Last week, Felisa Wolfe-Simon et al. published on GFAJ-1, a bacterium she discovered in California’s Mono Lake. Whereas life as we knew it uses carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur to sustain itself, GFAJ-1 seems to dig arsenic. In fact, GFAJ-1 might even be able to use arsenic in building cellular structures like DNA.
Science being science, there’s more work to be done to verify what’s going on in GFAJ-1.
But what if GFAJ-1 has figured out a cellular switcheroo? Move over DNA Legos. DNA Mega Bloks are coming to town.
Do you remember those awesome, squirmy scenes in The Abyss with the fluid breathing system [NB: language]? Liquid oxygen allowed the divers to survive under deep pressure; the divers’ lungs could use the oxygen in liquid, as well as gaseous, form. However, the divers breathed the same element regardless of medium. GFAJ-1 may have gone a step further by element-hopping down the Periodic Table.
So what does any of this have to do with the canon of English letters?
Public schools and standards – the idealized cathedrals and scripture of pop #edreform – don’t disprove the existence of other, nobler, obvious and experiential types of living and learning. Our schools and standards are not ideal, and I refute them thus:
Last week Felisa Wolfe-Simon published her findings on a new flavor of life.
Instead of wasting generation after generation in money pits of compliance and test-prep, we’d best serve students by developing a system of public education like GFAJ-1, a system capable of making learning out of anything – even the freedoms and joys of curiosity and inquiry that, like arsenic, seem toxic to tradition and usually react badly to the status quo of life as we know it in schools.
If we want innovation, we need a school system that seeks to imitate life rather then control it.