Future ready?

This is a totally reactive piece dashed off without much thought early on a Sunday morning triggered by yet another piece telling us what in blazes we can do to help kids in the future.

OK, I wasn’t triggered by the piece–I didn’t get past the title: “10 things teachers can do today to prepare students for the future.”

So reactionary (and mortal) as I am, I came up with an off-the-cuff list to prepare kids for the now, for the immediate, for the tenth of a second our brain needs to process the moment. This moment. And always and only this moment.

A bean created from the collective breaths of the classroom.
  • Let a child plant a seed and watch it grow–each day provide enough time for the child to take care of her plant.

Let her water it, let her decide how much light it needs, let her put some pieces of her inside of it as she talks and breathes on it.

My pinkie ball.
  • Let a child roam a bit your classroom space; if your space cannot hold the interest of a roaming child, change your space.

History teachers could have fort and awful toy versions of tools of war. Science teachers could have magnets and lenses and springs and live critters. English teachers could have poems strewn on the floor, tiny libraries on the walls, physical education teachers could have Frisbees and spaldeen pinkies and a full-sized parachute. Music teachers could have kazoos and harmonicas and cheap drums.

  • Let a child read what she wants to read when she wants to read.

Reading is one of the greatest gifts we can give a child (and one of the primary aims of public schooling)–why is this so fookin’ hard to grasp?

  • Remind a child, daily, that she is mortal, but not in ways that are frightening.

We spend too much time telling children not to do things because bad things will happen without sharing the larger context that, well, death is going to happen anyway.

I have spent a lot of time with children who were dying, and who knew that they were dying. And everybody around us pretended otherwise.

Spine of a dead horseshoe crab, just another reminder.
  • Let a child roam outside, alone or with other children, but with no adults, for long periods of time.

Sitting inside shaves far more years off our lives than the very occasional meteor that falls from the sky and strikes our children dead. At any rate, the adults in their lives cannot stop the meteors. (Yes, the meteor is metaphorical, but so are so many other fears we feed our children.)

  • Let children make joyful noise.

Share your joyful noise. Know that mot of the time we have no more to say than the grackles chuttering just outside the window.

While you’re at it, if a child sees two birds “fighting” during the March madness of increasing light and fertility, please explain that they’re not fighting, but rather sharing their joy. No more need to be said.

And yes, farting sounds are joyful noises–I have no idea why, but you only have to toot once in a class to see how much the young folk love the sound.

  • Let them stand instead of sit, let them slouch, let them put their hands wherever is socially acceptable in this culture in this year.

The whole “If you can control their hands, their minds/spirits/souls will acquiesce” mentality in schools is damaging.

“Baby Sees The iPad Magic” by Steven Paine, CC
  • Let them disconnect.

Kids are not plugged in to the alternate universe because it gives them joy. They are (mostly) in that world to avoid the one we have mandated for them.

I do not know what it will take for parents and teachers and administrators to realize just how damaging prolonged screen-time is, both emotionally and physically. The evidence is out there.

Hey, did you even her what I just said? HELLO?! [Those fookin’ airpods again…]

  • Stop with the fookin’ lists.

Who needs lists in the moment? Lists mean nothing when a child is immersed deeply in a moment.

So I’ll stop here. =)

On particles

Particles are the “here” of the herenow. (Waves are the “now” but that’s for another day.) We know particles through touch–there is no other way. (We can see the effects of particles, of course, but we need waves to do that).

We think we know what it means to touch–our skin makes contact with a large collection of particles (the pen in your hand, say). I am, it seems, stating the obvious.

Still, touch extends beyond the skin.

Humans are not the only ones to what it feels to hold something close.

When you smell the rank aroma of the mud at low tide, pieces from the mud kiss receptors in your nose. It’s physical, it’s intimate, it’s touch.

The particles trigger nerve impulses that run directly from your nose through the cribriform plate in your sphenoid bone, straight to your amygdala, the seat of your deepest, rawest fears and desires.

Walking on top of a small mountain of dredge spoils

I cannot get enough of it. Not everyone reacts the same way. But pretty much everyone reacts.

Not every particle that triggers your sense of smell gets registered by your conscious self. You cannot “smell” pheromones, but your body may plunge into love just the same. We are animals who followed the four Fs well enough for us to be here now: feeding, fighting, fleeing, or fucking.

