Saturday, March 28, 2015

Twizzler nation

Here's the simple truth.

We eat, we breathe, we drink, we move, we love, we die

What you eat matters for a lot of reasons--politics, health, and capitalism twist themselves around every impossibly red Twizzler. But that's not what I am talking about.
Eating can bring satiety, but done well, can bring joy.

We teach kids how to use their forks and knives, which side to place their glass, where to put their napkins.

But if a child should close her eyes as she slowly chews the flesh she has been given, and savors the gift of an animal now dead, with an occasional low, throaty growl of joy, she'd likely be seen as odd, possibly mentally ill.

We think we are teaching them how to eat when we're teaching them how to obey.

Just what are you teaching in your classroom this week?

Moving about quickly can get things done, but dancing here, now, can bring joy.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring, another year older

 Yes, it's a couple of years old, but I liked it then, and I still do.
Seemed like the right day for this.

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
'Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.'

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

Yeats' Crazy Jane makes sense  in March. This is a hard time of year for mainstream churches. Words fall flat when the earth erupts again.

Today is the kind of day you count the old men in the neighborhood after a long winter. Still missing one, but he may be recovering from St. Patrick's Day. I will wander by his stoop again in a bit.

The cherry blossom buds are tumescent, ready to spew their sperm on our streets, our cars, our heads. Life is, again, for the living.

The big old moon reared up on its hind legs this evening. The clams are in trouble. I could feel the moon pull me along with the sea water. It seems unfair, raking clams when the moon sneaks up so close. The moonlight will dance on their siphons just past midnight tonight, and maybe a clam or two will share in the dance. They need not fear my rake tomorrow.

The crocuses have tossed off any sense of decorum, popping up pretty much anywhere they please.

The sun has returned, and with it, life. The old men left shuffle past and mutter hello, in shoes impossibly thick and black. They know, they know, what we all pretend to ignore.

Grace comes, again, unearned. None of us leave this life intact. Drink the wine, the sun, the pollen, the life.

I have spent too many of last week's hours indoors--I'm tossing this out there and taking a walk....

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Pea planting time (again)

The crocuses are back--time to plant peas again
Pea planting time again.

Much has changed, much has stayed the same. Changes at my age are often precipitous, sometimes perilous. I was never one for worshiping change.

Yesterday’s rain works its way through to my knees. The earth is pliable (again), and as I work my fingers through the dirt (again), and poke holes in the ground (again), and drop each pea, one by one, into the holes (again). I cover the peas, then get up, a little slower than I did last year, but likely a little faster than I will next year, should grace get me there.

A classroom carrot, from seed
I love teaching what matters to young folks, and what matters has not changed.
What we teach, though, has.

Soon my lambs will again push their fingers into damp peat, again plant a seed or several, but this time with the promise that their seeds, if cared for, will produce plants that will provide them with food. They will also use these same fingers to fumble their way through the PARCC these next few weeks to produce results that will provide them with, well, nothing.

For many of them, possibly most, this will be the last time they plant a seed. None of us are promised another dawn, but my students can reasonably expect 20,000 or more before they die, a bit more than me. Most of them will never hunt or forage or fish or trap or clam or grow a garden from scratch.

Dinner, caught by my daughter
I’m all for education reform, for changing a system that rewards obeisance, rewards class, rewards rote, rewards compliance. I’m not looking to raise a child to serve the global economy; I’m looking to raise a child who can maintain a homestead. The skills needed for both are mostly mutual except for a few, and it’s these few that make all the difference when planting a pea.

A good gardener solves real problems, lives in the present, is wary of new tools, knows her neighborhood, shares her bounty, and acknowledges grace. She trusts natural cycles, and recognizes death. She knows her decisions help some critters, are fatal to others. She grasps the intricate relationship between her garden and herself, and knows the health of one is tied to the health of the other.
One day last summer
I believe we’d all be better off in what’s left of our republican ways if we valued these skills at least as much as we value cheap food. The government of our land was founded on knowing, and honoring, the local, not some abstract international economy.

We're mammals of this Earth.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pruning pale male panels

I'm wrestling with this, and thinking aloud. I'm looking forward to the conversations.

If the point of national education conference panels is to exchange thoughts to stretch minds, then what better way to quash that with several representatives of the dominant culture, many who, like the musicians of Bremen, love the sound of their own voices?

This is not about the individual qualifications of the folks on the panel--we have keynotes for that. This is about putting together a few bright, thoughtful folks in front of a room of bright, thoughtful folks to see what can develop.

Despite our polite protests to the contrary, color matters. Conversations alter when those people enter the room. Sudden tight smiles. Broken phrases. People get careful.

If the point of a panel is to allow an amalgam of authentic voices, then we need diversity. But here's a problem--if we think we are fixing anything by "allowing" voices of color on a panel, by making sure "everyone" is represented, when everyone in the room knows the default power position is white male, we've not only made open discussion much less likely, we've devalued everyone's voices.

We already know what the folks running the show think. We know what those in power have historically done and continue to do. I suspect that the presence of any white man on a panel can alter the discourse in subtle and destructive ways.

This is not to say that there are not phenomenally thoughtful, bright, generous white men who could help make any panel shine, but until folks are truly color blind (not going to happen in my lifetime), then a white man's presence on the panel will alter the discussion by virtue of his perceived position in our culture.
I'm sure this panel was enlightening....
The problem is not just too few people of color on the panels--the bigger problem is the pervasiveness of the dominant culture in spaces that need change. 

If you already have a pale male on the panel, one more is not going to help. 

The voices are out there.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Because Daylight Saving Time

A day an hour shorter makes for a longer week... 

