Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Hubris and the LHC

Suppose that the ultimate standard of our work were to be, not professionalism and profitability, but health and the durability of human and natural communities. Suppose we learn to ask of any proposed innovation the question ...: What will this do to our community....Suppose, in short, that we should take seriously the proposition that our arts and sciences have the power to help us adapt and survive. What then?

Well we certainly would have a healthier, prettier, more diverse and interesting world, a world less toxic and explosive, than we have now.
Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle

The scientist, a woman, is sitting in a room surrounded by monitors detailing invisible events miles away. She is smiling, so I imagine she is happy. She is happy thinking thought about things that do not exist except in her mind and on her monitors.

In her hand she holds champagne. Grapes fed the rays of the sun, lashing together carbon dioxide and water, were consumed by yeast. Electrons spilled, compounds changed. The yeast grow and divide, grow and divide, until poisoned by the same ethanol they produced.

That we can smash a couple of protons together at energies beyond comprehension, spending money beyond imagination, to search for the God particle in the name of physics speaks to our conceit.

That we celebrate such deeds while holding champagne in our hands, only dimly aware of the daily miracles that make wine, that make bread, that allow us to breathe, to drink, to eat while chasing our conceits at the expense of our neighbors speaks to our ignorance.

Michio Kaku, a physicist, writes in tomorrow's Wall Street Journal that this will help us "understand...the instant of genesis." He has said that finding new particles might "affect our conception of who we are in the universe."

Dr. Kaku speaks metaphorically, I suppose, and I reckon he'd be a fine musician of Bremen, but he does not speak for me.

Yesterday, the same Dr. Kaku said:
This is a huge step toward unraveling Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 1 -- what happened in the beginning. This is a Genesis machine. It’ll help to recreate the most glorious event in the history of the universe.

If you cannot find your "conception," your place, your existence in the life around you, you are not going to find it anywhere. Not in a book, not in a monitor, not in a 17 mile slinky toy buried beneath Europe.

The mindless pursuit of knowledge is a very dangerous game. If you're going to quote Genesis, Dr. Kaku, you'd do well to take a peek at Genesis 2:17. It is a fable, but a wise one.

Science allows us to see the world more clearly, to find patterns, to predict events. All science requires a filament attached to the natural, observable universe, a universe we cannot hope to ever fully understand, a universe not made in the image of man, a universe that may prove less forgiving than the gods we have created for our comfort.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Captain Paul Chadwick died today. He was, and will remain, my next door neighbor.

Tossing electrons across unimaginably (for humans, anyway) vast spaces in unimaginably (for mammals, anyway) quick pulses to the few strangers who wander here makes no sense.

I could nap. I could drink. I could walk on the beach, and should. I could pray. I could go take a bath, or do lesson plans, or plant a Brussel sprout.

Paul died just after I finished my last post about wasting children's time in public education.

Paul was a retired Coast Guard Captain. He piloted ships in remote places. He solved problems. He fixed things. He rescued people.

Captain Paul could do what I want my students to do--he could figure things out on the fly.

I have no idea what kind of student Paul was in high school. I do know this, though. At least among my friends, there is no correlation between high school success and ability to solve problems.

And that's a problem.

I need to work harder to help kids become good neighbors like Paul Chadwick. He came from a time when parents mattered more than schooling.

That we forget this in a culture that makes education the task of a "professional" class, a class that would, for the most part, starve to death on forty fertile acres, perturbs me.

Captain Chadwick helped maintain the lighthouse above back in 1967. That he and I crossed paths has been one of the highlights of my life.

I have work to do.

I am all kinds of shook up now.
I don't need sympathy from strangers, but I may need less time on this machine.

The photo is Nubble Lighthouse, from US Pictures.

Science teacher?

I love teaching, and love science. I especially love teaching science. Science education is not, however, quite the same thing.

I can "teach" Alex the law of gravity:

I can tell her that the moon is held in orbit by the Earth's mass, that the moon's pull influences the tides, and that Newton gets credit for this, and she will do fine on a state-sanctioned end of course exam, punching numbers into a calculator without once realizing that that same moon tugs on her as it does the ocean.

Until she is no longer surprised that a penny and the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics fall at the same rate in my classroom (really!), she hasn't learned a thing.


Compulsory science education yoked with a mandated curriculum, statewide standards, and an arbitrary "school year" will not make scientists, no more than requiring every child in New Jersey to master the quadratic equation makes mathematicians.