Clams I raked up, scrubbed, killed, and ate.

We glamorize the first, pay good money to see athletes fighting and fleeing, and relegate the last to our private spaces.

Parfumiers once used ambergris as the base of their finest perfumes, whale shit made of bile triggered by the sharp beak of a swallowed squid. The aroma keeps a hint of the fecal, of the sea, and of unconscious desires.

(How do I know this? I found a good hunk of one years ago, and kept it around. I must have smelled it a thousand times, and will keep doing so untl I can no longer smell. My kids can keep it, sell it, or toss it back into the Delaware Bay.)

Once in the gut of a sperm whale, found along the Delaware Bay

We taste through particles the same way–tiny pieces of food (or other matter) snuggling into tiny spaces with similar shapes, like kindergartners fitting triangles and squares into shape sorting cubes, an intimate touching of tongue to organic matter, sorting that which sustains us from that which kills.

If a particle is too large to fit into a receptor, we cannot taste it. Cotton is a sugar, but chewing on my sweater does not eleicit the sweetness of smaller sugars.

We know particles by touch, by smell, by taste, the only way we tangibly sense evidence of the universe beyond ourselves.

I trust my tongue more than I trust my eyes.

The pursuit of happiness

I took a walk barefoot along the edge of the bay today.
It’s December, so I am re-posting this.

A rose hip in December

The dark days. Again.

My imagination fails me, as it will, surrounded by human light, human sounds, human smells. I cannot remember the smell of honeysuckle or the soft glow of lightning bugs or the warmth that wrapped around me in early summer.

I keep a small jar of rich soil dug from my compost pile on my desk in school. Now and then, in the middle of class, I take a whiff. The children see my joy I get from the earthy aroma.

My lambs know by December that I want them to have happy, useful lives. They know I want this for every one of them.

Why else bother teaching?


Thomas Jefferson got the tone just right when he penned “the pursuit of happiness.” It is not an idle phrase, though it does sound a bit embarrassing in context of the modern classroom, the modern office, the modern mall.

Jefferson lived before we learned how to distract ourselves with twisted visions of immortality. We have become our own gods. Mortal illness comes as a surprise, dismissed as an inconvenience. Our cultural psychosis belittles those among us who dare to expose our mortality–if they only believed hard enough, they would be cured.

Ironically, the generation closest to achieving immortality is least equipped to deal with it. Time spent on-line chasing zombies or aliens or a Nazi nation long since quelled hardly seems worth all the fuss.

We no longer seek a life worth living. We’d just rather avoid death.

Death is inevitable. Pursuing happiness is not.


Yesterday one of my students came running up to me with a pot of tiny basil plants she had sowed a few weeks before.

“Smell it! Smell it!”

I did. And I glowed. Growing a plant in a classroom fits in the curriculum. A child sharing her joy at its sensuousness does not.

The seed, no larger than the head of a pin, darker than a cloudy December night, grew in a pot of peat. Shiny green leaves erupted from the seeds, now effusively shedding aromatic molecules that made me grin in December.

Something from nothing, at least nothing we could see. The poets have something to say, but so do the biologists. The aroma released from the leafs was made of carbon captured from the breaths of the same student clutching the pot.

If you’ve never sown a seed before, this is a big deal. If you’ve sown seeds for much of your life, it’s still a big deal.

A hundred years from now, the human world may be very different, but seeds will still grow when planted.

(I am having pesto for dinner tonight from last summer’s garden.)

None of us know what this world is all about. A few among us will tell you to live a certain way in order to reach worlds that no one has seen. A few among us will tell our children to live a certain way to strengthen abstract concepts like country, or economy, or success.

Success is a slippery word, but happiness is not. You know when you’re happy, even when you’re not sure how you got there.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–how many of these fit into your district’s curriculum? How many fit in your classroom?

If we continue to raise our kids for a better economy, a better nation, a better world while neglecting their inalienable right to their pursuit of happiness, we risk the “blood-dimmed tide” Yeats spoke of.

Happiness is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.

Mortality is not happenstance, nor is it trivial.

Why did you walk into your classroom today? Did you give your lambs at least as good as reason?

Photos are mine, and now yours (CC, yadda yadda)….