Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What are you living for?

Every living critter under and over you, in and around you, has a lineage just as long as yours, stringing back billions of years, with the same basic daily goals and needs as you.

Except most of us in our culture have forgotten what those goals are. We've also forgotten (or spend our hours trying to forget) our mortality.
When was the last time kids in your classroom discussed "what are you living for" with a reasonably rational adult?

Lazy ass jelly fish lolling in the Delaware Bay at dusk.

Animals (besides humans) never plan for the future beyond taking care of the business that needs to be taken care of in order to live. Beyond that, most animals fiddle away the day socializing, eating, snoozing, or just watching the shadows move as the sun glides by, the antitheses of the good capitalists and consumers humans cherish in these parts.

Time for Achieve to start cracking down on all those lazy ass squirrels!
Common Core Squirrel Standards, anyone?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Whose stories are we teaching?

For part of  chilly February afternoon, a chunk of the frozen bay perilously perched itself by the edge of the sea.

It held my attention, this lifeless form, a half ton of water balancing on a small pedestal.

Our minds create stories upon stories, stories that help us survive, help us live, but stories are just that, and the intensity of my interest at this random block of broken berg makes little sense.

Rationally, I know that this is just chunks of ice from the fresh Delaware River above, coalescing from the forces of the tides, but it became my altar of unhewn stone, an evanescent idol.

Delaware Bay, North Cape May, February 22, 2015

We worship patterns, and see gods where none exist, but our stories have been, until now, based on the larger world around us.

We let others manipulate us and our children, replacing our stories of nature with the stories of the abstract, of global economies, of currencies, of hubris. We encourage our children to play with the screens that distort and manipulate our view of the world.

And then we wonder what's wrong with them.....

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Daphnia dance while the children cry

The anger, the sadness, the tears of students are real.
It's been a long February, but it's more than that.

I spent some time yesterday gazing at a colony of daphnia dancing among the elodea in the last hour of sunlight angling through the glass world they live in. Bubbles of oxygen streamed up from the plants, bubbles made up of broken water molecules, slashed by the sun's energy, now used by the same daphnia as they go about doing whatever daphnia do.

Paul Hebert at the Public Library of Science, via wikimedia (CC)

Eat, rest, move, have sex, make more daphnia, and sometimes (so it seems) doing nothing at all.

I don't do much for the daphnia--just add a little bit of water to the container now and again. I do not know where they came from, and if I were not a modern sort, they'd be enough evidence to persuade me that spontaneous generation is real.

Been an interesting couple of months, reminders of my mortality marked by a heart that beats to its own drummer, and I am no longer so blasé about the tears of the young ones in front of me. I am part of a system that is breaking the kids.

I put no pressure on my daphnia, who dance the day away. They already know how to live.

I put too much pressure on my lambs, who no longer see the daphnia, and would find it strange to see an older man spend so much time staring at a watery world on  a windowsill.

Too few of us know what matters, yet we insist on dictating to young humans just that.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Culling the hearts of children

 (First posted last March, but as I see more and more children falling part, worth posting again.)


A total of 13%–20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994–2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.
"Mental Health Surveillance Among Children — United States, 2005–2011"One in
Children at Risk Foundation (CARF), via CC

One in 6 children "experience a mental disorder in a given year." We know something is wrong.

The brain we have, the one that got us through untold generations of the folks before us, does not change because a few of us now worship the global economy. What has kept us alive for millions of years has been paying attention, close attention, to the earth we (literally) walk upon.

The hormones that surge through us now and the thousands of generations before us responded to real threats, real people that shared the air we breathed. Now we seek our lusts through flat screens, manipulated by strangers, and we respond with symphonic surges, weaving dopamine and oxytocin, cortisol and adrenaline as we wile away our time, emptying our wallets and our souls.

Arne Duncan wants us to train our children for the global economy, an oxymoron. I want to teach our children how to live happy lives right here in Bloomfield, or wherever else they lay down their roots.

 Brookdale Park, Bloomfield, by Eric shared via CC

I do not teach 21st century learners, I teach human children.
I do not teach biology as a discipline per se, I share with young humans our connections to the earth, the air, the water, and the organisms around us.

Until a child knows the life in her neighborhood,  under her feet, in her very gut, teaching biology as just another mandated high school course is a waste of her time and mine.

We plant a lot in our classroom--most of the plants do not do well, not at first. Still, the seeds and the pots are available every day, and a few students persist. Right now there's some lettuce, one carrot, about a dozen basil plants, and several pea plants wending their way up makeshift wooden stakes.

And in our specialized, detached world, even something as simple as planting a seed has become "professionalized"--another sign that we have lost our way.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Clamming in February--A Teacher's Tale

Dr. Harrison had opened a quahaug a moment before our arrival. it was lying in the half shell, pink-and-white and inviting, on his laboratory table, adjacent to an apparatus of moderately complex appearance. "This is the heart."Dr. Harrison said, extracting a bit of something deftly with a pair of tweezers. The muscle he showed us was smaller than the nail of a child's little finger. He placed it in a small bowl of sea water. "If this quahaug is like other quahaugs, and I presume that it is," said Dr. Harrison, "the heart will continue to beat for about two days after being removed from its parent body."

"The Heart of a Clam," New Yorker, May 26, 1951. 

Local quahogs, their hearts are now breath again.
Clamming requires no schooling--just a rake, a bucket, and some sense of the world around you. You get to take a piece of the world home with you, slaughter it with a prayer, then eat it with grace.

Clamming in the waning sunlight in February has its own pace--the hands are too cold to work quickly, no greenheads to test your reflexes. The clams will keep just fine in the cool February air.

You get what you need, put back the few that you don't, head back to the car where the asphalt feels foreign under your now bare feet as you strip off your gear, then drive back home, heater on, the clams rattling with the road's rhythms. The radio voices remind you of the world you just forgot.

In the warmth of the kitchen, your numbed muddied hands warm up, and the evanescent earthy breath of unseen creatures float into the air, the smell of the flats you just left, incongruous indoors.

I know the clams too well now--of beating hearts stilled by the boiling water heated with the methane stripped off organisms that died millions of years ago.

And tomorrow I will go back to teaching book biology, of mitochondria and DNA, to children whose breath feeds the growth of the plants on our windowsill, children who know nothing of this world that belongs to all of us.

We're teaching children about edges in a world made of spheres. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Seat time reduces life time

Very early in my career, I had a sophomore who simply would not sit down. She did not wander, she was not disruptive, and she sat in the last seat in her row (back when I still had rows). I was still a fan of Harry Wong back then, and I was besides myself. Nothing was going to make that child plant her bottom on that chair.
My cooperating teacher asked me what was the harm? No one else minded, and even if you allowed all children to stand any time they wanted, few would choose to do so.
Wise woman.
1940? classroom, via Shorpy
Forced sitting is not only unreasonably authoritarian, it is also unhealthy.
Very, very unhealthy.

The more we sit, the earlier we die, independent of how active we might be while we're not sedentary.

We literally train our children to sit still in their seats. No other self-respecting mammal is going to do this--even sloths stay off their butts. (If my dog ever sat a minute he got a treat--he was a skinny dog.)

Humans are bouncy, foraging creatures. Corporate cubicle-life kills. We train our young for it anyway.

Why not let them smoke cigarettes and drink booze, too?