Whale poop and public education

I know what folks will pay for this.
I also know what it’s worth.
Two very different things….

I have a chunk of ambergris, found it years ago, and while briefly tempted to sell it, am grateful now I kept it.

It was sitting right on the edge of the bay just north of Lincoln Avenue. It wasn’t much to look at, and I am not sure what possessed me to pick it up. Even then I almost tossed it back into the bay.

I mostly forget about it, but now and again I walk through a cloud of its molecules and get briefly taken to, well, not sure where, some vague place of immeasurable joy.

Not immense.
Immeasurable.

In the literal sense.

Delaware Bay, North Cape May

You cannot measure the pleasure, the joy, the presence of the herenow that lump of aged whale shit brings me. It apparently has the same effect on others, why else would anyone offer thousands of dollars for a slab of shite?

The big data junkies among us might argue that all things are measurable, and I supposed you could take pre- and post-ambergris exposure levels of my serum oxytocin and plot them over time, but that becomes impractical, and it’s not important anyway..

Turns out measuring some pretty important things in education are impractical, too. Brilliant writing. Unorthodox but rational thinking. Sense of public duty. Joy. Ability to observe subtle details. Flexibility when confronted with new ideas. Empathy.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is horseshoe-crab.jpg
The light of sunset through the shell of a horseshoe crab. [Photo credit: Leslie Doyle]

When our ability to measure outcomes trumps our choices of which outcomes matter, we’ve stripped “public” from education.

The whitewashing of Dr. King

When I die, I hope nobody mistakes my kindness for niceness. I am not a nice man.
Dr. King’s life profoundly affected mine.

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….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Martin Luther King, Jr., from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was loving, and kind, and powerful. His words still resonate, should you choose to hear them.

Do not confuse non-violence with passivity.

Do not confuse kindness with niceness.

During school announcements yesterday, our students were told that Dr. King pushed “cooperation.” Rania Jones, a 3rd grade winner of the Milwaukee Public Schools’ “People Must Work Together” King contest wrote “That’s what we must do today – demonstrate cooperation.” This is the Dr. King lite version of a complex story. This is the version that gives so many of us the day off on Monday.

“Love” is a complex word, and one not easily used in public settings. “Cooperation” is much safer, more sanitary.

And it’s the wrong message.

***

My Dad joined  the 1963 March on Washington, dressed in full uniform, a proud US Marine officer. He flew A4 Phantom Skyhawks off carriers, in love with a country that let poor first generation children fly.

My dad was pulled to the front of the parade, or so the story goes. If you see a full-dressed USMC officer in photos from the parade, it may well be Bill Doyle. Dr. King later went on to oppose the Viet Nam War as unjust, and my father, a die-hard leatherneck, resigned his commission for the same reason.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic home, but Dr. King held as much influence as the Pope, maybe more, years before he was assassinated. My Dad loved the man, not the cartoon he has become.

Read “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

Take a walk outside and watch the grace and agony of life around us.

Yes, it’s complicated. Life is complex,

You want to learn about Dr. King? Go read his words, listen to his speeches, learn everything you can about him. But don’t “cooperate” with those who would steal his image without his words, the Mike Pences, the innumerable talking heads that will piously bow today.

Take a walk, a walk outside, away from noise. Carry a copy of King’s letter and read it under the January sunlight.

Share it. Live it.

Don’t let the dream die.

The photo of Dr. King (D.C., August, 1963)  is from the National Archives and is the public domain.

Teaching in a tsunami

My N95 masks came late, too late to get new ones, in a damaged box, and I’m going to wear one into a classroom tomorrow. My mask will not be the only thing crushed going in.

The room will be chilly, the windows ajar–they only open a few inches–and I will face a room of masked young adults.

If influenza was rampaging through our town like this virus is now, we would consider closing, not because influenza is dangerous (though it can be) but because adequate staffing in schools and local medical centers matters, and closing public buildings mitigates the peaks of infectious viral outbreaks.

Flu “way back in the day” (February 2, 2019)

This variant is incredibly contagious–the peak of the current wave should happen in the next week or so, if it hasn’t already happened.

Remote schooling is understandably unpopular but doable, will minimize staff and student absences due to COVID and influenza. We will be returning to school tomorrow, allowing this thing to continue to spread, when we have better options than way back when in 2019.

And yet we persist….