Inexcusable Ignorance

Why don’t we know much about the living things which are all around us? You would think we have had plenty of time to find out.

Now that we are losing so many to extinction, it seems inexcusable that we don’t know how they live. It doesn’t suggest anything good about us that we don’t know, don’t care, don’t want to know. We might watch nature programmes with interest, but often they are about exotic animals in exotic locations, not those which are here with us every day – in decreasing numbers.

These marvellous, tiny fungi appear now and again beside the path. Why? and what are they?

I’ve just finished reading How to Catch a Mole: and find yourself in nature by Marc Hamer. He has learnt as much as he can about moles so that his respect for them, and all the other birds and animals he encounters, has grown. It reminded me that every time I find an insect or observe a bird I wonder how they live. What had happened to the tiny fish washed up on the beach today? What is the word for a baby fish? Where do birds roost at night? Why are they gathered in that particular tree down the road at dusk and not in others? Do I need to put out a bird feeder in winter, or are the birds able to find what they need in the trees and in the empty over-grown section next door? Even the term “over-grown” gives us away; nature should be tamed!

I don’t mind if the birds eat a few strawberries. What insect has been eating the leaves?

There are fewer insects than I remember in the past. I’m relieved if even a solitary moth bounces off the window at night. I found a bright green cricket (or was it a praying mantis without its large pincers? or a grass hopper?) high up on a late-flowering rose I was pruning. I put it carefully on the trunk of the rose, but it was probably too exposed there to survive. How do we know when our good intentions are completely wrong?

I enjoy the little native spiders which live on the window sills. I’m trying not to reel back in horror if ants arrive in the house – but the ant bait is still there. Apparently, a wipe-over with a vinegar cloth will disrupt their pheromone trails and encourage them to stay outside (something I learnt from a Year 9 student who had studied them – is there hope, then, in his generation?).

The representation of the ant on the box is designed to make us feel repulsed and justified in killing.

I don’t use sprays in the garden, believing – or hoping – that everything finds its own balance and who am I to interfere? However, white-tail spiders bring out possibly irrational disgust and are dispatched quickly (with a shoe). Daddy longlegs spiders (pholcus phalangioides, according to City Nature by Bob Brockie) in the corners of the ceiling get vacuumed up from time to time. Will I learn to leave them alone? They don’t seem to do any harm. Cob webs are swept down. Borer beetles give themselves away by the dust piles they leave. I inject the holes and fill them.

What was supposed to be a brief post is becoming more complicated as I uncover my own guilt in the demise of living things.

I’ve heard that the proclaimed “dominion” over all living things (ironically, when the first people were expelled from Paradise) is a mis-translation. It should be “guardianship” or care for all living things, like the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga.

An attempt to educate visitors about the fruit of the kahikatea tree at a local remnant of native bush. It is called “king” of trees – more irony: a term encouraging us to have respect by relating this natural beauty to human hierarchy.

One has to wonder if the mis-translation was deliberate; that we are hard-wired to put ourselves first at the expense of all else.

Clutter in the Classroom

In the last few days I have resumed de-cluttering my classroom. I don’t want to leave the room full of stuff no-one wants.

A ruthless weeding of the bookshelves has left them looking more appealing. Most of the remaining books I have bought myself, our budget having been tiny for many years. The bookshelf and filing cabinet were originally from home, come to think of it! Filing cabinets aren’t used much now and I’m gradually emptying this one.

I have ended up with my car boot full of old books destined for the book fridge – a gap-filler project in the city featuring a re-purposed glass-fronted double fridge on an empty section. Whenever I go past there is someone adding books to the fridge or taking books out. Someone will like my offerings: the literature reference books (superseded by online search engines only for some), classics, and general fiction and non-fiction.

Today, I started on the shelves under the whiteboard. I opened a ring-binder which was carefully ordered into sections and once used for planning programmes for my classes. I hadn’t opened it for a while, and I was astounded, as if looking at it for the first time. All that work.

A couple of filing boxes were next for the chop. Full of thinking strategies – when we focused on metacognition – and literacy project material, reading strategies and enquiry projects. Hours of work, planning, meetings, course material and school-wide professional development. We’re on to different things now such as wellbeing and assessment and data and appraising our performance. Where has all that learning gone? Have we simply moved on? Is it refined into current practice?

It’s in the recycling now.

Our meeting after school today was to hear from the architectural team putting together a plan for the future development of the school. Our wish-list includes cultural and performance spaces, a shared garden, social and learning spaces, sustainable energy sources…all things I have for ages hoped might be possible. It reminds me of an inspirational book I read in the ’80s or ’90s by NZ educationalist Charmaine Pountney who had a vision for a school centred in its community, sustained by an organic garden, and run by the students and adults together. It will be interesting to see how our plans go – if I can I still say “our” when I have moved on.

I am looking forward to hearing about it all.