Sunday, September 29, 2013

Infinite time, finite lives

Some for the table, some for next year's garden

Time is short again, a little shorter than it need be as I piece together various education acronyms and jargon that, when analyzed critically, show internal inconsistencies as wide as the smile on Marzano's portrait pic.

So long as I get to teach, to share the world with my students, I'll continue to play the game. (If you teach without sharing the world, it's called indoctrination.)

Yesterday I watched a few swallowtail caterpillars munch on dill--they'd pull one edge of a wispy strand of dill leaf, start at the tip, then gnaw down to the stem, holding onto the dill like a corn cob.  I'm not giving this up.

Where do they pupate?

I collected a few flowers for the kitchen, then stripped off a few hundred coriander seeds from the brown sunbursts of once vibrant green cilantro plants, some to eat, some to plant after yet another winter. I'm not giving this up.

We walked along the edge of the bay, stumbling upon shed horseshoe crab shells, a live sand flea, and a small marmorated stone that now sits with other stray talismans sitting on our windowsill. I'm not giving this up.

The edge of a horseshoe crab shell, found at the edge of the bay.

We sat at the edge of the canal and watched the sun set, then ate at a table surrounded by family, with food that took my Auntie Beth some time to prepare. We shared stories, some from yesterday, some from half a century ago. I'm not giving this up.

But a few things have tailed off--my assorted stringed boxes rarely vibrate these days, and I have little time to just sit and write. Some things I am giving up, if just for a little while....

What are your students giving up to finish up that work we define as important? 
Is that worksheet written by a stranger worth giving up a sunset in a life limited by death?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

September thoughts, as the sun fades away...

While collecting sow bugs for school and ripping up weeds from the garden today, I stumbled upon a praying mantis.  I watched her as she watched me. She scrabbled away from me, then cocked her head to make sure I would leave her alone. If you watch one for awhile, you start to doubt the human supremacy thing.

A young horseshoe crab, not a praying mantis, but still...

There's more to this thing we call life than language can allow.  Watch a mantis awhile, and the next thing you know, you'll be questioning everything.

Which may be the point of education, at least education that matters.

You will die someday. That is something worth remembering every morning, but not worth worrying about (too much), because there is not a whole lot of things you can do about it.

But you can do this much. You can live.

A blue crab's hand held by my own.

If you're like most of us, you won't even be kind enough to leave your carcass for others to feast upon. You'll either have your cold shell pumped full of formaldehyde, or you'll revert your complex organic compounds to water and carbon dioxide in a furnace hotter than you now alive brain can imagine.

So you may as well contribute something to the common good now.

What do you want?

If you do not know, why are you teaching?
If you do know, why aren't you fighting for it as though your life depended on it?

A handful of quahogs raked up by me--they bring me joy.

I just started teaching again, as I have for a few Septembers now. I used to practice medicine. In a few years, I may be doing something else, so long as my health holds.

Whatever I am doing, though, I'm doing it because I want to, because I know what I want. So long as the tide rises and washes over the quahogs I enjoy so much, in a dance so ancient and mysterious I cannot hope to understand, and know I cannot understand, I am happy.

Sometimes I think the most valuable thing I offer my lambs is an adult human who is happy.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Drafted into Arne's army

I understand now why some of the good ones are leaving....

While kids saunter back into school, back, surrounded by cinder block walls and windows that open just enough to slip through a few fingers, the sun's dance arcs visibly lower day by day.

The dichotomy between the dull education that passes for science and the fantastic changes happening outside our building as we plummet towards winter's darkness disturbs me more with each passing year, as I stumble towards my own winter months.

Truth is I am a public high school teacher, and as such, an agent of the government, bound by the curriculum of a local board that fears, as it should, the governing bodies above it. Arne Duncan may be an evil puppet of corporate thinking, a misguided fool, or just another human trapped in his own mythology fed by money, but his actions directly affect my classroom, no matter his motivations.

I accept money to do what I do, money extracted (mostly) from local families who often struggle to pay it, to deliver "education" to the town's children. So long as I am delivering an education defined by folks who have never set foot in my town, and who, even more damning, would not care to, I am part of a process that does harm to a lot of children.

So long as I tend to the needs of the children in front of me, help them see and understand the natural world through the wonderful human story we call science, and show them that happiness and living a good life are both possible, I am part of a process that helps children grow to be joyful adults.

Every time "college and career ready" dictates are trumpeted from on high, I have a contractual obligation to impose them on our children. Every time "college and career ready" dictates are trumpeted from on high, I have a moral obligation to sift through them to shield our children from harm.

It is not enough to say close the classroom door and teach. It is not enough to say kids are better for having a particular teacher along the way who helped them. It is not enough to pretend that subversion solves anything beyond the niggling thoughts that dare to interrupt your sleep.

The schism between what I ought to do and what I am required to do widens with each wedge of bundled cash the Gates and the Broads of the world shove into whatever crevices they need to crack. Good people at all levels need to act in the best interests of the children under their care, and too few of us are.

I am fortunate to work with a principal who focuses on what he believes is right for our children in a challenging district that happens to be my hometown, but that's not enough anymore. The thunder of foreign hooves rumbles through our town now, and I don't want to join that army.

What do you plan to do when you get drafted to serve their needs instead those of your children?

What would Dr. Diane Ravitch do?