Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year's Eve

A couple of year's ago on New Year's eve.
Closest thing I come to resolutions these days.

I watched the sun as it set yesterday.
I watched the sun as it rose again this morning.

I don't do this often enough, few of us do.

Just a few minutes after the sun broke through this morning, a twitchy squirrel sat on top of a fence post, still, facing the sun, then resumed his twitchiness.

A vulture flew within 20 feet of me, its under feathers reflecting the sunlight as it banked.

I just watched.
It would have happened anyway.
And it's happening anyway.

And it will keep on happening....

Saccharin or sugar?

A letter to *us*:

It really does not matter if you proudly proclaim your allyship, wear Malcolm X t-shirts, march with thousands of others, or openly weep for fallen social warriors.

It really does not matter if you count your friends of color on more than one hand, count your tax deductions to the NAACP, count the number of people killed by angry, frightened cops.

It really does not matter if you groove to the Sun Ra Arkestra, Kendrick Lamar, or The Ink Spots.
None of it matters unless you do the things that need doing, in your loop, right now.

Ms. Garner had a more poetic way of summing this up--she got straight to the point, one of her many strengths.
Erica Garner (credit Aaron Stewart-Ahn via Twitter)

Yep, it may cost you more than that psychic hairshirt you wear a tad too proudly. Nope, you don't get any points.

Yep, your social circle may cinch up a bit. Nope, no one cares. Erica Garner reminded us what it means to hurt, to fight, to live.

Want to be sugar? Do what you need to do. What you already know needs to be done (but keep asking anyway hoping maybe saccharine is enough).

You can still wear that Malcolm X t-shirt, but keep it hidden under your clothes. Might make you feel a little bit like Clark Kent. You got the power, but nobody needs to know it.

Except you.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

E-phemeral words

Found on our classroom typewriter....
Not so long ago, likely within your lifetime and certainly within mine, high schools had the same cliques and cruelty, but with a big difference. Bullying was personal.  This does not make it any better, and in some ways made it hurt more, but cyber-bullying is easy and anonymous, a big reason it is so prevalent. We crowd-source our cowardice.

Simply telling a child to lose her smartphone for a week is not going to work. She may feel better for a few days (once she gets past those first few hours of dopamine deficiency), but unless she has a relationship with the world around her, or with books, or with a few close people, she has been ostracized from her community.

We need to reclaim writing as a physical form--an act of creating a physical connection shared intimately (and only) with those with whom we choose. Folded notes passed discretely during class, etched words (not just penises) on desks, hearts carved on trees, letters delivered by mail carriers, all physical manifestations of our ideas

In our haste to move forward, we forget what we leave behind.

It's not nostalgic if you're still using it....

The arc of teaching

If you're preparing her for next year's class, and that is all you have to offer her when she asks why she's doing this, you are not doing this right.

If your biggest goal is to get her past the PARCC, the NJ ASK,  the NJSLA-S, the Regents, the SBAC, you are not doing this right.

If you're getting her set for college, polishing her essays, tutoring her for her SATs, writing her recommendation letters, and think that's enough, you're not doing this right.

If you're setting up internships, bringing in astronauts and engineers and lawyers and entrepreneurs into your school to inspire her to do similar work, you're not doing this right.

If you can imagine her in her last few years, aged, slower and in declining health, yet see her looking back at her life's arc with some serenity and peace, and your life had even a little something to do with this, well, then, you've earned your due.

You did it right....

Monday, December 25, 2017

A pill bug Christmas story

From three years ago

Less than a mile away, in the dim light cast by the plant lights in our classroom, a pill bug wanders around the compost. It moistens it gills, bumbles into a fellow pill bug, exchanges greetings with a brief twitching of touching antennae, then ambles over to nibble on a piece of potato.

Wild pill bug, loitering on a North Cape May driveway
It knows of existence, and the existence of others like it.

Christmas means nothing, of course, to a critter no bigger than a wheat berry.
But living does.

The light is returning.

There is joy and wisdom in silence and darkness.
Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Solstice dawn prayer

The sun creaks through the gray dusk, etching the branches of a tree I did not plant. The branches are orderly but not symmetric, each fork with its own story of past light and winds, crafted from air and rain.

Every tree is different. Every branch is different.
Every tree is the same thing, whatever that same thing is, being a tree.

I am, for a moment, wordless, as I watch a world etched by purpose but not understanding. Wildness everywhere.

There is nothing to understand, but there is something to remember. We did not arise from wilderness.

We are wilderness.

We have as much purpose as a leaf on a tree.
No more, but far more important, no less.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Biology only worth knowing if life is.....

I liked it before, so I'm posting it again.

A slug on my driveway.

I suppose it's a bit much to ask students to ponder their closeness to plants in a culture where humans barely recognize other humans. Things have broken down.

