22 March 2010
Well, even if the OED defines them as such, neither the September equinox nor the just-past March variety actually counts an exactly symmetrical twelve hours of daylight and darkness. Often, the fussy details of things in astronomy (like whether an equinox is labelled as spring, or just March) are related to an observers location on Earth. This time, though, it mainly matters that this was only the spring equinox if you live north of the equator, so identifying it by its month is less hemisphere-centric. Which is absolutely a word.
And such is the guilt of both the Jewish student and the Jewish teacher: The secret knowledge that no matter how much we learn, or how much we teach, it will never, ever be enough–that our parents, our teachers, our children, and our students are watching us, and so is everyone else, that eternity is breathing over our shoulders, waiting to see if we will notice.
A student facing these expectations needs to be constantly humbled, to be reminded again and again that everything she already knows is nothing more than a tiny spark in a night full of stars.
The great secret of education is that one doesn’t learn by being smart, but by being aware of the limits of one’s own knowledge–by finding those limits and then plunging over them, as if jumping off the edge of the world. The student has to know that the edge is there, and the teacher who coaxes the student over the precipice has to catch the student when she falls. It’s a sacred trust.
-Dana Horn, “The Last Jewish American Nerd”
We in the science outreach business can be pretty self-congratulatory sometimes. I think that very often we’re doing good stuff, as any kid excited about their look through a telescope or recent tidepooling trip can tell you. But that doesn’t mean that we’re trying hard enough, or thinking critically about how and why we go about this stuff. A good friend of mine is giving an astronomy talk in a couple of weeks, and his hook is brilliant. I bet a dollar that he’s going to talk about Olber’s Paradox, a seemingly simple statement that has pretty profound implications for how we frame our questions. And that’s the part we’re not talking about.
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1 February 2007
24 July 2006
I tried yesterday to follow the advice on the left-hand mug in the picture below, I really did. But since she was unavailable, I ended up talking to my dad about some minutae of celestial navigation. Another post will be devoted to the convergence of European and Hawaiian techniques of finding your way by the stars.