Monday, May 30, 2011

I'll bring the wheat berries....

When you get down to it, this is what matters in our class.

We grew plants, using nothing more than our hands, a little peat moss, some dirt, and light.

This might not seem like much in a culture that rewards style over substance, words over efforts.

Our national Secretary of Education thinks little of promoting untruths. He's too bright to plead ignorance. I'm too polite to call him a liar.

A child who grows a head of wheat from a single wheat berry learns a powerful lesson. The stuff that matters most, the stuff that keeps us alive, the stuff of sustenance, comes from a little work and a lot of grace.

The picture above came from our windowsill--that's a gray sky behind it. I used to babble on about this matters. After doing this 5 years, I've learned that 15 year old humans recognize what matters, when they get a chance.

So I give them a chance. Despite Arne.

So I'm going to Washington, D.C., on July 30th. I might some wheat berries along for anyone who wants some.

Jose Vilson will be delivering a speech, reason enough to go. If you're going, let me know. I want to meet you.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bleeding on Memorial Day

My hands were awash with  patriotic colors this morning. Blue blood of a lovely lady horseshoe crab, hooked by a lad whose enthusiasm, alas, could not compensate for his ignorance. Red blood of a dogfish, also hooked by the exuberant one. His first fish. Ever.

I landed and unhooked the fish. The child posed with it, two feet of shimmering muscle wrapped in sandpaper.
Can you eat it? 
Sure, if you bleed it first--

The father never acknowledged me; he refused to let the child take home and eat the fish.

"Nobody eats those things," he muttered. His eyes flashed fear when the dogfish had first broken through the surface.

The child looked at me. I had already shown him horseshoe crabs were harmless, letting the child brush his hands along the wriggly harmless claws. I had already shown him how to  handle a "shark," letting him run his fingers along the sandpaper skin. He trusted me.
You can eat it, I said once again, quietly--no reason to embarrass the child or his father. But it'll be fine if you let it go gently.
 He believed me.

Both the dogfish and the horseshoe crab had real reasons for fear. The milky blue blood oozing from the injured horseshoe crab may marks its doom. The bright red drops of blood on the handle of my net, now a dull burgundy, will cost the dogfish.

Neither knows of Memorial Day, when we splash red, white, and blue on our homes celebrating the brave young folks fighting over in lands we cannot be bothered to learn how to pronounce, battling ideologies in a futile attempt to defeat fear.

We fear, and we slaughter, those things we do not understand. The father has chosen ignorance, his child is still open to learning.

The child learned a little bit about fishing today, a little bit about the critters of our bay. He learned a much bigger lesson about ignorance, and he has a picture of himself holding a magnificent animal he feared moments before the photo was taken.

Our ignorance kills us. The local jetties are missing a few young men and women who are thousands of miles away. We barbecue and play in their names.

How many of us really know their stories? How many of us  want to know?

Yes, I am aware of the inconsistencies--fishing is complicated, and it's not.
 The horseshoe crab photo taken this past February.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Great wants your soul-wrenching test stories....

Great wants our stories--"motivational stories that will reach educators across the nation through personal recollection and will bring smiles, tears, and a genuine connection to our own educational experiences."

One of the categories?
    Tell us an encouraging story about testing and your education experiences. Did you learn how to overcome or manage your difficulties in testing? Perhaps you struggled with or worked with students who had a hard time with test anxiety, fear, lack of organization or some other testing issue. Are a parent of a child who succeed on an all-important test?

I don't blame them for trying to make a buck on an absurd situation, but couching the whole mercenary thing in terms of human emotions is just, well, sad.

NCLB does not work. Teaching kids to write like robots does not work.  Pretending that all children can do everything does not work. All the PR in the world does not work.

But obviously capitalism still does....

Thank you, Arne.

I learned about these folks from spam in my school email. 
Live by spam, die by sam.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ice cream man

"If you run an ice cream store in town and there's a law that says you can be the only one that runs the ice cream store, you are going to be against someone else who wants to come in and run another ice cream store."

