Sunday, October 15, 2017

Flip the wrench, NGSS style

I once worked on the docks of Newark. I am glad I did, even more so since the asbestos in my lungs has not (yet) led to mesothelioma. *Knock on wood* (oh yes I did).





I learned how to fix things.

"Things" like gears, cables, and booms were no longer magic, but things made by men (and a very few women back then). Not much you couldn't do with a torch, an arc welder, and a machine shop.

While taking apart some hydraulic apparatus I knew little about, John the Polack offered this timeless advice:

If it don't fit, don't force it.
Turn it over and try again.

John was old. He fed the feral cats, gave me coffee loaded with whiskey (but only during overtime), and he's probably dead  now.

But he was wise, he was kind, and he spent his life loading ships headed for places he would never see. nor will you.

What does any of this have to do with NGSS?
Pretty much everything if you do it right, if I am getting the thrust behind the new standards.

When you use a wrench in tight spaces, flipping it with each turn gives you a hair more turn. If you use a wrench, you know this. It's not innate, but it feels like it after a few decades using wrenches.

We are clever mammals, both blessed and condemned by our cleverness. We cannot be our mammal selves playing on screens. We need more screws in our lives.'

Teach kids how to fix things. It will make them a lot happier than learning most of anything else we pretend to teach them in high school.




I'm not kidding.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

It's not all about science

This popped up in my Facebook feed today.

Sean Nash says I said it, and I'll take his word on it.
I must have liked it then.




I still like it now.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mid-October


The number of years I have of days growing shorter is growing shorter, true for everybody, I suppose, but still surprising to me.

The sun has gotten lazy, the night more bold.

Monarchs will land on my shoulder now, and a hummingbird buzzed inches from my ear a couple of weeks ago. Other beings no longer see me as a threat, though I still have most of my teeth.


I continue to teach, hope to do so for some time, and some time is all we can ask for. As the stridency of the college-ready, career-ready corporate crowd rises to octaves above this old man's range, the reason I teach, and the reason public education matters, gets down to empathy and the pursuit of happiness.

As we head to darker times, knowing (and remembering) what matters matters.


I think I am a happier creature than many (if not most) of my lambs. I'd like to make that untrue.

So I teach.



I trust I make a difference.
I hope I makes a difference.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

My sister's birthday

Written by Leslie, my love, about my sister.
She was killed by a Christian missionary who told me it was God's will.




Mary Beth Doyle's birthday falling at the start of the school year is always a reminder to me to approach my classes with the warmth, wisdom, compassion, and humor that she brought to every moment of life. Particularly with the way the world is now, I hope to have the strength she had. I wrote this almost 13 years ago and shared it here before; seems like a moment to share it again:

"I am at work, sitting under my desk, listening to Mary Beth’s voice. I have done this several times this week. It could become a bad habit. There’s hardly room for me and the computer under here. I’m hoping no one comes to the door. It would be difficult to explain why you’re under your desk, listening to your dead sister-in-law speak about avoiding toxins in everyday life, holding back tears, again.

The radio interviewer is good; his voice is warm and clear and he asks pithy questions that open up the conversation to right where MB wants it to be. But her musical, low-pitched voice doesn’t carry well through the desk from the speaker of the computer tucked underneath. Even with the volume up high, I can’t make out her words. So I try sitting underneath, right next to the speaker. This works, and I find out I kind of like it down here.

Mary Beth and I met almost thirty years ago, before I was dating or married to her brother. We did some dumb things together; not lethal or illegal or the kinds of things you don’t tell your kids, just dumb in the ordinary sense. ‘Cause they seemed like they might be fun at the time. Like going up a down escalator. That kind of thing.


One day, way back before real life had set in, we were at a pinball joint on the Jersey Shore in Long Branch with a bunch of friends. Wizard World. My favorite pinball machine was “Old Chicago”, beautiful Art Deco shapes in pink, black, silver and tan. But after hearing the “special” light thunk a few times, I was ready to call it a night. MB was done with whatever she was playing, too, so we walked down to the beach.

The waves were huge that night; there’d been a storm recently. Salty spray speckled us, so we figured, what the hell, why not walk out on a jetty? The flat black rocks were slippery, but it was a beautiful night, and the view back from the end of to the beach and the boardwalk lights was lovely. Until the first wave hit us.

Now, waves don’t usually break across the jetty; it stands up pretty high. After all, that’s what it’s there for, to limit and control the waves into some kind of polite, sloshy order. But some combination of high tides and offshore storm was sending these waves slap across our path, threatening to knock our legs out from under us.