"...[T]he shift to Daylight Saving Time (DST) results in a dramatic increase in cyberloafing behavior at the national level."
DT Wagner et al, J Appl Psychol. 2012 Sep;97(5):1068-76

A quarter of the world's population will be groggy tomorrow. A few people will die traumatically. Students' test skills will deteriorate. A few more people will die of heart attacks. The stock market may crash.

And yet we still do it.

Stonehenge time
You cannot save time.

You cannot add an hour of sunshine to your day.

You can, though, manipulate human conceits. If nothing else, Daylight Savings Time is an excellent way to demonstrate to children the folly and the real consequences of humans believing they control more than they control.

Tomorrow my 1st period lambs will trudge through before dawn through blackened banks of snow to get to school. Broad Street in Bloomfield will look like the zombie apocalypse. We'll tell them to keep their heads up (or at least wipe the drool of their desks before they leave), but we are bucking millions of years of evolution.

Photo by Eugene Ter-Avakyan, cc-2.0

Humans need sleep. Adolescents (still considered by most to be a subset of humans) need more than the 97 minutes my kids average on Sunday nights.

And why not? What better way to prep for college and career readiness in the global economy than making students take life-altering assessments while comatose? Have kids knock down a few Xanax pills, and chase it with gin and Adderall cocktails to make it really authentic.

Arne says: "Students exist To Serve Man"

Stonehenge photo by Resk, released to PD
Yep, a repeat--I ilke cycles....

Thursday, March 5, 2015

CCSS: Creative, Competent, Social Students

I teach biology, but teach little about living.

You do not need to know anything about mitosis to know how to live.
You do not need to know anything about how to live to learn mitosis.

Too many of us strive to do whatever it is we must do without a thought to why we do anything the way we do it.

It's not learning that matters, it's living. Learning is an evolutionary tool shared by a lot of species better at this living thing than the current version of H. sapiens. Animals who choose to ignore the world around them do not last very long. Humans are no exception.

We have fetishized education as some sort of independent structure, institutionalizing what we think matters without thinking about what actually does matter. Why else care who graduated from where, or class ranks, or SAT scores?

Why do we let a few strangers dictate a "common core" defining what should be learned?

Here's my CCSS--we need to foster competent, creative, and social students. It's not my place (or anyone else's) to dictate a child's life path, but if we must have common standards, here are a few I think are worth sharing:

  • Students should know what's edible in their area, and how to prepare it. Around here it could be wild cherries, dandelions, squirrel, deer, clams, or hundreds of other fine food sources. Not saying they need to forage like Wildman Steve Brill, but using primary sources for food ought to be at least as important as using primary sources for some term paper no one will read besides a teacher.

  • Students should know the basics of their dwellings, and be able to use truly digital tools like hammers, screwdrivers, and saws to make and repair the things we need within our dwellings. Knowing how to approach a simple plumbing problem (or any mechanical problem) matters more than knowing how to "apply the Binomial Theorem."

  • Students should know what they need to stay alive, what goes into them (and where it came from) and what goes out of them (and where it goes). If they don't know this, they literally don't know shit. 
  • Arne and his pals would like your children to Serve Man....
    Our economy depends on sustaining learned helplessness; our current way of schooling does just that.

    Our children need to learn to read, to write, to develop reasonable number sense, and to solve problems. They need a reasonable sense of what's real (and what's not), and a reasonable chance to live a happy and productive life.

    They also need to live as the animals that they are.

    Sunday, March 1, 2015

    The PARCC and the Pope

    "When he listens to his conscience,
    the prudent man can hear God speaking."

    I'm a fallen-by-the-wayside Catholic with misgivings. I miss Confession and Communion, and there's still the hint of fear of eternal damnation--one does not easily escape the clutches of Sister Barbara Mary, even almost a half century later. Heck, I studied Latin.

    If folks ask me now about Catholicism, I get a hazy warmth recalling its better aspects--it encourages fearless activism for social justice, it is a deep part of my Irish-American culture, and walking out into the sunshine after confession lit up my limbus.

    But then there's the power thing--too few folks dictating deciding what's right for too many people. "The Judgment of Conscience" matters, of course, and for me it would be the heart of The Church, should I return, but in day-to-day living, culture trumps conscience. We hide in our unconsciousness.

    A student asked me what I thought about the PARCC exams this week--our schedule has been bent out of shape, and will be for 5 more weeks later this year, and the kids are getting hammered taking an officious test that may (or may not) count.

    The question is a loaded one, of course, especially for one charged with carrying out the will of the state--I am, after all, a government agent. Still, I promised my lambs I would not lie to them in a world where most adults do just that, so I answered.

    The gist of the "new" standards, when viewed from a step or two back, are not awful--we want children to be able to figure things out through analysis of available evidence using the tools of language, logic, and mathematics. We all want that (so long as it, um, complements our magical views of capitalism). Who sitting in the pews could have a problem with article 1777?

    But the The Church steps in with a few (mostly) white, (mostly) male, (mostly) pale power players, and Article 6 gets treated like a mouse nibbling on the Host in the Tabernacle.

    Look at the folks who run Achieve, the National Governor's Association, the original players who wrote NGSS, and the money men at Pearson pushing the product. They'd fit right in at the Vatican.

    Pope Glen Moreno, Chairman of Pearson
    Oh, I'm sure there are a lot of good people with good intentions (with concomitant good salaries) doing what they believe is in the interest of the economy children, but while I'll buy their faith, I'm going to look hard before dropping a nickel on the collection basket.

    "It is important for every person to be sufficiently present to himself in order to hear and follow the voice of his conscience.
    This requirement of interiority is all the more necessary as life often distracts us from any reflection, self-examination or introspection:
    Return to your conscience, question it. . . . Turn inward, brethren, and in everything you do, see God as your witness."
    Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1779