Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Imbolc, again

An Cailleach Bhearra wandered around back in the 10th century in western Ireland,
eating "seaweed, salmon, and wild garlic" (my kind of woman), looking for firewood.

If the day was bright and sunny, beware--she had gathered plenty of wood and was set for many cold days ahead.
If the day was gray, she didn't bother, and she will make the days warm up again. Sound familiar?

Imbolc again.
The daffodils have broken through the earth. My words shrink as the sunlight grows.
Groundhog Day has always been a favorite of mine.
We are trapped by words.
A few days ago I watched a crow at the ferry jetty caw caw caw at a gull sharing a light post. The gull did not respond. The crow then swooped down, picked up a piece of paper, then returned to its perch near the gull.

The crow carefully ripped up the paper, piece by piece, dropping each piece, one by one, watching each piece until it hit the ground, looking at the gull between pieces as if to say Hey!

When done, the crow cawed once more, and this time the gull squawked back. The crow, now seemingly satisfied, nodded, then flew to a trashcan and cawed at a few humanfolk, one (not me) who cawed back.

I have no idea what that was about, nor could I justify discussing it in my classroom. So I don't.

Curriculum stops at the point where humans are besides the point.

That makes sense if you live in a world of words. It makes less sense at the water's edge.
A child can parrot the Calvin cycle without knowing a thing about a seed, about food, about the billions, trillions of other organisms teeming around him.

If we keep ignoring things where humans are besides the point, we will become just that.


I teach biology, the study of life, in a culture that fails to recognize death. The children spray themselves with Axe, yet shy from the pond water and the mud brought in from outside.

I can hardly grade a child on her ability to keep a plant alive in a public building . I cannot ask a child to slaughter a calf in class. I can ask her to tell me how many NADH molecules are generated from one molecule of glucose during the Krebs cycle.

With the return of the sun comes the return of my sanity, when I feel comfortable letting go of the words again, learning (again) that what I thought was besides the point is the point.

Photos by us.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Are POTUS claims fair game for CER exercises in public schools?

Part of inaugural parade route via NPR: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Next Generation Science Standards focus on doing science--making observations, drawing inferences, making claims based on evidence and reasoning.

It's unfamiliar to students who are used to being schooled, and it's unfamiliar to teachers who are used to schooling.

As much as I have grumped about the particulars of NGSS implementation, I am a huge fan of its underlying foundation--teaching students how to discern the natural world through careful examination of evidence and the models we create to make sense of that evidence.

And here we are, with an administration blatantly disregarding obvious facts, even trivial ones, if they challenge Trump's worldview of himself.

  • Trump did not draw the largest crowd ever at his coronation inauguration.
  • The number of Metro riders was not greater on his day (Friday) than Obama's 2013 inauguration--it was about 27% lower if my arithmetic is right. (And my arithmetic is more right than most of Trump's cabinet picks.)
  • Nowhere near a million people attended Trump's inauguration.
  • It is very unlikely that "probably everyone" of the several hundred CIA employees gathered to hear his speech had voted for him.

So here's a question to my fellow teachers--will you use these blatant examples of out-and-out lies as authentic test cases for claim/evidence/reasoning exercises?

I was initially going to ignore the noise, but given the power of the source of the misinformation and the availability of public records that allow us to check the evidence, I'm now leaning towards using the administrations own words for such an exercise.

A primary function of public schools is to maintain an informed citizenry, no?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Inaugural speech and education, II

"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. ... An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."     Donald Trump

In light of our POTUS's history, this comes off a tad creepy.
How soon we forget.

"I am going to be dating her in ten years. Can you believe it?"      Donald Trump

Inaugural speech and education, I

"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists. ... An education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge."       Donald Trump, January 20, 2017

"All knowledge" is an odd phrase, perhaps accidental, but likely not. These were prepared words spoken at an inauguration speech.

To be fair, I start off every year telling my students that they will know less by June than they think they know in September. And, mostly, they do--trying to get a handle on how the natural world works will do that to a person.

Part of me fervently wishes this was a reference to Socrates' paradox:

"I know that I know nothing."


