Chapter One: How To Win Will O’ the Wisps and Influence Fantasies
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
There aren’t many parties to go to anymore. I’m too old for the parties I’ve known and too tired to dress and meet new people. The Plague has only exacerbated this routine of self-isolation. So instead of trying to make myself magnetic and wonderful at a party I tried to make the lessons I was teaching in the classroom wonderful, even if they were unconventional. Last week I began teaching a unit with John Higg’s earthshaking Stranger Than We Can Imagine serving as the vertebrae.
Last week we welcomed back full classrooms with teachers who aren’t vaccinated (including your humble author) so I decided to go for broke. If I was going to teach in a world that didn’t give a fig for the future, I’d try to do what I could to subvert that trend.
One of the problems with humanity is one that Wilson points out at various times in his work; we act as if we live in an Aristotelian reality when, in fact, we live in a relativistic reality. Higgs' first chapter begins with a discussion of relativity and the fallacy of believing in an objective omphalos. It is curious that many of us, especially those who haven’t had physics classes, go around knowing who Einstein is and knowing “E=MC2” without knowing what ideas he articulated. We graduate high school without ever being introduced to the one of the most important revelations that the human race has received. So, with Higgs' illustrations and context, I endeavored to teach thirteen year olds about the beginning of the 20th Century and the Special Theory of Relativity.
We went through the chapter over the course of two days with frequent pauses for illustrations or discussions. By the end of the classes I had one student teasing me about teaching dangerous ideas, another smiling and creating beautiful analogies and most of them understanding that there is no such thing as an undefined fixed point of reference. It went rather swimmingly, if I do say so myself. Combined with a lesson on Paul Robeson earlier in the week, I felt like I was actually teaching usable information.
I regret that I didn’t write about this over the weekend and instead promptly forgot my duty to the reading group. (I apologize.) Today I accidentally enacted the reverse of Wilson’s experiment and went in to the classroom feeling depressed and irritated with myself and the rest of the world. The kids weren’t too interactive and I was sullen. Hopefully I remember to flip the switch, wake up on the right side of the bed whatever cliche you’d like. No quarters recently, but I’ve had a glut of pennies. I’ve almost collected enough to buy a soda sixty years ago!