Cleverly, they’d waited till we were out at the end and coming back to pull off this little bit of theatricality. I can attest that there were no drugs or other mind-altering substances involved, but MB and I thought that this effort by the ocean to bat us off the jetty into possible deaths by skull-crushing rocks or drowning was just the funniest thing ever. We kept plowing forward, laughing, and waves kept crashing around our knees. When we finally made it to the beach, we were soaked to the skin, and still convulsed with laughter.


Her brother, my future husband, thought, I think, that we were nuts—you know, a piece of driftwood in those waves would’ve knocked you both off. But, on the other hand, I like to think we’re two of his favorite people, and he’s been known to do a couple needlessly life-threatening things in his time. Eventually, the three of us ended up at the same college.

Eventually, I married her brother, and our lives followed different trajectories as we became young parents, while MB traveled the world, providing my kids with a really cool postcard collection—who else had regular correspondence from Turkey, Israel, Egypt, France, Germany, Argentina, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh? She was the exotic aunt who swept into our tiny apartment with dolls and elephant puppets from India, and tales of camel rides in Egypt, baby lion pets in Sri Lanka, tea every afternoon for a summer in Turkey. And whenever she visited, everyone danced.

As time passed, she settled in Michigan and became an important mover in the environmental health and justice movement. Two jobs and two kids kept Michael and I pretty busy. No matter what else was going on, though, we knew we’d always see MB in June. Our extended family spent a week every summer at Cape May on the tip of the Jersey Shore. Michael and MB and I bought kayaks and hauled them there, us from North Jersey, her all the way from Michigan. We paddled every chance we could get.


The other time we saw her regularly was Christmas. A nonbeliever, she nevertheless came to Christmas Eve service for a number of years with us. She liked the music and the candle lighting, but especially, I think, she adored the afterwards tradition wherein our family and whoever was visiting drove to the next town to see an elaborate Christmas display including two-story wooden houses filled with Santa’s elves and Biblical characters which moved when a bystander pushed a button, lots and lots of lights, piped-in carols, and live reindeer (really). Now, that was her kind of Christmas celebration!

Afterward, she would wait up with me for the kids to fall asleep to help put the presents under the tree, and roll her eyes at my inability to resist over-consumption despite knowing better. She and I often sat up long after everyone else had fallen asleep, me drinking Amaretto and her Sambuca, watching the tree lights blink, and catch up on each other’s lives.

Mary Beth had an uncanny ability, and this was repeated over and over by speakers at her memorial service, to understand you at your best, and help you through your worst. Some years ago, when I felt my life was falling apart, it was she who strode beside me on the jetty, acknowledging how slippery the rocks were, and how goddamn sneaky the waves had been, but fairly sure, I think, that I’d get back to the beach. Which, in the end, I did.


So when I opened the door to the sight of two policemen on my front porch, on a beautiful Saturday morning last fall, asking if my husband was home, and if he had a sister named “Mary,” nothing in me was prepared to hear of her death on a dark Michigan road the evening before, and I wanted to scream, No, no! her name is Mary Beth, you’ve got the wrong house.

So here I am, now, sitting under my desk, listening to her voice full of reassurance and grace, gently explaining how to protect your children from household toxins, just about a month before she died. The day of her memorial was declared “Mary Beth Doyle Day” by the governor of Michigan, we were told, and a couple months later, a portion of a Michigan bill designed to remove toxic flame retardants from the environment was named after her, because she’d worked so hard on the issue.

And her message on this broadcast, which I listen to over and over, is to be vigilant, to do the best you can, raise your voice for justice, and then sleep well at night. And that’s what I’ll try to do, if I can get out from under this desk, off this jetty, back to the beach."





Some things you just never recover from.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Parts of the cell


  • Ribosomes are not like factories.
  • The nucleus is not like a brain.
  • Mitochondria are not like power plants.
Using analogies for cell organelles presumes that the students know what how brains or factories or power plants work. Most students do not. Most teachers do not, either.

Building a "cell city" gives the illusion that learning science is happening. It is not.

When a child creates a cell model based on analogies, they learn that compliance (and using lots of pastel colors) gets you ahead in the school game. 

Students believe getting ahead in the school game matters because that gets you a leg up on the job game so you can make more money. They believe that because we tell them that, and at least that's more reasonable than telling a student that the nucleus is like a brain.

I want a child who, if she spills a drop of blood in class, imagines one of her white blood cells sliding through its liquid world, desperately fighting the microbes among the hordes that sit on her desktop.

A child who uses her brain in school is much more difficult to "handle" than the child who slides by on compliance.





