Arguably the prime focus of the first half of the twentieth century was physics, beginning in 1903 with Einstein’s publication of the Theory of Relativity and ending in 1945 with the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagaski.
The hub of the second half of that century was molecular biology, initiated by Watson and Crick’s publication of the structure of DNA in 1953 and ending in Scotland with Dolly the Sheep in 1998.
The projection is that the initial part of our current century will be dominated by neurology, particularly as it affects brain function. And as a retired educator I have to add that hopefully it will impact the way we teach. If my grandfather
could come back to life he would be amazed to walk into a modern shopping mall or to fly in a commercial jet; if he walked into a school he would know immediately where he was. Methods of teaching have changed very little and are essentially ineffectual,
despite inventions that were expected to revolutionize it, not least the wireless in the 30’s, the overhead projector in the 60’s and the personal computer in the 90’s. As a rule we still teach what to think rather than how to think.
In the current global market the rewards for the highly skilled and well educated are growing and so our top priority for our long term health as a nation must be our schools. We all know this. And yet the
subject was notably absent in the 2012 Presidential debates aside from some posturing about shutting down the Department of Education.
But I digress.
The latter half of the twentieth
century was also consumed with consumerism. The result, according to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows, is that the average American now spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, in part because the number
of hours adults spend online has doubled between 2005 and 2009. The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento somehow managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. That’s
one text message every eight and a half seconds.
Already there are Americans expressing a craving for relief, if only briefly, from all the blinking machines, streaming videos and scrolling headlines that leave us feeling
too empty and too full all at once.
Is there something more? Something that underlies and unifies life, including the bits and pieces of our own? Something that can sustain us through both promise and peril? Something
that leads us into a world that exists over and above the everyday chaos, that is rooted in the everlasting and which allows us to experience it in a way that only each of us can?
And is this why people flock to the
Farm Show in Harrisburg every January? At one level it might be seen simply as curiosity but might it also be a craving for a life, a connection, that many have lost without knowing it? A deep yearning, almost at a cellular level,
for a way of life that consumed the majority of this world’s population for at least 8 000 years (and for many people in developing countries, still does?)
For several years I met with an English Literature
class that was reading The Silent Life of Bees because the final requirement is for the students to develop a project comparing the analogies in the book to the realities of beekeeping. Normally we gathered in front of an observation
hive at a local county park but two winters ago that colony died and I proposed that I should come to the class instead. The instructor responded thus by e-mail :
“I really don't want to do this in the classroom.
Seeing the hive (even if it's not active), walking through the park and seeing the displays give my students an opportunity to do things that they have never done before. Most of my students are city kids who have never visited a state or county park.
They don't even know anyone who has visited a park. They zip right by on their way to the excitement of an amusement park or urban event. If I don't take them there, they will probably never consider attending any events at the parks and
their children will never know the enjoyment of a quiet walk in the woods. Urban kids don't just go to the quiet woods - someone they know has to invite them, and go with them.”
The irony of the Farm Show is that
most drive there in an automobile which isolates us from our surrounds, pay to park on an impervious surface and then jostle with the crowds to see the exhibits, yearning to find some peace, inspiration, serenity amid the chaos, to make that connection again,
however briefly and superficially, with the natural world.
For those who find both tranquility and inspiration in front of the honey bee exhibit at the Show it may be the first step in a whole new journey.