Mr. Trump has made it clear that he made a break from the natural world a long time ago. It's an illusion, of course, entropy conquers all of us eventually, but for the moment, ignorance trumps science. And many of us are going to pay for his ignorance.

I am trying to parse the sentence, but I keep getting lost.

Is "all knowledge" a reference to the tree in the Garden of Eden? Is "all knowledge" some code understood by the extreme right?

Does he believe schools act like giant brain leeches, sucking out gray matter through our children's eyeballs?
Poster lifted from The Hannibal 8

Monday, January 16, 2017

I am a racist--if you're white, chances are you are, too

If you're white and celebrating Dr. King's life today, may be a good time for a self-examination.

I come from an unusual school in an unusual school district. We are not a mostly white or a black or a Latino school. We are Muslim and Jewish and Christian and Hindu and Sikh. We hear Bengali, Spanish, Greek, English, Patois, and maybe another couple dozen languages and dialects in our hallways.

Crispus Attucks, first death in American Revolution
via Crispus Attucks Museum website
I'm not going to ruin all this by claiming a Kumbaya moment, but what makes this building work maybe better than most others is the constant infusion of immigrants into our town, an infusion of confusion, that keeps us all wondering who we are.

I've heard several times a different version of that discussion, as a small group of kids will discuss just which banner they fall under.

And that's a good place to start.

The other race conversation is the one acknowledging the price of color in this fine land of ours. The problem is not starting "the conversation" about race. Most kind, nice folks I know are eager, too eager, to start the conversation.

The problem is getting past the niceties, the politeness, the veneer of civility that subtly reflects our standing with each other.

The problem with the hard conversation is that most white folks I know truly believe two things:
  • They're not racist.
  • If they're not racist, then this does not involve them.
This skirts the whole issue of privilege, neatly tidied up in a universal statement of our humanity, and who could possibly argue with the idea that an unbiased, nice person who just wants everybody to get along had nothing to do with, well, John Crawford? 

Here's a place to start. You're not going to get off the bottle until you acknowledge you're a racist. Not a John Birch Society heavy drinking racist, just the social two-glasses-of-chardonnay kind. The kind who sits on the sidelines tsk tsking away a world that does not concern you.

But it should.
Make the declaration, then let's try having the talk. 

And if it does not, you are in deeper than you think.
This was originally posted a tear or so ago--seemed like a good day to post it again.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, reduced by Kidzworld

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (not "MLK") had had his teeth extracted by the dominant culture, an abominable snowman reduced to a toothless grinning cartoon fit for white folk. I've said as much before. And he supported the poor white folk who voted for Mr. FortySixPercent far more than Trump ever will.

The "I Have a Dream" speech is wonderful, but only in context of everything else he did. If you know him only by that, it's like pretending to know Jesus because he once took a stroll on water.

So once again, I will print out several dozen copies of the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," leave them by the door, and encourage students to read it

Meanwhile, folks will continue to abuse the idea of the man with things like this:

Do the work that matters, and you will sleep better. You're going to die anyway.

May as well make your life one worth living.

As good a lesson as any for our lambs.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The price of today's words

Truth as written by some young folk in B362,

I keep a manual typewriter in the back of our classroom. Kids enjoy banging on it when they discover it, mostly, I think, from its novelty, but it runs deeper than that.

Not all words are meant to be permanent, Most of our day to day words are meant to be fleeting, as ephemeral as the chatter of the squirrels and pigeons that share our neighborhood, and with about as much meaning. When we send off emails and texts and tweets, they feel as ephemeral as the spoken word, but they're not.

Casual words spoken tentatively, spoken in anger, spoken in love, spoken as casual chit chat, all used to hang in the air between the few that heard them, as quickly gone as the next breath few breaths.

The printed word changed that, but it took effort and time to put words to paper. It took effort and time to get that paper to the person who was meant to see them. And in that time, before permanent words had a permanent effect, the chain could be broken. And it often was.

Kids throw out kid words with kid impulses and pay adult prices.

The price is far too high.