Which child do you want in your classroom?







Thursday, August 31, 2017

Science teacher's prayer

please grant me

a slab of slate
a chunk of chalk

a live critter
a dead ego

a magnet
a marble

curious children
and a sundial's sense of time.

amen



Yes, a repeat, but what does amen mean?










Monday, August 28, 2017

On well-meaning whites, Chapter 23,456: This time #Edchat



*We* are tone deaf, color blind, and oblivious. But God knows *we* are polite.

This is a sanctuary question--it gives *us* a place to hide while ignoring the systemic cultural oppression.

#Edchat, a large community for teachers on Twitter, put this up as a possible topic this week. There should be no need for discussion, yet here *we* offer *our* rejection of the straw man as an act of atonement.

It's not the "bigots" that are the problem, as problematic as they are--it's *our* need to be civil when civility is the subtle tool *we* use to maintain a status quo that has resulted in a society where low SES becomes a synonym for black or brown..

Today marks the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. *We* eat it like a casserole at a potluck church dinner--soothing, warm, down-to-earth meal served in the local church basement, sharing food with the others. Then we go home.

Today also marks the murder of 14 year old Emmett Till. This is not a coincidence. But I bet more whites will celebrate King's speech than acknowledge Emmett Till's murder.


"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will."


So here we are again, another school year, another year of hand-wringing over the test score gap--either you believe that children of color are inferior, or you believe something else might be going on.

Unless *we* believe a bigot here or there has this much effect on "our" children, *we* have to do more than out the "bigots" among us.





Right now the bigots are doing *us* a favor, relieving too many of us from our duty to dig deeper into the bigger problems.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Partial eclipse of the heart

Education is about living, not bucket lists.


The eclipse is a wonderful event, but just as spectacular is the bay tide--it's rising over 6 feet in 6 hours, twice a day.

Wadlopen: On the flats yesterday.

Just saw a hummingbird display its ridiculous aerial abilities. Watched a praying mantis on a bean plant this morning. Dug a few clams out of the flats a couple hours ago. Eating grace from the garden every day for the last two months.

Partial eclipse in Cape May a few years ago--through a CD.
The commonness of the day to day miracles shouldn't lessen our awe, and won't if you're paying attention. Get outside and pay attention, and be the mammal you are.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

STEM is not the answer

The push for STEM rests on the misguided premise that public education exists to serve the nation's economic and military interests, as though our economic and military objectives are set in our Constitution.


There are many good reason to study math and science in school, but serving the international economy is not one of them. Maintaining the world's most powerful military while decimating its diplomatic corps is not a good reason, either.

I'm betting that the young man on the far right (see what I did there?) is not wearing the ARKANSAS ENGINEERING tee just for show.

Why is he marching? He's probably angry about something. Maybe engineering isn't as lucrative as he had hoped, maybe he blames the rising tide of Indians or Korean or Japanese, maybe he's unhappy because he's been chasing a carrot he realizes never tasted good.

Maybe he really believes that the young woman who kicked his ass in fluid mechanics got an extra 20 points on her final exam because, well....

If you are a science teacher, never forget that any compulsory education, science or otherwise, is never politically neutral. You have the same ethical obligations to our students that your social studies faculty have.

Don't hide behind "but I teach science." Don't hide behind "but I'm color blind."

You're teaching children some exceedingly powerful stuff--help them develop the maturity needed to handle it



(It's all I can do without sputtering....)

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

長崎, again

Nagasaki, again--because we must never forget.



On August 9, 1945, just over 2 1/2 pounds of plutonium was converted to energy 1650 feet over Nagasaki.

Two and a half pounds--about the weight of a 28 week premature newborn baby.

長崎





Italic


Yosuke Yamahata, A Japanese army photographer, took this picture the day after the Fat Man fell over Nagasaki.

More of Mr. Yamahata's photography can be seen here.







The photo and the quote are from © The Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu

Yes, this is a repeat, and will be repeated every year that I maintain the blog.
We must never forget what we are capable of doing. Never.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hiroshima, again

Hiroshima was destroyed on August 5th, 7:16 PM, our time--just under an hour before our sunset.


 

広島



Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese army base. ... It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. . . . What has been done is the greatest achievement of organized science in history.



It happened on this date, this "greatest achievement."




New technology used to "solve" an old problem. We cannot help ourselves.

Wes Jackson, founder of the Land Institute, suggested "we ought to stay out of the nuclei." Until we have a clue what we want, sounds like good advice.

You cannot separate tools from the critters who use them. Teaching science as some compartmentalized thought process without cultural context is a dangerous game.

