did not. My Dad did not go because he had an emotionally disturbed son who did not talk, so he stayed stateside. (Turns out that emotionally disturbed son was more deaf than disturbed, and eventually learned to talk well enough to become a doctor.)

Chuck got shot down. He came back home. He had a scarred face, and looking back now I do not know if it was from shrapnel or acne.

My Dad left the Marines in the mid sixties. Chuck stayed in. I was not terribly sophisticated about politics when I was six years old, but I wondered why Chuck stayed in the Marines. I even asked him when my Dad wasn't listening. (Don't think my Dad would have tolerated that, and I didn't much like getting hit.)

Chuck gave my brother and me a toy aircraft carrier that released depth charges. It's how I learned about depth charges.

My Dad would tell us that Chuck was the worst chopper pilot ever. It was a joke. But Chuck went to Nam anyway.

The last time I saw Chuck told me why he went back--he was haunted by the soldiers he left behind. And the war, which I was told was "bad," got real complicated for this 6 year old.

Chuck tried to save one too many soldiers, and he got shot down again. And killed. I imagine the ones he went to save were killed that day, too.

And so it goes.....

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The lighter side of teaching....

"Looks like the National [White] Teacher of the Year awards are back in full effect. I figured (and may have even predicted!) in 2016 when three of the four finalists were teachers of color that pendulum would swing back quickly. ::heavy sigh::" Melinda Anderson
I came back with something flippant, along the lines of

"What will it take to make you people happy?"

It was meant as sarcasm, but I soon deleted it, because, well, I feared it might be misunderstood. Or maybe I feared it would be understood, a *wink wink* as an ally.

But here we are.

In 2016, three of the four finalists for the CCSSO Teacher of the Year Award were people of color.
Since then, all of the eight finalists have been white.

Of those, only two are even brown-eyed. (I'd be more specific, but I'm a tad color blind--in the physiological sense, not the I-am-better-than-you-as-a-non-racist *we* carry as our shield.)

This year's finalists are all worthy. That is not the issue. That is not a defense.

TOTY Finalists, via Twitter (@ATLtrackclub)

And yes, the teaching profession has a remarkable lack of melanin and y chromosomes. (*We* pretend not to notice, unless you're a black male teacher, in which case it is expected you will go save young black men.)

The finalists mean well, they do good work and work hard, and they fill the role of saviors that make for good stories. Still....

Listen up, *my* people.

Mandy Manning is the Washington State Teacher of the Year and one of this year's finalists for the national award. She helps refugees adapt to life in the States, and talks about a boy from Tanzania who undergoes a remarkable transformation under her guidance. I have no doubt she is that good at what she does, and that she works hard at doing the right thing.
“District leaders, campus resource officers, community members of color, and professional writers have also visited my classroom. The visits help my students learn about school and city rules and laws, cultural expectations in terms of behavior and hygiene, our school system, and how to express themselves effectively.”  
On its face, that makes a nice soundbite, but it bothers me, because it's what *we* do, what I have done, and what so many allies continue to do. That "community members of color" is separated from the others is telling.

What *we* teach becomes what we enforce:

So here we are. 
Our President of color replaced by a white man who supports white supremacy.
Our Teachers of the Year finalists are back to storybook savior roles.
We can all be colorblind again.

Why always a boy from Tanzania?
Do yourself a favor, and follow Melinda Anderson on Twitter.