If I want to open up an ice cream store in Bloomfield, I need to pass a health inspection. I need to secure a loan. I need to lease a space. I need to hire some teenagers willing to work for minimum wage. I need to develop some presence in the community.

What I don't need (and won't get) is a grant from the town council to open my ice cream store. We pay to support our roads, our firefighters, our police officers, our teachers, and our sanitation guys, but we don't pay folks to open up ice cream stores.

We already have a few fantastic ice cream stores here, and all of them pay taxes to the town, not the other way around. That's how it works.

Mr. Cerf, if you want to open up an ice cream store here, feel free--we welcomes new business. If you want to run a school here, though, you're going to have to get used to democracy, pimples and all.

Local budgets support towns--I pay, my neighbors pay, to keep schools public, to keep them local, to keep them relevant to the needs of a democratic society.

I know you know the difference. Don't you feel even a little shame?

I love Jonathan Richman!
Mr. Cerf is too smart to believe this is a rational argument--you should be, too.
Hey, I got linked in Tuttle SVC twice in two days! Life's good....

Monday, May 23, 2011

Revolution Prep? Really?

Jake and Ramit would like you to think that they have started a revolution in test prep, and that they "had a vision to transform education and provide the highest quality instruction to all students regardless of their ability to pay."

They even call themselves "Revolutionaries."

I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt, especially since they pride themselves on "never turning a student away because he or she could not afford our program."

Two things changed this:

Strike One:
Last fall I proctored an exam given to our top freshmen. I was assigned to do so by the school, had no problem doing it, but want to make it clear that I do not work for the company.

My problem? The only way for the kids to get their results was to drag their parents out to a meeting with the Revolution Prep folks on an assigned evening. I wouldn't have stood for this as a parent. I had no dog in the fight, though.

Strike Two:
Today I stumbled upon a poster advertising Revolution Prep in the hall leading to the cafeteria. (The advertising was discreetly veiled as a top 10 list of ways to improve test scores, no more offensive than the American Dairy Association's poster urging young adults to drink cow juice which is, to be fair, plenty offensive.)

Their advice?
"Write like a robot, not like Shakespeare."

We're a Title 1 high school. Most of our kids are not going to apply for their $2899 private tutoring course--we don't have that kind of money in Bloomfield, and if we did, we'd spend on something with more value.

But I'd bet that a child whose parent can afford that kind of juice won't be told to "write like a robot."

Maybe I'm wrong--maybe some parents encourage this kind of nonsense....
The painting is "Liberty leading the People" by Eugène Delacroix, presumably in public domain

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A fish story

My students took the New Jersey Biology Competency Test last week, and I can't blame them for thinking we're done for the year. They might be, but I'm not.

We're talking about immunology this week. A few yukky photos, and they're hooked again, like fish dancing on a line. And so this week I will share a fish story.

Check out the dorsal fin spines.....


I have fished a long, long time. I'm reasonably competent, despite no certifying test.

I spent a couple of hours tossing a variety of lures into the bay, with no hits to show for it, but no one else had a hit either.

A gentleman strolled up on the rocks. No tackle box, no net, no shirt, no shoes. He had a pole, a shocking pink bucktail jig, and more cigarettes than sense. He announced he was from Florida, and started fishing on the wrong side of the jetty, happy as a clam just to be out there.

And within 5 minutes he had a two foot bass.

I landed the bass for him, I unhooked the bass for him, I held the bass for him, and when he was about to toss the fish back like a wet washcloth, I released the bass for him. A few of the jetty regulars left in disgust.

I noticed some blood on the tail just before I released it, an unusual place for bleeding. Turns out the blood was mine. I caught my thumb on a dorsal spine, not the first time, and likely not the last.

And now I got me an nice little infection, perfect for class tomorrow.