Oh, you can push kids to perform for awhile--elementary school has smiling children jumping through hoops for the pleasure of adults--but some point beyond the larval stage, pleasing adults is no longer enough to keep a child motivated.

There are a lot of reasons for compulsory "education," but not many good ones. If you're going to make science education compulsory, though, at least make it worthwhile.

Let me teach science.

I have heard over and over again that our children lack curiosity. Their behavior in school supports the hypothesis.

Let me teach science.

I have heard over and over again that something happens to children between elementary school and high school, that they lose interest, that they don't care. Their behavior in school supports that hypothesis as well.

Let me teach science.

What did your child learn today that was useful beyond meeting a regionally mandated curriculum?

If I took my lambs outside to a tiny pool for a day, armed with magnifying glasses and worksheets and assignments to complete, they'd rush through assignments, write down what their best friends are writing down, and we'd all feel like we accomplished something.

If I took them back the next day, they'd be confused, and many would not see anything more than they did the day before.

If I did this every day for 2 weeks, a few would start to glimpse how rich life is at the edge of a pond. Many would not, true, but they'd know no less than they would have had they spent the time studying the ecology unit in a textbook.

Science starts with seeing. Until my children can see, and I can help them learn this, the rest of science


Children (and teachers) are mortal. We all have limited time here. If we are going to force children to spend a good chunk of their conscious childhood hours in school, we'd better make it worthwhile.

If school were not mandatory, how many children would go?
If school were not mandatory and school cost, say, just $10 a day, how many parents would pay for their children to sit in your classroom?

School has costs, tremendous costs beyond the cash needed to sustain a local school district. Children give up time, time spent with families and real responsibilities not so long ago.

Is your classroom worth the exchange?

The parents of Bloomfield trust me with their children, trust me to teach them science. If after a few months in my classroom, they can see a little better, reason a little better, most of the parents I know would feel I kept up my end of the bargain.

They do not want to hear "We are flying through the material mandated by the state in order to prepare them for a state test given more than a full month before the school year ends."

I need to do more for Bloomfield, and less for Trenton and Washington, D.C.

Cartoon is by Kirk Anderson.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pi what squared, Captain Hook?

Arrrrrr......Christmas 2009.

OK, it's a cheap science math trick.
And, yeah, well, I'm Oirish, but me mum-in-law is descended from UK folk.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Little Sump Pump That Could

Our electric bill skyrocketed. Our pump runs on electricity. Are we getting enough bang for our bucks?

Ah, finally, applied science! (One of the white lies teachers tell students is that what they learn in class matters. When was the last time you used the quadratic equation?)

Hmmm...the pump goes off when triggered by the float switch. I have about 9 inches of play there--lessee, square the radius times pi times 9" and we get 1385 cubic inches, .004329 cubic inch/gallon, and presto! we get about 6 gallons.

6 gallons does not sound like much--not even 3 cases of beer.

The pump, however, kicks on every 20 seconds. 18 gallons per minute.

18 gallons per minute-> 1080 gallons/hour -> 26,000 gallons/day. A typical Olympic sized swimming pool holds 660,000 gallons. Every 26 days (just under 4 weeks) my pump is moving an Olympic sized swimming pool.

But it's not just moving it sideways--it's moving it up. The bottom of the pump sits in a sump basin 28 inches deep. The outlet pipe is 76 inches above the floor. Lessee, 76" + 28" gives me 104", or 8 feet 8 inches.

Hope I haven't bored everybody with the numbers, but let me recap--every 4 weeks or so my little sump pump is lifting an Olympic sized pool over 8 feet.

A gallon of water weighs a smidgen over 8.3 pounds. An Olympic pool's worth of water, then, comes out to almost 5 1/2 million pounds of water! Over 2700 tons!!!

I am The Little Sump Pump That Could is jacking up 2,700 tons over 8 feet up every month.

Leslie pointed out a fundamental error in my calculations--the pump takes up volume. How much volume? Well, I could pull an Archimedes and see how much water it displaces, but it is busy working at the moment.

I could go outside and figure out how much is flowing per minute, and I might yet, but for the moment, let me assume that the pump volume is about 2 gallons, which would reduce the each load by a third.

The Little Sump Pump That Could is still jacking up over 1800 tons of water every month 8 feet 8 inches. That's over 30,000,000 foot pounds!

This month's bill was $40 higher than usual. For each dollar, I got 45 tons of water pumped up over 8 feet. That's about 2 cents a ton.

And that, my friends, is a good deal!