What is our responsibility as teachers of science?
As citizens of the United States?
As human beings?

***
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.
-J. Robert Oppenheimer



And now I teach science to (very) young adults. I have a responsibility to them, to the state, to myself.

Harry S. Truman called the bombing of Hiroshima "the greatest achievement of organized science." If that does not give you pause, you should not be teaching science.

You should not be teaching anything at all.




This is posted every year, as a reminder to me.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A mantis prayer

Because we do awful things to critters, we convince ourselves (and each other) that they are not aware.


The praying mantis saw me--she was sitting on an unripe pumpkin on a vine that meanders along the back yard, green on green. I was on my belly, my head a foot or two away.

I turned my head, she turned hers. I turned my head back again, and she followed.

I could not now her mindset, or if she even had a mind. (To be fair, she could not know mine, either).

A tiny ant wandered over to one of her back feet--she lifted it up, then put it back. The same ant then wandered over to one of her middle feet, and again, she raised her leg, then settled it back on the pumpkin, green on green, all the while staying focused on me.

I watched her for a few minutes, and she watched me. We both had the time, midsummer is kind that way.

In September, once school starts, chances are I will be too busy to lie on my belly watching another living being go about her business on a pumpkin. She will also be too busy to pay me much mind--the nights are growing longer, she'll be restless looking for food, for a mate, for a place to lay her eggs.


By November, she will be dead, and I will, God willing, be carrying on in my classroom, sharing what I know, and at least as important, what I do not know.




Our breaths are finite.
What do you want your mortal charges to know?





Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lughnasadh, again

Yep, mostly the same post seventh time around--I like the rhythm of the year.
Nearing end of my 6th decade--more a spiral than a cycle, but it's OK.


"No ideas but in things."
William Carlos Williams


The English had a sensible name for this time of year before William the Conqueror blew through--weed month (weodmonað). We teeter towards the dark months. Things fall apart.

The sunlight diminishes perceptibly now. The plants know.

The past week we've eaten deep purple eggplants and bright pink brandywine tomatoes, yellow summer squash and green-and-red striped beans. Today we will pick basil for pesto, some for tonight, some for February. A bowl full of ripe blueberries waits for us, sunlight incarnate.

But the sunlight is dying, and the plants know.

We do not speak of religion in class, at least not formally. Students occasionally ask religious questions, and I deflect them. I explain that some things cannot be known through science, and that what I believe beyond the limits of science falls outside the province of class.

In class we talk of light and hormones, photoperiods and abscisic acids, to explain how plants know. We talk under the hum of fluorescent lights, time marked by defined blocks of time. In class, September light is exactly the same as February light, and class is always 48 minutes long, no matter where the sun sits.

This week marks the start of Lammas, or Loaf Mass Day--joy for the harvests that are coming and regret for waning sunlight. Lammas used to be celebrated--the first wheat berries of the year were ground into flour and baked into bread offered in thanks, some used for Communion, some for the feast that followed.

We thank God (or Tailtiu or Lugh or some other forgotten gods)--harvest time reflects death and grace, whatever the culture. Death and grace feel foreign in the classroom, indeed foreign in our culture. We pretend, at our peril, that life is linear.

Lammas falls halfway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. The days are shortening, winter is coming. Until you feel the seasons in your bones, until you follow a grain of wheat from the ground to plant to bread to you then back to the ground again, the modern myths may be enough.

Science can explain why plants produce fruit when they do, and I can teach the steps. We can test whether a student learns what I present, and the students that do this best have access to all our culture offers.

You can become very powerful, very rich, without knowing grace. You can go far in life if blessed with intelligence and beauty, degrees and citations, without ever knowing what a wheat berry looks like, without ever kneading a lump of flour and water and yeast into glistening dough.

In the end, we don't know much, and may never know much. We can, however, recognize grace. We might not grasp it rationally, but we we can grasp it--a good reason to celebrate Lammas.





The Skeleton of Death dances every hour in Prague--photo of the Prague Astronomical Clock by Sandy Smith found on VirtualTourist.
The modern myths are not enough.

Friday, June 16, 2017

In memory of her

Philipp Salzgeber, CC
She was a kid.

She was dying.
Everyone knew, and yet no one would say it.

Her mother ask that no one tell her child what was going on.
I saw her after her surgery, her head wrapped like a genie, sitting on her bed.

Her mother wanted me to promise I would not tell her.
I told the mother I would not lie if asked.

The comet hung in the sky like a jewel that summer 20 years ago.

It was evening.
I was tired.
The mother was tired
The child was dying.

