Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Classroom slaughter

Raking for quahogs in February

I'm taking my nieces clamming tomorrow. It's fun catching quahogs, and even more fun eating them. It's their tough luck to be so tasty.

The more you get to know clams, or anything alive for that matter, the more you appreciate just how complex and wonderful they are.

Yes, I eat them. I'm a mammal, and have no chloroplasts. I need to eat.


There's been a video going around that shows a clam "enjoying salt." I'm not sure just how much a quahog knows, but I suspect they're brighter than a governor or two opposed to science They're certainly more evolved.

This is an animal trying to get itself back in the muck. The salt is clearly an irritant.

I do not know how much a clam knows, or feels, or cares, but I do know how much humans are capable of knowing, or feeling, or caring.

And we've fallen a long way from what is possible.

You can dissect a clam in biology class, and learn nothing about it, except that it has parts.
You can eat a clam on the boardwalk, and learn nothing about it, except that it's delicious (at least if served fresh).

What is it about clams that are worth knowing? The question is not as silly as it looks at first blush.

The more you know about clams, the more interesting they become. That's true about pretty much anything.

School kills this.

Well, Mr. Science Teacher, if you're so freaking interested in clams, how can you eat them?

And that's the Great Mystery right there. We can either eat what we eat wholly conscious of the act, which includes killing, because of what we are, or we can pretend food is magic.

We kill in our kitchen. We eat in our kitchen. Animals have bled in our sink, the last few pulses of arterial blood mixing with water as it swirled like wisps of pink clouds.

I chill the clams before slaughter, and occasionally pray for them. Doesn't help the clams much, true, but reminds me of my place.

I dream someday of slaughtering an animal in class, a big animal an animal we can share as a meal. Maybe a white-tailed deer. I want my lambs to see the eyes of the dying beast.

There's no hiding here. Even our vegetables require the deaths of many, many animals.

The lesson goes beyond the Common Core, beyond the Next Generation Science Standards. A few students may, understandably, giggle--it's what we do when we're unsure.

And then we would prepare the beast for a feast.

I said a dream....
The blood washed down my sink goes to the same place we send our urine, our shit, our spit, our mucous. We hide it. We're silent about it. We pretend it does not exist.

The mudflat smells rank at low tide--uncountable critters die with each low tide, to feed those that come after them, that come after us. We are not special, we will die here, too.

I'm teaching a generation of kids the intricacies of DNA polymerase, which they have about as much chance of understanding as they do grasping their own mortality.

But they know this much--we're not telling them the obvious. What they don't know is that many of us have learned to forget the obvious. We've been trained well.

I didn't go into teaching to train people. Pass the venison....

Can you imagine the outcry if I slaughtered a fawn in class?


John T. Spencer said...

Rick Perry and Jan Brewer both rip on bilingual education, which find to be really strange given the fact that neither of them seem to have mastered the English language. Bilingual? How about a governor that's lingual?

Jenny said...

The writing I've been doing for the writing project (so far) this summer is about seeing the world through my daughters' eyes. They don't yet miss the obvious, they still see the trees rather than only the forest. Having them show me the world makes me a better person.

Malcolm said...

My outdoor ed class had the opportunity to hang, skin and quarter a fresh mule deer road kill one year. 2 hunters in the class did it for me. we stretched the hide and used its brain (all squashed up) to tan it.

The students doing the demo were tickled pick and let out all that they knew about the deer, hunting, and dressing the creature!

Can you say teachable moment?

Anonymous said...

My neighbor's boy (a cooking fanatic) was disgusted by a "cooking from scratch" class in which they *bought* the sausage. At which point we decided that cooking from scratch should include a pig sticking and butchery at the beginning of the day. I can imagine no better task for middle school city boys. No wonder they are dropping out like flies in the cold - we never do anything "from scratch"!!

Anonymous said...

I generally love your blogs. You make quite insightful comments without being snarky about personalities. When you stick to the effects of the disastrous bipartisanship reforms, I think your points are sharper.

I will give this to Rick Perry. He is against Common Core standards. So he is smarter in that respect than many governors.

doyle said...

Dear John,

In the wrong company, that may get an odd response. ;)

Dear Jenny,

Exactly--and even my sophomores can see when we let them. It's an odd thing to see young adults lose trust in what they see.

Dear Malcolm,

Excellent! We once were given 5 pheasant by a couple of hunters while we were at scout camp. Some of the boys were a little put off at first, but within minutes all hands were in as the feathers were flying.

doyle said...

Dear A#1,

A great point, and one I may use in a grant proposal--if I could tie increased graduation rates to food prep, the money will pour in!

Dear A#2,

I agree the Perry comment was a low shot, and I may yet delete it--it tied into the last post where I mention that his party has in its platform a proposal to eliminate teaching critical thinking in Texas.

I've taken plenty of shots at the Dems--Arne the Scarecrow, Chris Cerf, Christie the Gubernator, with nary a peep. They're all big boys, they can handle it.

Truth be told Perry and I agree on a lot of things, as do most of us with each other. As the leader of the Texas GOP, I assumed the platform represented his views.

The Science Diva said...

Love your blog! I will certainly visit often!

I'm awarding you the Versatile Blog Award....head to my blog to pick it up!

Sean Nash said...

To me, what's sad is that so many people have difficulty with this part:

"The mudflat smells rank at low tide--uncountable critters die with each low tide, to feed those that come after them, that come after us. We are not special, we will die here, too."

It's as if they take that very quote, and replace it with something from, say... Fight Club. For example:

“You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We're all part of the same compost heap. We're the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

What's the difference? I'm certainly not the pro here, but I have a hunch it has to do with aesthetics in some way... or grace (you pick the definition#), or... something.

To me, the whole "we are not special" concept is a beautiful one because of my worldview. Without that, not being "special" is something to rage against. Right?

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I reread my Sand County Almanac a month or so ago. Trying to get my head around Leopold's kind of outdoorsman: sips coffee in the morning while enjoying and interpreting the changing birdsong as the sun rises, then in the afternoon cheerfully shoulders his gun and goes out to try to kill them. Leopold believed (maybe 70 years ago, now) that the only real outdoorsmen were hunters and fishermen--and maybe ornithologists. Makes me--who has never held a gun in my life and hates even to touch uncooked chicken--want to try my hand at hunting, just so I might understand him better.

Kathryn J said...

The disconnect between people and food is amazing. When my elder son was young, he was allergic to milk protein - not lactose intolerant. The number of people who did not understand that butter and cheese come from milk was amazing - even people in the food service industry.

Most of my students were horrified when I ate a leaf of arugula or lettuce or whatever else we were growing during the year I had access to a greenhouse. They kept saying "but it touched the dirt". So much to teach - not dirt, soil; plant matter from photosynthesis not soil; food does not appear magically shrink-wrapped in the grocery store.

My choice would be chicken rather than venison for my classroom but I would love to teach a whole course on the Chemistry of food.

doyle said...

Dear Sean,

Wow, that's an amazing twist of an idea--and you are right, it's our worldview that matters. I think grace is the right word.

How many people even recognize grace anymore, our direct connection to the dirt and the air?

(I may chew on this a bit and let a post percolate through.)

Dear Science Diva,

Thank you.

Dear Jeffrey,

I think perhaps a better reason to do any of these things is to not just understand Leopold better, but to understand ourselves and our connections to the world, connections that exist whether we see them or not.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

My students reacted the same way--it shocked me the first time.

The "food service" industry is not about food, it's about calories as a commodity, and that's sad.

Maybe growing food in class is a radical act now. The good news is that we can help children establish connections their grandfolks could not imagine would ever be broken.