I weigh ~200 pounds. My little sump pump could take me over 28 miles up into the sky in a month.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Donald Hall, biology teacher

Plants strip electrons from water, and use them to help store energy in organic compounds. The left-overs are oxygen molecules. Any schoolchild knows we need oxygen, but few educated adults know why.

If you hold a flame to cool glass, a small patch of condensation forms, a brief patch of fog. It is unexpected, and often missed, unless you look for it. Oxygen is grabbing electrons and protons from the fuel—butane, wax, food, it matters not—and re-forming water.

Along the way the electron has given up energy captured by plants from sunlight—it’s what keeps you alive.

We teach this in biology, or rather we teach a litany of names, a parade of complex molecules that pass the electron down an energy gradient. We focus on the carriers, and in our earnestness, forget that it’s really all about the electron.


If you want to learn biology, read Donald Hall.

In "Poem with One Fact," Hall talks of enzymes and amino acids in a poem, a universe, really, that distinguishes life from what we call living. I trivialize it by trying to explain it--go read it.


If I used Donald Hall’s words in class, my lambs would soar—they’d forget the AP Exam as they watched an earthworm rhythmically work its way through mud, the peristalsis of life, of love. They’d tie the rocking to the rhythm of belly aches, to making love in the back seat of a dented Dodge Neon.

They’d stop worrying about future jobs and Jacuzzis lost in a freefalling economy, and get on their knees to sniff the sweet soil, knowing that’s where life starts, and that’s where life ends.

They’d no longer try to impress their impressionable parents with words like nicotinamide dinucleotide or ATP synthase (as powerful and poetic they sound when pronounced with care) and instead would say “eek… ook… oop… umm” to describe the journey of a particle of life, an electron, as it gets kicked around from water to sugar and back to water again.

What did you learn in biology today, love? Her mother asks. I saw on the syllabus you’re studying electron transport chains and chemiosmosis. Have you been keeping up with the reading? The exam is May 10th, we have work to do, no?

Amanda would scream EEK! at dinner, loud enough to make Grandma look over her diamond framed lens to scowl at her mother, who married well, but, well, not well enough.

OOK!—not quite as loud. Dad silently calculates the cost of 6 more weeks of sessions, and wonders if Xanax would be cheaper for this girl at the table, eeking and ooking, a girl who grew breasts and thighs and became this womanchild he does not know, eeking and ooking and eeking and ooking.

Oop—quieter now. Sam, her much younger brother, unplanned (ah, evolution) but not unloved, plays along. oop…oop….oop…oop. Amanda nods, smiles, and once more…Oop.

And now a very quiet umm, melodic, restful. The electron is back home, wrapped in water.

Clearly, the girl is troubled.

She gets up from the table, barefoot, and wanders outside under the crescent moon to check on her snow peas, their arched new stems breaking through the earth, just visible in the late dusk light, and thanks she knows not who for giving her light and life, while inside the adults sit in silence. The uneaten dinner grows cold, electrons trapped in brussel sprouts and butter, waiting to be released.

Condensation photo by fmanto, used under CC 3.0.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Apprentice

"You're fired!"

It's been a week.

I will probably be fine, but I am the boy on the bubble in our department. This is my fourth year; everyone else here has been teaching longer.

Our district has been hit hard by budget cuts. Seniority trumps. I get all that.

When all is said and done, I will either be teaching here, or I won't. But I will still be teaching.

I will still wander over to the befuddled Dad trying to untangle a horseshoe crab from his daughter's line, taking a moment to teach a child how to hold the ancient critter.

I will still show my nephew how to rake clams from the muck, how to shoot a hockey puck, how to burp heartily from the basement of the bowel.

I will still point out Orion to strangers on cold February nights, gazing at the star nursery nestled in the Great Nebula, marveling at light and distances.

So I will still teach, as I have.

But I really, really hope I get to keep my sophomores (and seniors, see comments below) in Room B362.

The photo has the little AP thingie on it, though I found it elsewhere....
That's our new Governor. He yells at referees at his kid's hockey games.
He talks about himself in the third person.
I may start calling him Li'l Arne.

My Google Analytics stats fell off the map with this post--OK, no more evil Governor pictures....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Crocus sirens

Ecclesiastes 11.1
We must cast our bread
Upon the waters, as the
Ancient preacher said,

Trusting that it may
Amply be restored to us
After many a day

That old metaphor,
Drawn from rice farming on the
River’s flooded shore,

Helps us to believe
That it’s no great sin to give,
Hoping to receive.

Therefore I shall throw
Broken bread, this sullen day,
Out across the snow,

Betting crust and crumb
That birds will gather, and that
One more spring will come.

