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.