Friday we talked about the "itis"-reviewing signs of inflammation. I showed a photo of an infected foot, and let the class figure out what made inflammation look like inflammation. It takes a bit more time than flashing up a slide with the 5 signs of inflammation, but I'm more interested in the process than in checking off the curriculum.

And tomorrow I will show them my thumb. I will project it up on the big screen, in all its oozy, red. swollen glory. We will talk about pus and pain, and then we'll revel in a "who had the worst infection ever" discussion. We will talk about the mechanism, and when we're done, inflammation will be more than a list of words to be memorized. Dolor, calor, rubor, tumor....

The bigger lesson may be this. A half dozen seasoned fishing experts all cast from the same side of the jetty, using essentially the same plugs, confident in our methods, confident in our conformity. We must have made close to a thousand casts among us that morning, and nothing to show for it.

Except a swollen red thumb and a good story.

Should I teach inflammation by just reciting the 5 signs?
Striper photo by Associated Press, found here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Meaning of life

This happened on an abandoned typewriter I picked up off the street, now sitting in our classroom:

Next week is our last full week of classes.
Maybe we all learned something after all.

I like teaching.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Spontaneous generation

Our pillbug tank (which also has slugs, and once held centipedes and soldier flies) has a new crop of newborns. Despite the dangers of sophomore handlers ("I guess I kinda accidentally dropped a rock"), our tank has as at least as many critters as we started with back in September.

They will be returning to the wilds of Bloomfield soon, and it's all good.


Yesterday two snails emerged from the tank litter, slowly slithering their way towards a flake of fish food. We never had snails before. None.

And if my lambs are thinking, and they are truly open-minded,and if they trust that no one snuck in and put the snails in there, well, we have some evidence for spontaneous generation.

Further complicating this are the fry that hatched months ago. While most died (as expected), we have about 15 left, and they look less and less like their parents. Oh, they have gills and fins and scales and all that, but they're the wrong color and the wrong shape. (I know about color changes in goldfish--my students do not).

If I have done my job right, a few students will soon announce that we have provided evidence that spontaneous generation happens. If I've really done my job right, those same students will come up with several hypotheses as to how this occurred, and set up an experiment to replicate the results.

Heck, they'll be juniors next year, they can even run the experiment when they get back in September. In the meantime, if a few remain suspicious that maybe spontaneous generation still happens, well, at their age with their experience they should be suspicious. I encourage skepticism.

That's how science works.

No, I don't believe in spontaneous generation. I think....
I also don't believe children should accept what I (or any "experts") say at face value.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't tread on me (or the commons)

I am not inherently opposed to charter schools. 
I am opposed to outsiders narrowing public spaces in my community.
Call me provincial, parochial, or even a local yokel.
We lost much of the commons years ago.I'm fighting hard for what's left.

"If it were up to local municipalities, it would essentially kill charter schools." 

The commons still exist. We still have community spaces, shared by all, that define who we are. We breathe the same air. We drink the same water--at least those of us who avoid the bottled nonsense.

I clam a tidal flat owned by no one, shared by all. Tidal flats are gifts of nature, of god, of grace. I did not earn it. I limit my haul to what I can reasonably share with my clan before the next low tide.

Public education still belongs, tenuously, to local communities. I pay thousands of dollars a year to support our school system, as do my neighbors. Our board of education meets every two weeks, people who live in town, people who I meet on the street. We work together to create a public school district. It's hard work, and it's not cheap.

Democracy has a price.

I just got back from the Bloomfield High Spring Choir Concert. The exuberant young voices brought tears to my eyes (shhh....don't tell anyone). The concert was free.

I've taught 1st generation Haitians and Ecuadorans and Chinese and Dominican Republicans and Filipinos and Albanians and Greeks and Costa Ricans and Viet Namese and British and Bosnians in the few years I've been here.

Imagine a small tidal flat separated into fiefdoms--this flag on the north end, this flag on the south, you get whatever (and only whatever) clams under your flag.

It wouldn't work.