I asked the other if I could take her child to a room where the comet was visible.
The mother said OK.
She did not come along.

I knew what I would say if the child asked.
The mother knew as well.

And the child never asked.

But she saw the comet.
The last one she saw.
Not the last one I saw.

And Hale-Bopp makes me sad every time I see a photo.




She never asked so she could protect the adults around her.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

End of another year

Another year is winding down--our last day is a week from tomorrow--and what have my lambs learned? What have I learned?

I'm not nearly the teacher I want (or need) to be, few of us are.

You cannot hope to add much to a child's knowledge in the conditions imposed by this thing we call "school," but just might alter the way a child approaches a problem, examines a claim, sees herself in the world beyond the cinder block walls.


Or maybe she'd figure that out a lot quicker if she just lingered outside the school building a few minutes each morning, breathing quietly, simply paying attention to a tiny critter crawling on the crumbling bark of the ancient tree that looms behind our school's message board.

Beer, sex, and augmented reality in the classroom

I love beer.
I love sex.
I could learn to love augmented reality.

From The Brain That Wouldn't Die.

But none of those belong in a young child's classroom.

If the goal is to increase testable content knowledge that will raise PARCC scores and sell a few more edu-gadgets along the way, well, you got me.

If the goal is to help children discover the world, love its richness, and become reasonably happy adults, we have a problem.

The less glass between the ant hill and the owner of young eyes staring at it, the more real and complex it becomes.

This takes time, of course, and I suppose AR could deliver a child to some goal sooner.
"Mommy, Mommy, look, bugs!"
"Yes, let Mommy show you how to identify them."
The mother aims her device over the anthill. A reassuring voice rises from glass--
This is a colony of  Formica accreta ants. I have added it to your child's log of tagged organisms.

The young woman pauses a moment, watching as her child starts to poke the anthill. "But are they dangerous?"
There have been no recorded instances of fatal interaction, but there is always the remote possibility of an allergic reaction.
She gasps as she scoops up her daughter. "Thank you, Siri!"

She slips hear ear buds back on, hits her Soothe Me Now playlist, and heads back to her climate controlled car.
Back at school, the child will have a beautiful photo to show, and a story to tell.
She'll look, sound, and feel smarter.

Credit: Steve Paine, via CC

In the new human world where "look, sound, and feel" triumph over the rich aromas of life (and the fetid smells of mortality), another child gets lost in our limited human universe.

It's a pretty amazing place out there, this natural world. Augmented reality can be an amazing tool for those among us who still have a reasonable grasp of the vastness of the universe (or who at least admit that what's real surpasses anything we can imagine).


We are not the creators of the universe, nor are we just spectators. We cannot augment the natural world, just the blinders our machines have put on it.



.
Even beer and sex have their limitations.
And yes this is an old post.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My weed creed

An unexpected (and unearned) gift.

A patch of yard was torn up--our neighbors needed to fix their fence, and we had no particular attachment to the English ivy that sneaks up on you when you're not paying attention.

I take a laissez-faire attitude towards "weeds"--I live with a woman who finds dandelions at least as interesting as roses, and at least you can eat dandelions. Or maybe I'm just lazy.

This week we were rewarded with a spectacular display of flowers from our weed--turns out it is a common mallow, Malva silvestris, a plant with a long shared history with humans.

Also turns out parts of it are edible, too.

I'm sure there's a metaphor here somewhere about weeds, expectations, and high school students, but we're in the last few days of school, and I'm just going to enjoy my mallow for its mallowness.



Who defines the weeds in your circle?







Monday, June 12, 2017

What you do and why you do it

I teach children, and I suspect my motives differ a bit from those who ostensibly dictate the curriculum.
In the end, I want my lambs to be happy.
Not rich, not "successful," not professionals, not leaders, though any of those may well be a by-product of what I do.
Happiness matters if you're mortal.
From Travel Vermont, lifted without permission
"The Savages of [Canada], in the time that the sap rises, in the Maple, make an incision in the Tree, by which it runs out; and after they have evaporated eight pounds of the liquor, there remains one pound as sweet ...."
from British Royal Society paper, 1685,"The Maple Syrup Story History of Maple Syrup"

It takes a sugar maple growing in the northeastern United States nearly 40 years to reach a diameter of 12 inches, wide enough to tap for maple sap, more than half a lifetime for most of us. A tree this size will yield about 10 gallons of sap in a season, which gets boiled down to a quart of maple syrup.

