Saturday, January 23, 2010


"It has always seemed strange to me," said Doc. "The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our culture. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second."

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

My kids can use electronic media--I get that.
They have access to tons of information--I get that, too.
The Finns are kicking our educational buttocks--no need to keep screaming, I hear you.

I teach biology, but more importantly, I teach kids how to see. How to listen. Touch. Sniff. (I draw the line at licking, for safety reasons.)

Arne's Race to the Top presumes a narrow (and ultimately destructive) world view. A decent course in biology, if it focuses on the art of observing life, presumes a wide open (and ultimately unknowable) universe.

It's tough impossible to reconcile the two.

The hero of Cannery row is a scientist. Steinbeck saw the world as a scientist. I would love to introduce Steinbeck to my lambs.

Because of constraints on time, time spent honing for the state test looming in May, I cannot.

Take a look at what we are doing to our children in public schools, and tell me which qualities we are promoting. I'm not looking to create "products." At 15, kids are still human.

I'd like them to stay that way.

Leslie took the photo in Galway, Ireland.


John Spencer said...

Great quote! I love that book, by the way. I think Steinbeck is one of the most underrated authors of last century, too. Perhaps his style isn't literary enough (I don't know) and his characters are too working class (unlike, say Updike) but he was able to get humanity in a way that few authors could (or can).

doyle said...

Dear John,

I love Steinbeck--I almost followed the quote with Doc's next line:

The sale of souls to gain the whole world is completely voluntary and almost unanimous--but not quite.

Keep showing your students a better way.

John Spencer said...

Interesting that many who believe "you can't serve God and money" are the same ones advocating an educational system based on serving the economy.

I guess education doesn't fit within the spectrum of a "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet.

Sue VanHattum said...

>At 15, kids are still human. I'd like them to stay that way.

Bless you! It's a nasty system we work within, isn't it? I teach college, and work hard to heal my students from the harms they've already suffered in their schooling. Do I impose more harm? Sometimes I probably do...

I like your perspective.

doyle said...

Dear John,

What folks say reflects social conditioning; what they do reflects their beliefs.

As always, thanks for your words!

Dear Sue,

It's reassuring to know that some teachers at the college level see the damage being done. We keep hearing how colleges complain (understandably) that our kids are unprepared--and then we keep doing the things that don't work anyway.

Sue VanHattum said...

Figuring out what would work is the hard thing, isn't it?

My impulse is to let kids learn in whatever way they want, since I think we're hard-wired to learn (and to love learning). But most parents think schools are supposed to push kids to learn particular things. And some kids are in families that have already pushed them to not question, which is a huge part of learning.

The best work I've seen is Deborah Meier's book, The Power of Their Ideas, which describes a small (public) school in Harlem which she founded and led for many years.

This Brazen Teacher said...

Been having a hard time to think of things to comment on your blog the past half dozen or so times I've visited. But I've been wanting to tell you how much I love your blog. That's it :-)

Anonymous said...


I have no idea what "Bipalychaetorsonectomy" (surgically removing something, though Im not sure what) means. In any case thanks for the insights and the photos on your blog.


doyle said...

Dear Sue,

>And some kids are in families that have already pushed them to not question, which is a huge part of learning.<

Get that piece right, and most everything else follows. I'm pretty good at teaching science--I'm not so good at teaching facts.

I have not yet read Meier's book--I may add it to the summer reading list.

Dear Brazen,

It's more than enough to know you snoop around this part of the woods. Thanks for the words.

Dear Doug,

Bipalychaetorsonectomy is the made up condition Doc uses as an excuse to order his first (and last) beer milkshake. I don't know why I titled the post with that except that I liked the word and figured I'd never get a chance to use it.

(Are you, perchance, Michigan Doug?)

phase5 said...

Yes. It's doug from Michigan. I was looking at Bert's blog and ended up over here. It would be good to catch up. Shauna's in the phone book. I can be found on the web without too much trouble. I'll see if I have your number.

doyle said...

Dear Doug,

Our Christmas letter bounced back--not sure why. We'll re-send it once I find the latest address.

You'd make a phenomenal high school teacher if you're so inclined.

John Spencer said...


I thought you might enjoy this sketch

Leslie said...

Hi Doug--my fault on the letter. We got yours; I just messed up the address on ours. I will resend. Say hi to Shauna for me!

Ben Wildeboer said...

Interesting. Steinbeck has become one of my all time favorite authors since graduating from high school. It took about 8 years to recover from being force fed The Pearl and The Red Pony. After that I've never met a Steinbeck I haven't greatly enjoyed.

Perhaps it's his amazing perceptive descriptions of human beings. I dunno.

I also greatly endorse Sue's endorsement of anything by Deborah Meier. I got a chance to meet her this summer & it was a definite high point in my education career.

doyle said...

Dear John,

I love your cartoons! I may borrow that one for class. (If I've been successful at all, one of them might even challenge the science in it.)

Dear Ben,

I had the same history with Steinbeck--why do we have The Pearl and The Red Pony shoved down our 15 year old psyches? (I still see and hear a wet tracheotomy every time the red pony comes up.)

I plan to read Meier's stuff this summer. In between naps and fishing.

John Spencer said...

I fear that it is not very scientifically accurate. I thought about that as I drew it. But the magic is real and the mystery behind the science is real. I'm a piss-poor scientist (I've said that before, though, I guess)

doyle said...

Dear John,

You're only a piss-poor scientist if you take what I say at face value, and if you stop when a hypothesis doesn't work.

Your drawing captures the mystery AND the science, and you caught me being a pedantic knothead.

(I like to show kids what happens if you put a tiny flaming piece of paper in a high oxygen environment--you hear a small pop and the paper is consumed. But no huge explosion, no matter how big the vessel (and how pure the oxygen). If I use a big piece of paper--DON'T--I'd get a different reaction with the same concentration of oxygen.)

Alas, if I jump to conclusions too fast here, Zeus only knows how much I badger the children into silence. *sigh*