There's a move in a nearby town to set up a Mandarin charter school. About a hundred schools in the States cater to Turkish culture. Folks want to set up a school, well, no law against it, and I have no beef with them. Folks want to spend public money to make them run, though, and now we have a problem.

A very big problem.

Anyone who believes the point of school is to improve the workforce available for private business fails to grasp the concept of the commons. Anyone who believes the point of school is to make kids ready for college and the global economy fails to grasp the concept of the commons.

Without a commons, there is no real community, and maybe we're there already. If you know more about the American Idol judges than you do the family across the street, you're a bigger threat to our republic than some ragged Taliban fighter protecting some poppy seeds in a land you cannot pronounce.

He's not likely to plant a flag on my mudflats, our mudflats. But you might.
And I'm going to spend what's left of this lifetime making sure you don't.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Arne's abominable approach to science

Students sing, clap, and dance about solids, liquids and gases. They learned the solar system through song. It's just one example of how having clear standards for students drives innovation in a school. 

Arne really doesn't get science, but he's got a pocketful of money, so his words carry some weight. I wiled away a perfectly good morning reviewing science terms for our state's test, time better spent doing science.

I've got no beef with children singing or clapping or dancing. I'd like to encourage more of this, pursuit of happiness and all that. (Jefferson was no dope.) But it's not science.

How clear standards drives this kind of nonsense escapes me--I'm still naive enough to expect a modicum of cogency from our national  leaders.

Memorizing the planets is not science. Knowing that the planets are lit by the sun is not science. Spouting off that the sun converts hydrogen to helium is not science.
Instead of memorizing planets, follow one for a few weeks, or even a few months--watch how it wanders around against the background of stars. If you "know" that planets revolve around the sun just because someone told you that, you're not fit to be a citizen in this great experiment called America..

Instead of knowing that planets are lit by the sun, take a peek at Venus. Watch its phases for a year or two. Galileo did this over 400 years ago using a crappy telescope. Or look at a ring's shadow cast on Saturn.If you don't have that kind of patience, you're not fit to be a citizen in this great experiment called America.

Instead of claiming you know anything about the composition of the sun, learn about spectroscopy. Helium was discovered on the sun decades before it was found on Earth. I can say this in class, and kids will write it down, and no one challenges me. If you don't have that kind of skepticism, you're not fit to be a citizen in this great experiment called America.
Arne doesn't care if you're a fit citizen. He wants you to better the economy, to go work for one of the many transnational corporations that would cringe at our Constitution if we dared make it matter again.

If all of us who teach remembered why we teach, for whom we work, and why we're "public," Arne would be as potent  as Bumble the Abominable Snowman after Hermey's dental work.

If a child needs a song and dance routine to learn science, it's probably not.

You can listen to a few songs for free if you click on the album cover.
Arne managed to cheapen both science and art in one speech.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

May life, May death

Some years I fish, with joy and exuberance, ecstatic at the pull of an animal on the end of the line.
Other years, I avoid it, acknowledging the pain and cost of life to the fish. It's not something I'm ever going to resolve....

I tossed some plastic out at the setting sun on the Delaware. Striped bass are around, and as much fun as they are to catch, they are even more fun to eat.

A large bunker had hurled itself out of the sea, away from the jaws of a striper, onto a slightly less inviting scenario, the edge of the surf. Were I a true striper angler, I'd have stuck a hook through it and tossed it back at the striper that precipitated its predicament.

I didn't. I tossed it back. It may well be striper poo by now.

And we had pesto for dinner.


I do not like to kill, but I'm pretty good at it. We all are. Every step we take, every spadeful of dirt, every short jaunt in our car, no matter how "green," results in destruction.

We mostly ignore this. This has not always been so.

People used to die at home. People used to get buried without embalming fluids contaminating the earth. People used to wake kin under a shared roof.

I know a lot of people who never witnessed death, except on a screen. Most of us have witnessed a lot of deaths on screens.

