First-period high-school biology. Dawn-dark outside. The teacher lectures on enzymes and writes on the board a definition of “denatured”:
“When the shape of an enzyme (or protein) changes, preventing the protein/enzyme from carrying out its job.”
My student, whom I have just met, talks endlessly about body building, protein supplements and not having a girlfriend because he’s fat. He’s not fat but walks like Walter Brennan, the result of pulling a muscle in his lower back while lifting weights over the weekend. “I look like an old grandpa,” he says, again and again. His tongue protrudes as he writes and he carries hard candy in the pockets of his hooded sweat shirt.
He works with another boy on a laptop to finish a quiz on lactase and lactose. The other kid does all the work and my student is smooth enough to leave his partner feeling the effort has been equitable. After class, I ask if he understands the material and knows what proteins and enzymes are. “Naaaah,” he says. “My back really hurts.”
In “As Expected” (collected in The Passages of Joy, 1982) Thom Gunn writes:
“…if the unteachable
can teach themselves, it follows
they can be taught by others.”
I hope so.