My last encounter with physics did not leave me with a deep confidence in the practicality of math or science to save us. The course was taught by a man with no practical skills or insights or interpersonal skills, even though he was a tenured full professor at Princeton. What came through was that this was a man who allowed his wife to cut his hair using an upside-down bowl as a cutting guide. His hair was never even mildly symmetrical.
I put my faith in medieval literary history instead.
During the Dark Ages, clusters of monks in far-flung Irish monasteries kept the fires of learning lit. While the Vandal and Viking hoards stole, looted, burned, sacked, and traded away every last good thing the city-states and peoples of Western Europe had built, the Irish monks in remote scriptoria copied and illuminated manuscripts that preserved and spread the greatest learning of the day. And they taught their new generations how to carry out these vital matters of preservation and transmission along the way.
When everyone else was taking cover and hoarding, the Irish monks kept learning alive, so that when the need – and demand – for it reawakened, it would be ready. Their system was like a beehive. When it became possible again, the hives could be opened again and the contents could be used and shared for the public good.
The desert is a lot like this. Things appear to have gone dead on the surface, but just below the veneer, the Earth is teeming with life – positively giddy with abundance.
This is what gives me confidence to keep teaching and learning.
It gives me confidence that something will survive until there is intelligent life in our world and in our government again.
How do we keep the fires of learning lit in our society while those in power all around us seem to be losing their minds?
We do it by putting our faith in our teaching.
We do it by banding together – and by not letting go. We develop a hard, hard crust and we protect our water resources well. We do it by remembering that our job is to stay present with our students and teach them how math and science are opportunities to understand the divine. We remember that human beings at our best are thinking-based life forms. We remember to bond with our kids. We remember that the kids are always watching and that we have an opportunity to model the next right thing to do. We do it by remembering that teaching and learning are effervescent and holy.