Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Why teach biology?

Wheat grown on our classroom windowsill.

Right now you are making water, the real stuff, not some abstraction, from the oxygen you breathed in just moments ago combining with protons and electrons stripped from the the peanut and butter sandwich you ate.

You are breathing in oxygen stripped from water molecules broken apart by the dandelions you tried to poison with Round Up two months ago.

Your food was alive not so long ago--even a Twinkie came from a plant.

Biology is mandatory in public schools in New Jersey. Mandatory anything is rarely a good thing, and mandatory what-passes-for-science in high school is, well, predictably disastrous for many of my lambs.

But if I succeed in getting a young adult to see the connection between what is real and the food in her belly and the air in her lungs and the water she drinks....
  • To ponder more than a moment why she, a mammal, must chase abstract ideas that churn the "global economy" in order to guarantee that she will be able to eat in a few years when she is an adult
  • To question how the few real things in her life that matter have been so removed from her world that we judge who we are more by how much we extract than by how much we create
  • To ask her local politicians why incinerators are built in dense but poor neighborhoods
  • To wonder why her in our own town tons of potential carcinogens were pumped into the air just a mile from our school.

Well, I'll have helped create another functioning citizen in this fine land of ours, Arne and his abstract economy be damned.

And who knows, maybe she'll go on to be a scientist, too.

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