Yet this much is true:
  • Humans and plants share the same genetic code--we can make their stuff, they can make ours.
  • We both reproduce sexually in a spectacular dance of the chromosomes, mixing us up every generation, so that even the perfect among us are perfect for only a generation.
  • We both rely on ribosomes to build our proteins, microtubules and mitochondria to get us through the day, and an innate will to do whatever we need to see the next sunrise.
Humans and basil share a common ancestor. We share a quarter of the same genes. Many of our proteins do exactly the same thing, others not so much.

But we're pretty damn close at the most basic levels of life. Which is pretty cool.

We're even closer to insects--we share about 60% of our core genes with fruit flies. 

If something effectively kills plants or insects, and you see no connections between plants and insects and humans, then you likely do not contemplate the tons and tons and tons of herbicides and pesticides poured on our food in our "war" against weeds and weevils.

Basil going to seed, after a week or two of wild sex.

If you don't contemplate about food or water or folks in your neighborhood, it's unlikely you contemplate much about anything that matters.

Hey, who won the game last night?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Teaching isn't about you....

Some stuff on my windowsill,
given freely by the world.
It's not about passion of the teacher, finding the soul of a child, or lighting a fire in a kid's brain. It never was.

 It's simply showing a child the world that's herenow beyond the human noise.

The recent rush to classroom love-fests fails to acknowledge the value of the old curmudgeon who taught a few decades ago, gruff yet beloved, because she was not the point of class.

The world was.

Why do you think books matter to children so much?

Solstice salad

Late autumn sunset on the Delaware Bay
I do not do well with the shorter days. Chances are, you feel the same.

Despite bathing in the glow of electric light, the sun still matters physiologically and psychologically (and that great gray area between). And it has been disappearing slowly for several months now.

Lettuce in the cold frame.

With less sun I grow more tired and less food.

I cannot control the sun, but turns out a lot of plants are tougher than I realized. With no help, the parsley, arugula, and Brussels sprouts are doing just fine through the dying sun. They're taking things a little slower, of course, but there's pretty good advice for all of us with the dying light.

I've got lettuce and baby kale tucked in the cold frames I made back when I had a bit more energy, and even a very determined bean plant that's plastered itself along the cold frame window.

So last night we ate from a mid-December garden.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Christmas story

Not Daphne--but the same desperate stare.
(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The saddest patient I ever had was dying of AIDS, before we knew what was going on. Her family was afraid of her, and much of the staff.

Truth be told, I was a little bit scared, too, but was so deep into a ward full of children dying back in the early 90s that I figured if it was that contagious, I was doomed as well.

So I spent a lot of time with her.
And I did a lot of things to her that hurt her anyway.

And now as I slowly descend the same arc she traveled too quickly, as we all are traveling, I think of her.

Her name was Daphne.

I can blather on about how I learned from her, how she was heroic, how what we learned from her helped us help other children later.

But that's all noise.

The Christmas story is a powerful one, and part of its power is the juxtaposition of a baby and a fate we know too well.

I am not sure what the point to this story is--maybe there is no point.
But I know this much--what we do not do matters as much as what we do.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunsets and the solstice

Sunset on the Delaware Bay
The earliest sunset of the year (in these parts anyway) happened a couple of sunsets ago ago. The sun is setting later today than it did yesterday.

Folks will argue the point, but I am not so interested in their arguments as their need to have the discussion at all.

We are truly trapped in an abstract of our own making. Noon once meant the time the sun is as high as its going to get on a particular day, and solar noon still means just that, but the sun peaking at noon only happens four times a year now.

And despite what my teachers told me, the sun is never directly overhead in this part of the world.

So I can point folks to the United States Naval Observatory to support my claim, and I often do.

North Cape May winter beach
Here's a better idea, though. Go outside (or at least to a window) and look. Tomorrow do the same. Do it for a week or two. Do the same for sunrise.

I guess it really doesn't matter if someone knows the sunsets are getting later. It may be trivial to most of us. But that's not the point.

If we can so easily fool ourselves about the rise and fall of the sun, imagine the nonsense we do not know that we do not know....

What we believe becomes who we are.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Anyone up for a good book burning?

The Bible of biology

"I think the Bible ought to be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter, in faith that we need it no more because the spirit is with us. It is a dangerous book, and to worship it is a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone."
Alan Watts, Myth and Religion

I think we ought to do the same with our biology textbooks, except  burn them on Darwin Day instead--I'll get enough grief burning books without adding apostasy to the fire.

It's early December, way too warm for the season. I am still wandering around barefoot, murdering cabbage worms picked off the Brussels sprouts. I'll wander along the edge of the sea later today, stumbling across live critters going about their lives, and fossils of those long gone.

In biology we worship the mitochondrion and the chloroplast, require children to draw them, learn words like "cristae" and "thylakoids," and use analogies for which children have no reference.

Ask a child what a powerhouse is. Ask anyone.

Basil on my windowsill this morning

The children should be the ones murdering caterpillars, getting muddied and bloodied on ridiculously warm December days. Biology, the study of life, is a mandatory course in New Jersey public high schools.

Living life, apparently, is optional.

Fuck it, I'm going outside.