A quart of fancy grade maple syrup at retail prices will get you about $15-20 dollars. To get this quart of syrup, 10 gallons of sap needs to be boiled down, either using wood or petroleum for fuel. Making maple syrup will put a little cash in your pockets.

The same tree will yield about $50 worth of wood if sold to a timber company. The retail value is much higher, of course, but without lifting a finger beyond signing a contract, the landowner can exchange his tree for a stump, and pocket 300% more money than he would make in a season making maple syrup, were he so inclined to do the labor.

If you take an accountant's view, with labor a minimum of $5.15/hour, well, you end up losing "value" or money or whatever it is we think is more tangible than currency. It's thinking like that that got us the 98% corn syrup version of syrup. If Indians were better accountants, we would not know what real maple syrup tasted like.

Fortunately for us, the Indians needed calories more than cash. Maple syrup and maple sugar provided calories in a time of the year when other sources were scarce.

When the Indians gathered in northern forests to collect maple sap, it was cold. The full February Hunger Moon marked the trails at night as families gathered at the sugaring grounds. While it is easy to romanticize maple sugaring, late winter evenings in Vermon] are cold. Animals and people starve.

One Indian myth parallels the fable of Eden. Maple trees once ran full of syrup, but a god filled trees with rainwater to make the Indians work for their bounty. I do not know what offense caused the god to dilute the sap. Our God punished us for seeking knowledge we ought not seek--something we seem to have forgotten.

Imagine shivering on an icy March night, under the waning moonlight. Your children whimper. The trees look inert, dead. The stars are visible through the leafless branches.

The trees are gashed, and the next day the sap flows and flows and flows. Fires are started. Rocks heated in the fires are dropped in the wooden vats holding the sap, to drive the water off as steam.

You are a hungry child. Your first taste of spring is maple syrup. You are alive.

Indians shared their knowledge with the pale folk. In our warm homes with our exuberant bellies splashing maple syrup on pancakes year round, we forget that calories mean life.

The process of maple sugaring remains essentially the same, which means it remains inefficient. It will never be profitable to those who insist on selling pure maple syrup. General Foods figured this out a long time ago. Look at the ingredients on Aunt Jemima Syrup. Look again. How much maple syrup is in it?
Trish Norton and Art Krueger, lifted without permission.
Sugaring is the act of gently gathering what the maple tree has to offer, and then feeding your senses with it through every step of the process; and knowing that you will be able to do it again next year and the next, without harming a thing.
Trish NortonWhat We Do and Why We Do It

Ms. Norton will never make it as the CEO of a publicly owned company. She probably would not last long in a cubicle. She might even get a bit cold in February, trying to coax heat from maple logs in her wood stove.

The Krueger-Norton family taps about a thousand maple trees each spring. Trish's daughters spent hours and hours in cribs in the sugar house, the maple steam humidifying the air. The family burns 6 tons of wood a day during peak sugaring season. It doesn't make much economic sense, but I bet her kids are healthier for it.
I'd be willing to wager she will have fewer regrets than most of us when our vision fades. You might want to ask her--she lives in Cuttingsville,Vermont, and you can call toll free: 1-888-486-9460.



If you really like the maply in maple syrup, look for Grade B. Maple sap was traditionally used for sugar. The less color and flavor in the final product, the higher the grade--the point was the sugar, not the mapleness. The grading system persists today.














Sunday, June 11, 2017

On graduation speeches

Ferdinand, of course--who else better to represent a valedictorian's dreams?
It is not possible to have the best day of your life—none of us can grasp a day’s worth of living in a moment’s thought.

But we can have wonderful moments. Indeed, moments are all we have, wonderful or not, and ranking them, if one is paying attention, becomes impossible, because one pays attention.

A few of my favorite things--photos live in moments, not days
So in this season of graduation speeches, where young folks spew out platitudes they still believe, remind them that while what they want is not possible, what is possible can be more than what they realize they wanted.

Otherwise it just falls back into cynicism, and mortality does not mix well with cynicism.





And you (yes you, dear reader), are mortal, too.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Anniversary

You never know how it's going to go, especially acts of faith.
Which, of course, is what makes them acts of faith.


You toss a root into the ground, cover it with dirt, and hope.

And over the years, some take, and many do not.
But the ones that take define who we were, who we are, and who we become.

We can hide behind metaphors, of course, and day to day we (mostly) do.

But to the few who know us, a horseradish flower plucked under the rising sun of our 35th wedding anniversary seems enough.



For our 35th wedding anniversary in our 40th year together.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Beltaine, again

Liked it 5 years ago.
Still do.