Richard Wilbur, New Yorker, this week

The crocuses are blooming. Every year I cannot believe it will happen. Then it does.

Every year they have something to teach me, late winter, when the burst of life reminds me I will die, something worth remembering.

I lifted up an errant patio stone, looking for pill bugs ("roly polies") for biology class. Under it, a miracle.

Several crocuses had risen from the earth, as they do, but the leaves remained yellow--no sense spending a whole lot of energy on chloroplasts if no light is around. That they rose at all, hidden from the sun, weighted down by a stone, rivals anything we have done.

On top of the yellow stalks?

Flowers--riotously purple petals exploding from the ground, hidden by the rock, calling to bees like silent Sirens, hope against hope, burning energy from last summer's sun.

I can talk of auxins and gibberellins, reduce my crocuses to a mechanized world, and sniff the sniff of the cognoscenti.

Or I can sit and marvel at that which we cannot understand--fecundity's wasteful exuberance celebrated as the sun returns. A starling squallacked at me today; I could not grasp the words, but I felt the sound. The sun has returned, and it's OK to be drunk again. Drunk with light, with life.

I will die. So will you. The starling told me so.

I started planting tonight. It's the closest I feel like to God, closer than anything I ever felt in medicine. And, of course, it's ridiculous--I plant seeds, and they grow, but they will grow whether I intervene or not.

And the world will go on as well.

So what do we teach in biology? The gibberish of gibberellins? Do we speak of death?
At 15 years old, we all live forever. At 50, a moment's forever is all we got.

I forget this in January. Today I remembered it.

Not much else to say....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What do I do now?

I need your help.

This ancient Luddite, who still uses a turntable and does not own a cell phone, not even a broken one, somehow managed to glom a grant. A technology grant.

I am getting a set of notebooks for my classes, along with a fancy router--we're going to jump into the 21st century.

Wiki, Twitter, Ning, Google Docs, moodle, Mouse Mischief, Skype....where to start?

Who's connected out there? Who wants to help saddle up this old horse for one last ride before he hits the glue factory?

I feel like Bill McKay in The Candidate after he won:

What do we do now?

OK, a cheap way to put me and Mr. Redford on the same page.

We "Learn to live," Mr. President

"Through this plan we are setting an ambitious goal: All students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career – no matter who you are or where you come from."

President Obama, March 13, 2010

Mr. President, can we cut through the crap?

I'm a retired pediatrician. A lot of children are damaged--some by bad luck, many by bad choices made by others.

Yes, the photo is unsettling, yes, too many children have been lost because we did not acknowledge their potential, but your rhetoric is fanning a dangerous fire.

I teach healthy children, and I teach damaged children. I teach wealthy children, and I teach poor children. I teach children with fancy orthodontia, and children with rotting teeth.

I teach America, Mr. President. If you cannot see America from your perch in D.C., please spend a weekend back home in Chicago and remember the man you once were, or pretended to be.

Come to Bloomfield--our motto here is "Learn to live." Some of us have careers, some of us have jobs. Some of us went to college, some of us were apprenticed. Most of us are happy, even the good chunk of us who have neither careers nor degrees.

Focus on getting the jobs back, and towns like Bloomfield will fill them well. We send soldiers to war--our street signs carry the names of those killed and missing in action. We have young folks overseas now. We helped process uranium during World War II, and have the contaminated useless land to show for it.

Learn to live. Not learn to earn, not learn to serve Microsoft, but simply learn to live. Most of my students will leave BHS with decent academic skills and decent decency skills.

All the degrees in the world won't fix the plumbing. All the degrees in the world will not land a job that's now in Asia. All the degrees in the world will not make you a better citizen, friend, or lover.

Learn to live, Mr. President, and let us go about our business doing the same. And if you need the name of a decent carpenter, a decent bakery, a decent school, give me a call. We got them right here in Bloomfield, the America outside the Beltway.

The disturbing photo from Temple University is real, and it's human.
The classroom photo is from Bloomfield, 1914, found here, shared at the Bloomfield Historical site by David Petillo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

September light...

Location: W074 11, N40 48

Daylight March 12: 11 hours, 47 minutes
Daylight September 30: 11 hours, 48 minutes.

St. Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on the brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of the earth on the sow,

and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,

down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

Galway Kinnell

Almost September light again. Close enough.

Mucking season. Life everywhere, everywhere. Spring breezes warm up tidal flats and fields of mud, and souls rise up again where clay meets breath.

