CONCORD, Mass. Ethel Farley has been a teacher in the schools here for over two decades, long enough to be able to spot a young girl with a broken heart halfway across a crowded lunch room. “They get a valentine from a boy and they read too much into it,” she says as she comforts Tracy Nubin, an 11-year-old who’s just been given the cold shoulder by Kenny Reynolds, a hyperactive boy in her fifth grade class who was required by Massachusetts regulations to send a valentine to every person in the fifth grade at Mosi Tatupu Middle School, as well as the class turtle.
Fun with lichens!
In the spring, young boys’ fancy turns to things other than girls, Farley has discovered, particulary once pitchers and catchers report for Red Sox spring training. “Once the boys start thinking about baseball,” she says, “all the ‘Be Mines’ and ‘I Go 4 U’s’ are forgotten, leaving a trail of shattered dreams in their wake.”
“I said I liked you? What was I thinking?”
So Farley has devised a special curriculum to help girls get over Valentine’s crushes gone bad–”In Love With Lichens!”–which takes girls’ minds off boys by substituting thoughts of the fascinating if gross-looking hybrid organisms.
“I love you man. In a non-erotic way–for your knee-buckling change-up.”
Lichens are a composite of a fungus with a photosynthetic partner, usually either a green alga or cyanobacterium. “Boys have fungus between their toes,” explains Diane Forskett, “but they don’t have green alga, although their teeth look that way sometimes. So who wants to be photosynthetic partners with them?”
“Lichens don’t need boys–and neither do we!”
Many lichens (pronounced “LI-kens”) reproduce asexually, another feature that Farley says makes them an appropriate object of study for the girls, as well as a role model for later in life when artificial insemination may seem preferable to listening to a blind date’s fantasy football draft strategy. “A lichen needs a lover,” she notes, “like a fish needs a thesaurus.”