One Last, Long Goodbye

Sometime during the past few days, ExploreBiology finally went offline.  If you are not a biology teacher, you probably didn't notice.  If you are, then you understand just what a resource the larger community has lost.

The extinguishing of the website serves to remind all of us of larger sad events.  The site was the work of Kim Foglia, a true teacher's teacher in every sense of the words.  Ms. Foglia held court as the AP Biology instructor at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, NY for most of her (teaching) career.  During that career, she cut a remarkable swath through biology instruction at all levels at which it is taught to the high-school-age population of her district, her state, and the country at large.  Among the many things that she brought to the field were her fierce, resonant, opinions on just what good biology teaching looks like, and a remarkable willingness to share the entirety of her materials with the larger professional community, without any consideration of cost, credit, or the other short-sighted goals that so often dominate the field of education.  When she died in January of 2011, after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer, ExploreBiology continued to remain open and available to any teacher who was looking for high-quality instructional resources and ideas.

I have always been somewhat hesitant to give my own public eulogy for Kim.  For one thing, her death coincided with the deeply painful and wholly unexpected loss of our own firstborn child.  The period of time from when we entered the hospital a few days after Christmas until the end of our own mourning period is not one that is clear in my own mind, and once we came up for air so much that should have been said about Kim and her contributions to the field had already been said, so well, by so many other teachers, that I felt like there was nothing I could particularly add.  On another level, major public showings of grief and memoriam are not in my nature.  Finally, there has always been an unease for me as I consider the nature of our relationship.  We lived and worked less than half an hour from each other, and we corresponded regularly, but we never found the time to meet each other in the "real" world (this was actually the subject of our final communications in the fall of 2010; her and I working to find a space between her treatment schedule and my parenthood preparatives to actually get together for a few hours to talk shop).  This world of email and constant online presence is more boon than not, but the fact that I could have hundreds of conversations with someone so close to me in geography and perspective, and never find the time to meet is one that I try to remember and learn from as I continue my own interactions with the larger community.

Regardless of all of that, she is gone, and now so to is ExploreBiology.  But as sad as that may all be, the work that Kim did will continue to make its way through the professional communities that she worked with.  Her legacy is much more than the dedication page in the AP Biology Lab Manual, and the awards that bear her name.  Her perspectives on what it means to teach science, her ethics about educational materials, and her willingness to tell it like it is, are lessons that continue to resonate with many teachers, and will keep shaping the picture of biology education in this country long after the expiration date of any particular website.

ExploreBiology may be gone, but exploring biology remains as vital as it ever was.