Parodies Lost

June 19, 2022

On any given weekend, my wife and I might exchange a few off-the-cuff lines of hypothetical song parodies. Some of them are fairly cute, at least within their particular context. Today, for example, when she offered to make me a chai tea, her spoken offer was followed by a bit of singing of “Sweet Chai of Mine” in the style of Guns ‘n Roses.

I asked her about this in the kitchen the other night while we were dividing a large package of ground beef into smaller portions and bagging them.

“Your raw parody ideas are roughly as good as mine,” I said. “Are you ever tempted to run with an idea and write a whole song?”

“No,” she responded firmly. “I don’t ever want to put more than 15 seconds into it.” She grabbed one of my beef bags and gave it a concerned look.

“Yeah, I guess that’s a difference between us,” I noted. “I’m pretty happy to review my draft lyrics over and over and over, knowing that patient editing will eventually yield good results. But that requires an almost obsessive attention to detail.”

She unsealed my beef bag, squeezed out a small residual air pocket, mashed the beef into a more evenly flattened shape, resealed the bag, and placed it into a perfectly matched empty space in the freezer. Then she looked up with a wry half-smile.

“Yeah,” she said, “that just doesn’t sound like me at all.”



June 11, 2022

Tonight my three-year-old ran home from the lake

Over city streets known to me but new to him.

How he made it home I’ll never know;

The body finds a way.

He surprised me in the kitchen,

Looking almost casual, almost proud,

Torso naked, dark-blue shorts halfway down his legs.

When he reached his mama in the hallway,

He fell to the floor sobbing

And stayed there a good long while,

Safe at home, but broken from the journey.


Choose something

May 25, 2022

…And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

–Robert Frost, “Choose Something Like a Star”

The shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas left me unsteady today.

For reasons that I do not understand, it was helpful, for a few minutes, to give myself over to Randall Thompson’s setting of “Choose Something Like a Star,” commissioned for the bicentennial of a Massachusetts town, and which I had once sung in choir.


A&P rant, part 5!

May 20, 2022

In 2019, I gave you the following:

This week the HAPS listserv set me off again. Below is my latest message to that group.

* * * * *

Hello Shobnom — 

Your question seems to be about managing students’ perception that there’s too much material to cover, and many of the responses you have gotten so far are about how to help students get on board. To round out the range of viewpoints expressed, here’s mine. Please note that (A) I am speaking only for myself and (B) I am addressing what I see as general trends in the teaching of A&P, without meaning to throw shade on any particular person or group. 

I claim that when A&P students say that we’re asking them to learn too many things, they often are RIGHT! 

In biology and K-16 science education as a whole, there has been a strong movement toward emphasizing greater depth of understanding and worrying much less about breadth of content coverage. For example:  

Vision & Change

Next-Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

the core concepts of physiology

classifying biology questions with Bloom’s taxonomy

* etc.

Nonetheless, many A&P folks continue to cling to their mile-long lists of terms and learning objectives, stating or implying that the length of the lists indicates the rigor of the course, and/or that this is simply how it has to be because their textbook/course chair/department/HAPS says so.

My own advice would be, if your students consistently tell you that there’s way too much to learn — that, by the time they get to the digestive system, they’ve forgotten the musculoskeletal stuff because there’s no time to review — that, faced with thousands of names to memorize, they have no time or energy for critical thinking or integration — you should consider listening to them!

Think really hard about what you really want your students to be able to do, say 1-2 years after completing the course. What would that long-term retention and success really look like? Is your primary goal that, in 1-2 years, they’ll still be able to name all those bones and muscles and nerves, or do you have other aspirations for them? 

Consider what others have identified as overarching course themes; compile your own list of what you really really really want your students to be able to (still) do in 1-2 years; run it by your local experts/authority figures; and then plan your teaching accordingly. 

Good luck,



Post-election links

November 4, 2020

I was contemplating writing a post called “Which is worse — lying or narcissism?” But I don’t have the time or energy or focus to do that, so instead I’ll just link to my two favorite Slate writers, Dahlia Lithwick and Lili Loofbourow, who, as usual, have expressed themselves with the perfect combination of facts and logic and emotion.

If you were to infer from these links that I feel incredulous, angry, and sad, you’d be right.

It is one thing for 46% of voters to say — as they did in 2016 — “I don’t think the current political system is working, so I’ll give this unorthodox new guy a try.” (Don’t get me wrong, that was horrifying in light of what the unorthodox new guy represented, but I could understand the desire to shake things up.) It is quite another thing for a similar percentage of voters to witness four years of epic presidential cruelty, lying, mismanagement, and corruption, and to conclude, “This hasn’t been so bad — more of this, please.”


Stick the landing, Joe!

October 24, 2020

Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, has certainly lost a step or two, as any 77-year-old has.

