Saturday, July 21, 2012

Totally vs. fully human

A big ray washed up on our beach yesterday.

If you had a choice, would you be fully human or totally human? The dichotomy is strikingly simple--do you want to live in an orderly universe defined by human parameters, or do you prefer the dangerously chaotic mess of life we call "nature"? Giving nature a name is as silly as assigning one to a presumed Yahweh.

Names gives us the illusion that we know something about what we're talking about.

But we don't, because we can't, at least not with words like nature, or God, or infinity.

What does this have to do with education? Well, pretty much everything.  The current education reform movement has as many motives as it does players, and money is a huge part of the equation, but it is not the most dangerous part.

What's most dangerous is the belief we have more control than we do, that we spend too much energy debating the means without questioning the ends.


While walking along the edge of the bay yesterday, I stumbled upon a school of small fish tossing themselves up on the beach--as the waves licked the beach higher with the rising tide, the fish would again be submerged, then would again beach themselves just beyond the water's edge.

It made little sense until I saw the two eels working their way through the school, now stampeded together in a ball of writhing flesh, trapped between the beach and the slashing teeth of hungry predators.

I held a few in my hand, pondering how many it would take to make a small fish chowder, and how hard it would be to gut these tiny critters as I marveled at their colors, their strength, their liveliness.

Maybe only humans can appreciate the aesthetics of their prey, maybe not, but most of us aren't even capable of that anymore.

You can go to the mall, with programmed music, piped in aromas, electric light angled to help induce your atavistic gathering impulses, buy something molded by a machine from plastic polymers, and feel pretty good (but not quite good enough) about yourself.

by Kevin Sharkey, Martha Stewart living

Education can be designed for the total human, preparing a child for immersion in a world without limits to growth, a world defined by data and dollars, a world full of human noise and little else, a world nimbly navigated by the "college and career ready" cognoscenti.

Or it can be designed for the fully human, preparing a child for immersion on a place called Earth, a world defined by limits and cycles, a world incomprehensibly complex, a world defined by life and by death, a world we once knew as home.

My home probably looks very much like yours. I am more total human than fully human. I'm working on this. Hundreds of animals breathed their last in my kitchen. Under the counter, millions of yeasts are now churning blueberries and honey into wine. My yard has patches of basil and Brussels sprouts growing on it, started from seed when  the ground was still frozen.

Living can be terrifying, and total humans can spend a lifetime avoiding it.
Life can be mystifying, and total humans share their expertise on how you should live it.

I'm not avoiding living, and I'm not trusting anyone to tell me how to live. Neither should our children. Mr. Duncan thinks I should carve your child into a cog to fit a machine that cannot be sustained. I won't do that.

How can anyone teach anything then? I'm not sure The best I can do is show children how to see things for themselves, things outside of themselves. Hard not to fall in love with the universe when we sit still long enough to see it.

Blue crab claw, recently dead.

What do we get in return for our terror, our uncertainty, our mortality?

We get to dance to our own voices, voices shared by countless critters within the sound of our songs. Our fingers dance on a guitar, clumsily at first, making strings vibrate only as we can. We each have a verse to sing, to add to our universal song.

We get to eat foods exploding with flavor, animals that were alive only hours ago, plants harvested after sunrise, shared by sundown, prepped using our hands, as we share our stories in the kitchen. We can earn our appetite grinding wheat berries, kneading bread, rewarded with warm, filling bread made from wheat alive just hours ago.

We get to drink peach melomel brewed from the work of thousands of bees and millions of yeasts, nectar of the gods for any humans who take the few hours needed to splash together ripe fruit, honey, and water, and feed it to some hungry yeast.

In a word, we get joy.

To be fully human threatens those who live in a totally human universe. It hurts to be reminded what we've lost, and it's terrifying to glimpse Chaos, Yahweh against the Leviathan, death, especially living in a culture that fears toilets more than Teflon.

"Destruction of Leviathan," Gustave Doré, 1865

If you would prefer not to, after seeing the joy and terror found in the depths of the living universe, well, that may be the rational choice in an irrational culture, where living (but not dying) is easy.

To educate a child without letting her see what her culture has ripped away, to keep her mind occupied with monitors and machined music, to program her to fit into an abstract concept of economy that takes precedence over life itself, is criminal.

"Career and college ready" makes for a snazzy slogan, and may even be what the totally human crowd (Arne, Michelle, and their gang of billionaires) crave. Me? I prefer a child in love with the universe. Giver her a choice.

Anything less dehumanizes us.

Glowsticks photo from Kevin Sharkey via Martha Stewart website.
Other photos by me, taken yesterday along our bay.

How many of us have tasted bread made from our hands from freshly milled wheat?

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