Witnessing the last hours of agonal breathing will change you. If nothing else, it puts things in perspective. Exxon and Pearson and Microsoft will be here long after I'm gone. My priorities should not be their priorities. If more of us realized we're mortal, we'd be a kinder culture.

There's a cemetery in Cape May county that still buries folks the old-fashioned way: no diesel backhoe, no embalming, and the casket is optional. The Steelmantown Cemetery has been this way for over three hundred years.

Steelmantown Cemetery--where the dead are treated as the dead

I find it ironic that my children must limit their intake of certain fish because of the chemicals they contain:
In coordination with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and agencies in six other states, the DEP updated its fish consumption advisories and is recommending that the public consume no more than one meal every other month (six meals per year) of bluefish larger than 24 inches.

For women of childbearing age, the recommendation is none. None.

The less we know of death, the more ill we've become.

This morning I wandered out to the bay again, this time to the ferry jetty, as steel gray fog rolled in ahead of a thunderstorm. I got to the party a bit late.

Several old men dragged the limp bass carcasses like sacks of manure, leaving abraded scales on a jetty  that was not here 100 years ago, and will likely be gone before the hundred years pass.

The bellies of the bass are full of bunker, and one may have held the partially digested corpse of the bunker I heard slap against the sand last night.

Tomorrow an old man will excrete the undigested remains of a magnificent creature into a bowl, and the water will wash it away into the sewage below our streets, our River Styx now laden with the poisoned remains of animals we no longer dare to feed to our children.

The world is a wonderful and terrible place for all living creatures, incomprehensible in both its beauty and its entropy.

If we cannot teach this, we cannot truly teach biology, or really anything that matters.

The Steelmantown Cemetery picture from an article here. And yes, it is a green cemetery.
The woodcut by Gustave Dore, 1861, via Wikipedia

Friday, May 13, 2011

Just to see stuff...

I wasted a day today prepping my lambs for the New Jersey Biology Competency Test. I will waste another day on Monday.

I have no idea what it means to be competent in biology, and judging by the practice questions, I am not alone. If a child passes the biology competency test, is she a biologist?

I chased a herd of daphnia today in one of my tanks--we have about 10 in the room. A child from another class came to visit today, just to see stuff.

We have a generation of children who do not see stuff. We have a generation of adults who do not see stuff. We can't even blame the gods-we've gone done outsourced hubris.

In a couple of weeks I will lead almost 200 kids on a trip to Sandy Hook. We will hold fiddler crabs and grass shrimp and pipefish and horseshoe crabs. We will get too much sun, and a few of us will lose some red blood cells. Children will watch the tide fall--we cannot stay long enough to watch it rise again.

We will hunt for hermit crabs and whelks and killies and mussels.

The children will see that the world is for them, of them, and that it is, ultimately, incomprehensible. Science is, to paraphrase Richard Feynman, understanding how nature behaves. The "why" I leave to the priests, the astrologers, the charlatans--grasping the how is more than enough for a thousand lifetimes.

And what, really, will help a larval human "get" science? Prepping for a test given to meet the demands of a few aged men sitting in fancy buildings just over a couple hundred miles away? Or walking along Sandy Hook Bay in early June?

A shame I even need to pose the question. A bloody shame....

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring silliness

As I type this, a tiny gnat is trying to break through my monitor.

"Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."
Theodosius Dobzhansky

I should be crafting a descent with modification (misnamed "evolution") exam.

Descent with modification is the heart of biology. Without it, a world with red-lipped batfish, roly-polies, and humans makes no sense, no matter how clever God pretends to be.

Without it, nothing in biology makes sense. Nothing.

Seems sacrilegious to test it using vocabulary and a few standard examples any student paying attention can just fly through half aware of our universe.
I walked tonight, crushing thousands of insects and worms, breathing in microbes, watching squirrels and starlings and dogs and robins and humans go about their business.

A cherry tree late for the party dropped a few last petals on my head.

Mosquitoes paraded around my tiny pond, blissfully unaware that soon it will be filled with young fish born in a tank in Room B362, trapped by glass they learned to avoid, soon to be munching on the young wrigglers laid today.

