Saturday, October 2, 2021

Stealing the souls of children

"People pay for what they do,and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply; by the lives they lead."
James Baldwin 

My hand holding a creature from the bay
In the end, it's the ground that will save us, if we are, or even want, to be saved.

We're of the mud, of the air, of the water, of the sun. We diminish the folks before us on this once fine land when we "honor" these as metaphors.

We diminish our ancestors from our homelands who spoke of the spirits and the blurring of the lines between the living and the dead as autumn darkness presses on our souls.

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare (Aaron Logan via Wikimedia)
These are not simply metaphors or myths or models. They are ways to understand the world.

You cannot grasp a fistful of earth through a screen.
Augmented reality is neither.
We are stripping the souls from our children.

We become who we deserve to become.
But we should let our children decide whether a soul is worth keeping.

Winter is coming, again.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

November dusk

It's mid-November and the shadows are long--the sun slips over the horizon less than 10 hours a day now here in these parts.

It's near dark when I walk home, crossing our town green, as I do several hundred times a year.

Woodland ground cover 2 (owned by maxTextures)

There's mystery in the shadows. Our ancestors saw spirits, and so will you if you lurk outside during dusk. The animals are aware of you, and so, I suspect, are the trees.

As winter looms, I watch the light change under my feet. (I look down a bit more now that I am getting older--the roots of the sycamore are determined to get me.)

But here is where words fail--when you walk at dusk over the fallen leaves, when it's not quite light enough to see colors yet not so dark you cannot sense the colors, the edges of each leaf appear to glow as long as you keep moving.

No doubt there is some neuro-evolutionary advantage to this, some physiological explanation, some modern means of dispelling any reference to magic.

But there it is.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Natural selection and the battle for your child's soul

I get why folks want to ban the teaching of natural selection as the driving force behind the evolution of all living things on Earth. A child who grasps natural selection faces a fundamental challenge to her place in the universe.

While some folks might encourage a child's quest to seek awareness of her place in the universe, most parents (in this part of the world, anyway) already have a pretty good idea what they want their children to believe, and usually because they believe that they are looking out for the child's best interests.

No one wants their baby to go to Hell, so kneel before the Tabernacle.
No one wants their child batting last in Little League, so keep the back elbow up.

Much of what passes for understanding evolution in this country is, well, just another form of religion. You pick a side, you wave a banner, you demonize the others. We cannot help ourselves--our tendency to religiosity may be built into our genes.

Natural selection is a simple model to grasp (though the vastness of geologic time it takes extends beyond my imagination). Its ramifications blow the mind. 

Humans were not, it turns out, inevitable. The earthworm is as evolved as you. The countless other living beings among us do not exist for us, they exist with us, likely for the same unfathomable (though explainable) reasons we exist.

I still find comfort making the Sign of the Cross, and if you push, yes, a big part of who I am believes that it matters beyond whatever psychological relief it brings. I doubt I would believe that if I were raised Hindu, but I wasn't, and my beliefs are strong and deeply ingrained, if (perhaps) irrational.

Natural selection rubs up against my less than rational beliefs. Natural selection will do the same to a thinking child, no matter what her religion.

Teachers want a child to use her mind. Her parents fear for her soul. I do not know what either "mind" or "soul" means, but I do know that if you believe that the mind and soul are competing entities, evolution by natural selection is going to be perceived as a fundamental threat to your child's well-being.

I am a science teacher; I teach biology; I will share the fundamental "tenet" central to understanding the diversity of life on Earth.

I am not going to ask a child to "believe in" evolution--there is nothing to "believe in" in science beyond  the acceptance of the observable natural world as the premise for the models and explanations used in science, trust in rational thought, and a willingness to alter or abandon prior understandings when new contradictory evidence emerges.

I sympathize with the parents who believe that they are fighting for their child's soul, but I am an American living in a republic dependent on a thinking citizenry bound by our Constitution. If you want a public education system that favors religion over rational thought, there are plenty of theocracies around the globe doing just that.

Glad I teach in New Jersey.....

Friday, June 21, 2019

Solstice graduation

"The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was."

Except in June.

Just about every day this week I grabbed a few small, dark cherries from the small trees lining Liberty Street--just the right bitterness to counter the almost too rich fruitiness. The sun seems to have frozen in the north, teetering a week or two before starting our slow plunge back to darkness.

Life brims mid-June, feeding on the energy that bathes the Earth this time of year. The energy starts to dwindle tomorrow. Tonight I put my shoes away for the summer,unless, of course, there'a a wake. I took them off as I left our graduation ceremony. The ice returns in just a few months, as inevitable as the wakes that keep my shoes busy.

If you pay attention to these things, the dwindling light, the mad dancing of organisms in the June dusk, the aroma of honeysuckle drifting through your skull, the incessant buzzing of hundreds, thousands of critters aware of you, you'd go mad, of course, a Mid-Summer's Night Dream kind of insanity,

And many of us do--pay attention and go mad--mid-June, midsummer, when living requires little, as fine a time as any to toss a class of young adults out into the world.

And how many are "college and career-ready"? Not sure what that even means.

But I am sure of this--several hundred children from many different cultures, from many different lands, from many different circumstance, left our building tonight having an idea of what is possible, of what democracy can look like. A lot of them left our building "college ready" for schools they cannot afford, and "career ready" for jobs that left north Jersey a generation ago.

They are kind, they are brave, they are bright, and they are now adults entering a world the ruling class does not (or will not) recognize. As we turn inexorably to November, to darkness, to fear, I hope that a child's new-found knowledge of how the natural world gives her pause before she plunges into cynicism, or to self-loathing.

It's a beautiful world out there, but a world defined by limits imposed by our sun, our soil, or water. Our children are of this world, so long as they live. This matters more than any games imposed by wealthy gentlemen governing from hundreds of miles away.

Congratulations to our Class of 2019. This is your world, get to know it beyond the boundaries imposed by human words and limited ideas. Embrace it like you own it.

Because you do.

Teaching matters.
The print is Titania, by Joseph Noel Patton, 1850.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Peeling garlic

I read an article on how to save time peeling garlic.

There are many--just Google it and you will find almost 75 million entries. All to "save" time.

Why not enjoy the act itself? This intimate unwrapping of a clove unlike any other clove on an evening unlike any other evening with two hands unlike any other hands in the universe is a gift, given to us.

Here. Now.

Why rush? You are not starving if you are peeling garlic.

Your guests can wait, or they can help you peel, under the fading sun as the lightning bugs emerge from the shadows.

The garlic will keep.

Watch the peels drift back to earth, fluttering, shivering in silent flight, drawing out memories. The one you peeled the first time you cooked together. The one you peeled for the repast. The one you peeled last night.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Horseshoe crab love

They come up from the depths every spring, dancing with the rising tide under a rising moon, a deadly jaunt for many of them.

If I ever think I am starting to get a handle on this life thing, I stand at the edge of the bay and remember what I do not know.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Dear White Men of America

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