“It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.” 
Wendell Berry, Life is a Miracle

The increasing light, the returning horseshoe crabs, the bay rising, falling, and rising again, remind me what I'll forget again in a moment. If I were not mortal, the forgetting would not be sin.

But I am, and it is.



Bealtaine again.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

High tech clamming, or why it's OK to reject the latest edugadgets


I went clamming yesterday, a dreary mid-April day, wearing shorts and sandals, while bundled up above the waist in multiple layers, anchored by an Irish sweater knit on the Aran Islands, made for weather like this.

I used a simple clam rake that has worked well for years, designed to scritch the bay's muck, allowing me to get enough clams to feed a few folks for a day or two.

A bit after I started, soon after the tide had turned, another clammer showed up in a full neoprene wetsuit, sporting a commercial bull rake.
"How many you'd get," amiably asked.
"Enough."

He wasn't satisfied with that, and ambled over to my bucket to see. He let me know he got five in the short time he was there. His bull rake did work faster. It requires a bit more strength, and does a bit more damage. If "enough" is your goal, the bull will get you there faster, but since my goal is clamming, something I love to do, I have no need to save time.
"Aren't you cold?"
"No--a bit warmer than February."
He looked at me askew, looked down at his full neoprene wetsuit, then looked back at me and unzipped the top. "Come to think of it, I'm a bit too warm."

Now there have been days when I would have envied his fancy clamming clothes, but today was not one of them. My old wool sweater was made for days like this.

I wished him luck, put back the smallest and the largest clams I had  back into the mud at the edge of the bay (a practice I started years ago--that way I know there will always be clams), and walked away.

***
"i" in iPad does not stand for "infant."
Image by Steve Paine via Flickr

Before I adopt any new technology (and clam rakes and neoprene both count), I want to know if adopting it will, in any way, reduce increase overall happiness or well-being, for me, and perhaps even more importantly, everybody else.

Not my efficiency.
Not my net worth.
Not my students' test scores.
Not my attractiveness.
Not my credit score.

Not anything beyond a very basic question first:
Will this tool improve joy?

The question is a difficult one for many of us, not so much because our limited imaginations do not foresee the consequences to both us and others down the line, though that is an issue--rather, too many of us no longer allow ourselves to live for joy.

Or even know what joy means anymore.



If you know what you want, you're a lot more likely to find it.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Dayeinu

13th century Seder, via Treehugger

I went to a Seder this week, my first one. I was a little bit nervous, at first--I was raised Irish (OK, Roman) Catholic culture that will not share Holy Communion with outsiders

I was welcomed by all, not unexpected, but still nice.

I read (and learned) from the Haggadah, something I did not know even existed a week ago.

Turns out Judaism (at least my brief exposure to it) values questioning (the Haggadah) over education (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), and (dare I say) kids over priests.




I think I am now a better teacher for it...
(Oh, and one more thing--turns out I love gefilte fish and matzoh stuffing.)

Kale soup

This one is for me.


Misty March day, with an occasional tease of sun reminding us what's possible. Perfect day for clamming but for the tides, and one cannot negotiate with the tides,

The kale and Brussels sprouts have survived the winter, as they do, and have not yet bolted, as they will. They're different versions of the same plant, in the same way a dachshund and a bulldog are versions of the same animal, and both tolerate south Jersey winters.

Our parsley plants (mostly) got through, too, and the rosemary bush is now about seven years old, flowering through much of the winter when most everything else is dormant.

We also have some Simpson lettuce growing in the cold frame, planted way back in December in the basement, then moved outside late January or so, when the light was just returning.

We decided to pretty much throw everything together, and it was good.

In the iron skillet, warm up some olive oil, then toss on 4 or 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary. Let the rosemary sizzle in the oil a few minutes, then remove. (Yes, it's wasteful, we've been spoiled by our perpetual rosemary bush).

Add the chopped onions to the oil, let them simmer a couple of minutes, but do not let them caramelize. (I guess you could if you want--maybe I will next time)

Toss the wine into the skillet, then add the chopped kale--it looks like a mountain, but will ease itself into the wine soon enough.

Add the parsley, a dash or two of Tabasco, then salt to taste. Let this simmer for about 10-15 minutes.Add a dab of butter while simmering.

Meanwhile, heat up Leslie's veggie broth, toss in a couple of chopped potatoes, and let simmer. Once the potatoes are oft, dump the skillet goodies into the pot, and let this all simmer another 10 or 15 minutes.

Mmmm....


Happiness V: Get outside

Happiness I: Parable of the hired hand
Happiness II: Eating
Happiness III: Making Noise
Happiness IV: Keep moving
Oystering in North Cape May
That's it, enough to fix most of what ails most of us.