Sunlight bathes us now, and everything that buzzes or tweeps or flaps or gurgles has forgotten that darkness was ever possible. At least I have.

And if I can forget, despite centuries of words telling me of death and of destruction and of entropy, well, what hope does the fledgling robin I saw bouncing around the Green yesterday have of grasping how serious this all must be.

Seriousness is a human conceit.

It's May. I going to listen to the fledglings for now, as long as now lasts, as long as the sun continues to bathe us with grace.

Red-lipped batfish--really, how serious can we be if red-lipped batfish exist?
The red-lipped batfish photo from PBS here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Beware the Yabby net

Thanks to The Violet Hour for pointing me in Michael Leunig's direction.

"I [Richard Lawrence] specifically asked Leunig about the copyright implications of this and he replied that  he derives great pleasure from the knowledge that people send his 'toons, poems and prayers to friends all over the world."
--Richard Lawrence, curator of The Curly Flat

And a yabby is some sort of Aussie crustacean: looks like a crawdad to me.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

On matters of faith

Morning storm clouds. The light bit at edges, accentuating the few colors that poked through the gray dawn gloom. A brisk wind swirled from the northwest, a breeze out of Chocolat.

A cherry tree dumped its blossoms like a snow squall, surrounding me with impossible pink light. The heavy rain drops followed seconds later, soaking the pink petals so thick they hid the grass.

Even in the middle of it, I try to remember, and I cannot. Remembering anything other than those things that will keep us alive is a human conceit. Turns out I'm human.

Change is coming. As it has. As it will.


I am teaching about evolution, descent with modification. It is going better than most years have.

I spent a few moments talking about Charles Lyell and the concept of uniformitarianism, the idea that whatever natural laws apply here, today, apply anywhere and anytime. I dropped a small chunk of wood as I spoke. It fell each time, as expected, landing loudly on the desk.

This is where science relies on faith.

And it does. The kids relax just a tad. All year long I've assured them that we know less than we think, that the world is a wonderful place despite this, and that science requires, at a very basic level, faith.

Not the kind of faith many of them have been taught, but faith nonetheless. 8 months after we first met each other, things are starting to fall into place.

Of course the piece of wood will fall, each and every time, and we know this only because it always has. This may seem trivial, but it's the soul of reality, whatever "reality" means.

Were humans as inevitable as the fall of the block of wood I dropped over and over again? I leave it to the students to ponder. I'm not particularly interested in the question--we're here, and that's enough for me.

But they are, which is why I pose it. Their universe swirl around each of their own existences, and I just called it into question.

It's my hope that by June, they will know as little as I do.

Decision time....

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


When I was a child, I was fascinated by Geronimo--his fierce face stared at me from a century away, in a sepia toned paperback I kept on the shelf above my bed, tucked between Stan Fischler's Thinking Man's Guide to Hockey and the latest issue of Mad Magazine.

My students hardly know Osama bin Laden. They hardly know the story of Goyaałé, better known as Geronimo. Linking them together speaks to our banality.

Who among us knows of the slaughter of his children and lover at Kas-Ki-Yeh?
Who among us knows of his hatred of Mexicans for this slaughter, a hatred that he carried through life?

If you kill someone's family, you may create a thirst that may never be quenched:
"All the other Apaches were satisfied after the battle of Kaskiyeh, but I still desired more revenge."

That we chose to use the name of one hero of people we coldly conquered not so long ago, upon whose land we sit now, to represent the our greatest enemy the past decade, says something about the people we have become.

Her name was Alope:
"Perhaps the greatest joy to me was that now I could marry the fair Alope, daughter of No-po-so. She was a slender, delicate girl, but we had been lovers for a long time."

The United States uses unmanned aerial vehicles ("drones") to hit targets in Afghanistan.  People die from machines reigning Hellfire missiles in very poor, very remote regions of our world. Each missile costs more an average teacher's salary.

