01 February 2012

Rainbow biology. And, "clep" is not Yiddish.

I once lived among hasidim who were busy clepping cleps. I thought the word 'clep' was Yiddish.
But no. CLEPs are tests administered by US colleges to military members, or other people busy with good things (including homeschooling), to distribute college credits.

Cramming for a Clep is what you make of it.
Ruskin: "They cram to pass, and not to know; and they do pass, and they don't know."
Or, you can cram to know, and Clep to save time. The student schedule in my college looked like Hermione's, so a lot of us wound up taking Cleps. And so I spent the past two weeks cramming biology.

I thought this route must be a shoddy replacement for college proper until I tuned into a top university's Biology 101 lectures. One of the professors spent an entire lecture listing the college faculty and their awards, and then went on to tell stories about himself and to lecture about 'you know, mitochondria and uh, stuff'.

So, I no longer feel cheated that I attended a small college. Half of our professors were holy Jerusalem housewives teaching in addition to working, but they knew their material inside and out, and we never learned about and uh stuff.


I discovered that biology is lovable for the same reason as chemistry: it lends itself to metaphor. There are so many unknowns that my textbook gives up on literal explanations, and makes Golgi bodies sound like my mother, and describes the atoms as desiring this and the universe as being intent on that, which is misleading, but cute.
On top of the inherent metaphor, the text I am using for basic information is The Biology Coloring Book. I think the idea is to involve the kinesthetic part of the brain, but for me it is all about the colors.
Yay! Let's be eight again! Scientific conventions have appropriated yellow, red, black, and blue for certain elements - and then I have designated pink for happy things (positive charges or coming-togethers), green for sad things (negative charges and falling-apart), purple for special things (phosphorus and by extension phosphates), Delft blue for anything discovered by Van Leeuwenhoek, and --
but soft! I have a finite number of colored pencils. And so I end up fabricating all kinds of folk-tales to explain why glucose and protons, or fructose and muscle cells, are the same color. And this - the folklore necessitated by a shortage of colors - is what really makes the information memorable.

Current educational theory recognizes eight types of learners - kinesthetic, verbal, &c. If they ever add romantic learners to the list, sign me up.

So I have spent nearly two weeks living in one of those wonderful student study-vacuums, doing nothing but [baking 200 cream puffs and] sitting at our table getting high on biology and rainbows and rainbow biological metaphor; and sometimes to the strains of Signs and Wonders, Rabbi Oppenheimer's Yom Kippur davening -- and wow, what a life.

I thought I would be sorry when the Clep was over - I always liked that finals-week vacuum - but as soon as it ended I picked a biography of R' Yisrael Salanter off the Clep-host's shelf and -- yum, the world is still big and beautiful and full of Torah and all the dishes that didn't get washed while I was cramming, and I am not sorry to get back to it.


  1. Ahem.
    How does a mother represent a Golgi Body, or a Golgi Body resemble a mother?

  2. A Golgi body sews presents, puts them in a box, addresses it, and mails it overseas.