No point in walking a mile in someone else's shoes if you never bother to while wearing your own. (Barefoot works, too.)

Walking and being outside are not synonymous, of course, but each makes the other better.

Enough said--I need to get outside.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Were humans inevitable?

Wrestling with how to tackle evolution in class this morning--Br>hard to pretend religion has no place in a public school classroom when
most of America believes God, at minimum, had a hand in our evolution.

Stumbled on this from a few years ago....open to thoughts.

Too often high school biology teachers take the soft way out when confronting challenges in the classroom.

"Science and religion answer different questions."

This is more convenient than true. How humans came to be is a religious question. It's also a science question. Trying to placate a student by insisting otherwise diminishes science, religion, and your student. If you think guiding a child's grasp of the natural world matters, then teach science.

If you think convenience matters more, get out of the classroom.
***

We have Disneyfied Darwin. (To be fair, we have a habit of sanitizing just about all the great thinkers in history.)

Darwin did not come up with the idea of evolution any more than Newton discovered gravity or Columbus proved the world is round.


Darwin's genius, the reason Darwin's ideas are so powerful and frightening, is this: once life was here (for whatever reason),  natural selection is sufficient to explain how humans (or any other organism alive today) came to be.

If natural selection is sufficient, then the Hand of God becomes superfluous. Not wrong, of course, and certainly not falsifiable--the supernaturalists will always have that edge over science--but folks get understandably peeved when the Almighty becomes a footnote.

If you're a 15 year old child with a firm belief in the omnipotence of a creator, and you get even an inkling of the repercussions of Darwin's concept of natural selection, you're going to feel like someone just ripped your world apart.

Because someone just did.
***

So, yes, science doesn't have much to say about whether God's Hand directed the traffic of evolution--it's no longer an interesting scientific question. Most of my students, like the vast majority of adults, do not get this. Heck, most people who "believe in" evolution don't get this, either.

It's easy to hide in this cloud of ignorance, to pretend science and religion serve different masters. I suspect many biology teachers (who, for the most part, are not biologists), do not themselves have a deep understanding of the repercussions of natural selection.

If Darwin was right, humans were not inevitable. That can be profoundly disturbing to a sophomore high school student.



I know it's disturbing to at least one 53 year old science teacher....
Michelangelo drew those hands, of course....


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Dredge spoils

This is more for me than anything else.

We get bogged down in SGOs, PARCCs, CCSSs, PSATs, HSPAs, UbDs, SATs, NJDOEs, KWLs, SQ3Rs, QQPs, IEPs, ESLs, NAEPs, NCLBs, AYPs, IDEAs, ADHDs, ADAs, FAPEs, ODDs, PDDs, TBIs, TTYs, CSTs, OCDs, DYFSs, SLDs, and all kinds of other capitalized nonsense that define a very limited human world that catches up with most all of us.



And then I find myself on a moonscape.




From 7 years ago today.
A reminder of what matters.










Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Christian science

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Genesis 2:7, KJV


Looking several stories down on the west coast of Ireland.
I do not have a death wish. There is no need for need for one, it's pretty much guaranteed.

I do have a "how to die" wish, and a "when to die," ideally a quick arrhythmia as the days are lengthening. I could add a "where to die," perhaps a mudflat teeming with life, but still pondering that one.

Plants spin life from air. Animals spin flesh from life, muscles that contract to pull our hard bones to do our will, tearing and ripping up earth and life. We use our flesh to destroy what we cannot comprehend. We are our own incarnations, air to plants to flesh.

No flesh, no Christianity (of the Nicene sort, anyway)--a religion based on the senseless destruction of a man incarnate. Air to dust to flesh then to dust again if you choose the ground, air if you choose the crematorium.

Still, the plants keep building things right back up, with a huge hand from bacteria, the "lowlife" grabbing nitrogen molecules from the air, ripping them apart into manageable pieces, making nitrogen available for all proteins, all DNA, all of life.


The Host is made of no more (or less) than flour and water, spun out of air by wheat and bacteria. And while the Host must be treated reverently, you will eventually lose it as tiny pieces, mostly exhaled by your breath, that same breath of life that goes back eons

God (or whatever you call this) kissed the bacteria long before we came along, or perhaps the bacteria invented god, no way to know.


But I do know this--too many biology students "know" biology without ever sensing the mystery of this life, the only one we know, because we reduce science to something more palatable to those who have more faith than sense.



The devil is in the details....
Yes, a  repeat, but needed to cleanse the palate after the last four posts.