How many Geronimos does each missile create? The code name may not be as ironic as we think.

Both photos in public domain.
No, it's not a science teacher post.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happiness is not a warm gun

What do you want?
What do you need?

While ambling through the Bloomfield Green from school this fine afternoon, I saw a squirrel chase a starling, then again, and finally, a third time, pushing the bird to flight. It then went back to gnawing on the acorn it had dug up.

Makes no sense for squirrels to chase starlings. None.

We tend to take a mechanistic view of animals that don't share our roofs, but squirrels are mammals, and this one was, well, squirrelly. Most mammals are in May.


We keep talking about education as a commodity, as a way to preserve the economy, as a way to make America great again.

I'm selfish--I don't want to make America great, I just want to teach. I realized this almost 10 years ago, while I watched Manhattan burn, waiting for the wounded at Liberty Island who never came. Medicine matters, of course, and I was pretty good at it, but turns out putting things back together is not enough for me. Selfish.

I want to teach children how to think, how to know what they need, what they want. It's been my experience that most adults don't know either. Maybe I need to get out more.

I've met a few, though--happy scallopers, happy plumbers, happy doctors, happy writers, happy teachers, happy landscapers, happy waiters, happy just about anything you can name.

From my (very limited) experience, I'd dare hypothesize that happiness has little to do with one's particular job. Pretty much all jobs that matter can lead to happiness. A lot of jobs that don't matter don't preclude happiness--a job that does matter, though, certainly helps.

I love rattling on about DNA polymerase III or cytochromes or G protein-coupled receptors--this stuff is fascinating (to me, anyway)--but I have no illusions about this changing anyone's world view. (Understanding natural selection might mess you up (in a good way) but that's another story for another day....) My best teaching happens when I shut up long enough for my lambs to absorb something, anything, other than the drone of my voice.

If they could tap directly into my brain, here's what they'd hear: Hey, kids, this is your world, it's a fuckton more interesting than anything you can find on a screen, and, well, dig in.

And some do. Not enough, but it's a start.

A lot of noise about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. My students barely know who he is--they were in Kindergarten or preschool when he struck.

I saw first-hand the destruction he wrought. I sat in the same pew with someone who lost her brother. He was not an abstract evil--he hurt my people.

And I did not rejoice at his death. Because he chose not to matter to me. He affected me, true, and in terrible ways, but he did not matter.

I want every child I teach to matter, and to know what matters.

All these words because of a cranky squirrel.

Education is not about finding jobs or making money or bettering the economy. Education is about living a life worth living.

Hard not to be happy when you live that kind of life.

Arne and Eli and Bill and Melinda and Michelle do not strike me as happy people. Each one of them have real effects on my life. But they do not matter about things that do matter.

The sooner we internalize this, and act on this, the sooner we can get back to the business of living life. If you want to glorify evil, no need to look across an ocean.

My Dad kept a piece of a torn up automobile after the 1st WTC bombing--don't ask. It sat on his yard for years, and eventually disappeared.
Bloomfield just got granted a piece of twisted metal from the 2nd attack. We learned this a few days before OBL was killed. I don't want it anymore.

Yes, those are a couple of barnacles--just alien enough when I'm roiled as I am.
The WTC light memorial from "Life as a Human"--photographer not identified.
The barnacle pic was taken by us.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Konformity is Power Program

Oh, I'm glad I'm not an Oscar Mayer wiener.
That is what I'd never want to be.
Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener.
There would soon be nothing left of me!

This commercial was popular when I was a kid. It glorifies conformity and bullying, and renounces independent thought. Leslie dug it out for me. It bothered her then. 40 years later it still bothers her.

Stuff we toss at kids sticks a long, long time.

I did not know, but now I see
That KIPP is my identity
Through work, love, hope, and strife
KIPP is not just a school but a way of life.

Sayda Morales, "Bolero," from KIPP promotional video.

Just saying....

You can't make this stuff up....