But isn’t it marvelous to see someone who ISN’T in their prime, but still in the game, rise up for one final valiant effort? Not just because of egotism or nostalgia, but also because their team indisputably, desperately needs them? Not because they are ideal for the situation, but because they are the best or only option left? And because they know this, and accept the challenge?

Here comes Joe now — charging down the runway, shrugging off a lifetime of injuries and heartache, bearing his team’s hopes and dreams one last time.

I, for one, am on my feet, cheering.


Crowther endorses Biden/Harris

October 3, 2020

After writing about Donald Trump with some frequency in 2016 and 2017, I have mostly avoided political posts since then. The main reasons for this have been (1) a lack of time, (2) a sense that everything I could say was being said more effectively by others, (3) a sense that my 20 readers were not hungry for my particular take on political issues, and (4) a desire to avoid making any of my students feel unwelcome, pressured to think a certain way, etc.

Nevertheless, a lack of words should not be interpreted as a lack of interest. So … to be as clear as possible …

(1) To any current or future students of mine who may happen to read this: please vote according to your own conscience. If you and I happen to differ politically, that is OK with me. I want to help you all learn biology regardless of whom you vote for.

(2) To everyone else: I will not attempt to summarize the Trump presidency, except to link to this article by the consistently perceptive and eloquent Slate writer Lili Loufbourow: Donald Trump is America’s Abusive Father. The article is super-harsh toward Trump, but he has spent the last four years earning this analogy, and I see no reason to shy away from it now. Trump is cruel even when the cruelty serves no larger goal. As one memorably titled article put it, the cruelty is the point.

My hope for November 3rd is that America rejects this wanton cruelty (along with the endless lying, etc. etc.) and gives Joe Biden and Kamala Harris a chance to lead us out of Trump’s dungeon.


What it’s like to be with one’s soul mate

September 28, 2020

Scene: Last night, about 9pm, in the bedroom. LEILA is reading in bed. GREG is about to go back out to the living room to do some more work on his computer.

GREG: …Well, I guess I’ll say “good night,” then.

GREG circles to LEILA’S side of the bed.

[In unison:]

  • GREG: Say good night, Gracie.
  • LEILA: Say good night, Greggie.

There was no script, no actual planning, but that’s what happened.

Two people — both born decades after the Burns and Allen Show ruled the radio airwaves — neither one knowing much about the show or its stars — both chose the same exact moment to reference the show’s once-famous sign-off line for the first time.

Sometimes you just get lucky.


Work-life balance: progress report #4

September 17, 2020

Work-wise, my summer is over at last. I start fall-quarter teaching on Monday. Related: I just revised my 46th and final chapter of PowerPoint slides, thus (barely) meeting my main summer goal of completing those revisions before the fall. I just have one more small step, which is to post the slides to the course website, thereby locking them down (i.e., preventing myself from tampering with them further).

I feel good, overall, about these versions of the slides. I created a bunch of good new Test Question Templates and improved some of my previous ones. I also organized each slideset into 3-5 logical subsections, which should reduce student confusion and should help me chunk my video lectures into shorter segments.

I can almost imagine declaring these slides good enough to reuse as is next quarter.

But first we will find out whether starting the quarter with finished slides makes my quarter a healthier experience, or just enables obsessive over-revision of other aspects of my teaching.


The ritual of the post-bath crayons

August 19, 2020

Every night I bathe my kids. (The younger ones, that is. The 13-year-old showers by himself.) This consists of the usual steps: remove the clothes, put him in the tub, fill the tub with water, and so forth. Not a ground-breaking protocol.

But here’s the odd part: every night, after I extricate my not-quite-2-year-old from the tub and start to dry him, he asks for the tray of bath crayons. I hold out the tray, like a waiter offering hors d’oeuvres. Ben carefully selects the orange and blue crayons, and orally confirms his choices. (“Owange! Boo!”) And then, after about 30 seconds of additional drying, he asks to return the crayons to the tray, and does so.

During this time there is no actual usage of the crayons. Ben doesn’t even pretend to draw with them; he just holds them in his hand. And yet, to him, this sequence is delightful. He beams in anticipation of taking the crayons, and he beams in anticipation of putting them back. The ritual itself is the point, somehow. There seems to be a satisfaction and a comfort in knowing what to do next, and in having someone to do it with.

This scene may be poignant for me in part because it reminds me of a challenging-for-me aspect of parenting, namely, enjoying the presence of one’s kids, even if nothing in particular is happening.

When I’m holding a crayon, my mind is quick to ask, “OK, what’s going on here? Are we looking for a certain color, or are we ready to draw some animals, or what?” But what if I could just let the crayon sit in my hand while I feel its weight, admire its features, contemplate its potential?