Not generic souls. Not metaphorical souls. Nefesh--living souls, some human, most not. The sun's energy feeds us again as we repay our debts in our lust and ecstasy, as we chase what even words cannot betray.

I am a teacher, a civil servant in a public institution. I cannot, of course, start spinning in a maniacal dance during class, spewing on about souls and life and mystery. We have more serious things to attend to--NCLB, NAEP, HSPA's and SRA's.

I can do this, though. I can ask a student to watch a tree. And I have. I call it The Perennial Project. (The word "project" covers a lot of ground in edumacation circles.)

Some of the children have become attached to their trees. It's been a rough winter, and the trees have been acting pretty dead. A few students are worried that their trees will remain dead.

Now the buds are forming--thickening, succulent, ready to burst. Last year's sap rises again, from the ground towards the sky, botanical resurrection.

If you pay too much attention, you may become useless, intoxicated by life, staring with an idiot smile at a bud about to burst. Life's addictive that way.

Beats staring at a Smart Board.

I do not have formal permission for Galway Kinnell's poem, but I do have a story.

Way back in the late 70's, a few of us studying in Ann Arbor got together and formed the High Spark of Low-Heeled Boys,
and "sponsored" a poetry reading by Galway. Despite a decent crowd, we came up a bit short,
but Mr. Kinnell was gracious throughout--I probably still owe him money.
Go buy a book or two. You will not be disappointed.

The daylight hours provided by the U.S. Naval Observatory.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time for quahogs

The back bay's warming up--the quahogs are feeding again.

The sun's rays are no longer just glancing off the Earth around here--we're warming up. Algae grow, fusing carbon dioxide and water into sugars, bound by sunlight. A bed of clams lies just under Richardson Sound, a few of them tossed back by my hand last summer, eating the algae.

Eating is a religious act--we eat other creatures, other creatures feed on us. We pretend otherwise at our peril.

I teach biology--we use words like adenosine triphosphate synthase and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide--and none of my students know how a clam grows.

Few know why we breathe.

Should I ever become a competent teacher (as opposed to the "highly qualified," tenured educator that I am), a child will grasp why our economy cannot be sustained, why declines in phytoplankton matters, why our words and abstract reduction of an incredibly complex (and ultimately incomprehensible) universe threaten our survival.

And that child would worry.

But should I become a good teacher, better than competent, a child will feel joy knowing she is part of the mystery, and she will act in good faith and good conscience to change what she can, and dance and breathe and sing and eat and live until she dies, knowing as she lives that she will die.
The crocuses are blooming again. The clams are rising again. The sun is climbing the sky again. I'm in my 6th decade.

Time to get the clam rake out. Again.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

RttT antithetical to public education

[W]hen we talk about “Race to the Top,” we’re talking about a principle that is antithetical to the fundamental idea of American education. The fundamental idea, which has been enshrined at least since the Brown decision of 1954, was equal educational opportunity. “Race to the Top” is not equal educational opportunity. It is a race in which one or two or three states race to the top to have more privatized schools, more test-based accountability, more basic skills, no emphasis on a broad curriculum for all kids, and no equal educational opportunity.

Proust, meet Bloomingdale's

When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls· bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.

Marcel Proust, The Remembrance of Things Past

A couple of months ago I threw a package of expired basil seeds on a patch of peat moss and vermiculite, borrowed the aquarium light for a few weeks (the fish didn't squawk), and now I have a mess of basil growing in the classroom.

We were discussing axils and lateral shoots in AP class, so as I yakked, I pinched basil plants. In a week or two, they will be bushier.

As I pinched (and, um, ate, breaking a fundamental rule in science class), the aroma of basil oils wandered over to the students (hey, diffusion, another lesson!)

"That smells good!"

I had to stop a moment and chew--in my enthusiasm, I had tossed too many basil leaves into my mouth to be suave, and I looked like the contented cow bull I was.

I remember a room in the Franklin Institute--the center of the room had a large oval bar, with various sniffing stations. You put your nose right up to the screened opening, and inhaled.

They could have called it the room of dreams--close your eyes, sniff, and your brain spins into old memories, old fears, old loves.

Does it exist anymore? Did it ever?

Imagine a world where scent is used to alter your behavior, a world where science research is used to manipulate your emotions.
It's already being done.

It's no accident that the Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando smells like the ocean and waffles.
It's no accident that your
Lexus dealership might smell like green tea and lemongrass.
It's no accident that Bloomingdale's smells like baby powder and coconut.

ScentAir "is the global leader of scent marketing solutions." Their clients include ShopRite and Macy's, the Hilton and our military. ScentAir provides smells "just above the level of sunconscious awareness."

ScentAir changes behavior--at least some very smart, very wealthy businessmen believe so.


Folks who deodorize classrooms scare me.

Our 20th century culture taught us to fear our noses, to fear ourselves. Fear creates inadequacies, inadequacies create markets. We’ve become what we buy.

Gardening and sex share many characteristics, not the least of which is the need for a good nose. Both have a learning curve. Both were destroyed at the industrial level last century.

Thankfully, though, both can still be practiced well for those who remember their humanity, and even the inexperienced can find joy at the low end of the curve.

Somewhere in school a child needs to learn that monied people will try to manipulate his behavior in ways not healthy to the child. Somewhere in school a child needs to learn that all of us are intimately tied to life, to soil, to sunlight.

If your children prefer the smell of Lysol to composted manure, you may be depriving them of true joy, joy that is not measured by the model of car they eventually drive.

(This post flew out of my head after reading This Brazen Teacher this morning.)

The eraser photo is from CleanSweepSupply.
The ScentAir logo is trademarked by ScentAir.
If the html is completely fubared, let me know....

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hey, teach....

I went to a conference this week--the state wants to teach me how to align my curriculum to the end of course biology exam.

It's easy to get lost in what's expected by the Feds, by the state, by the local BOE. It's easy to complain. It's easy to find a chorus of toads croaking about this or that injustice, a chorus that welcomes you to join the noise.

Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit....

Sean Nash inspires me. Today he challenged his readers to remind others how to see beyond the crocodiles. (Forgive me, Sean, for butchering your metaphor.)

You know what I got to do today? I got to talk to young adults about science. I got to pick their brains, and they picked mine.

I ate basil grown in my classroom.

I dragged a human skeleton through the hallways, eliciting the usual stupid jokes.

I helped a student teacher become even better than she already is.

I found a rattlesnake bean in our classroom, cultivated by a student who grew up in an urban town. He planted it in November. It grew, using our breath to make the stuff we can now eat. Communion.

I got to sing, to teach, to dance, to play, and I got paid to do this.

Teaching is hard, I get this, but teaching can be as rewarding as saving lives.
Trust me. I'm a doctor. And now, a teacher.

If you do not like teaching, get out. The rest, the stuff that happens outside the classroom walls, well, it's just noise. Treat it as such.

John Spencer wrote a gentle (and accurate) criticism of the post,
one worth reading in the comments.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cult of personality

We're testing this week, and I'm cranky. Correlation?

We also believe that if we want to improve student outcomes, especially in high-poverty schools, nothing is more important than ensuring that there are effective teachers in every classroom and effective leaders in every school.
Arne the Scarecrow, March 3, 2010
House Committee on Education and Labor

I used to work in the projects--Stella Wright Homes, Mravalag Manor, Hayes Homes, Bradley Court, Pennington Court--an America we keep hidden in polite company.

Teachers matter, and they matter a lot. But they do not matter as much as food, as heat in February, as albuterol for wheezing. They do not matter as much as coats and underwear. They do not matter as much as a quiet bed, a caring guardian. Abraham Maslow mentioned this way back before Arne was born with the silver spoon up the wrong side of his alimentary canal

Just when I thought his crüe was creepingly complete, with Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich serving as Arne's Dementors, he has now recruited General Powell.

Under the leadership of our Founding Chairman, General Colin Powell, and our current Board Chair, Alma Powell, the Alliance has become the nation’s largest partnership focused on the well-being of our young people.

Ah, the well-being of our young people--the same man whose false words ("Leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option, not in a post-September 11th world") helped lead our young people into a disastrous unwinnable war now has joined the crüe.

Powell's little white lie was driven by data, no?

It's testing week. I see my kids working hard on tests that have little value.

I can save a few bucks by pointing out the obvious--there will be a strong correlation between my students' socioeconomic status (a fancy way of separating the full and empty bellies) and their scores.

Yep, teachers matter. Yep, we cannot lower expectations because a child was foolish enough to pick a poor placenta. But until someone shows me a definitive study showing that poor districts are going out of their way to hire incompetent teachers, I'm going to continue to point out the obvious.

I've pulled live cockroaches out of children's ears. I've begged for asthma medicine (and may have borrowed some, too). I've stolen antibiotics. I've treated toddlers for gonorrhea and tuberculosis.

Want to guess how they fared later in life on these tests?

Arne, do you really believe the nonsense you spout? Really?