My spouse is a high school teacher, and because her students are no longer attending class, they have more time to make TikTok videos.
I’m not quite sure what a TikTok video is. I think it’s something like a Vine video, but longer. Or perhaps something like a YouTube video, but shorter. Or perhaps something like a Music Video, but not introduced by Kurt Loder.
Last year I was volunteering with a local sixth grader once a week, working mostly on music theory and game design, and every so often he’d eye me as though I were a Homo erectus freshly emerged from a block of glacial ice. My gaffes weren’t even that egregious! I just don’t know about TikTok!
So it goes.
While working on a TikTok video, one of my spouse’s students messaged her to ask, “Would you still teach me if I was a worm?”
My spouse wrote back, “I don’t know. One of my kids had ringworm last year and it was awful!”
Ask a silly question, you get a silly answer.
And that’s where it should end, right? But the student persisted – after all, my spouse’s answer was insufficient basis for a good TikTok video.
“No, I mean like a regular earthworm.”
So, here’s the deal. If you ask a silly question – once – you get a silly answer. But the second time?
That’s when we unleash the trolls.
And by “trolls,” I mean me.
If I were working with a student interested in the educational capabilities of earthworms, I’d first mention Charles Darwin’s experiments on earthworm intelligence. Worms dig little burrows in the dirt, and they often plug the entrances of these with leaves.
So Darwin gave the worms novel building materials – not space-age polymer fabrics or anything, just different types of leaves – and let the worms choose which to use to plug up their burrows. In his estimation, the worms made sensible choices. You can read a lovely description of this experiment in Eileen Crist’s “The Inner Life of Earthworms.”
Then I might slide into a discussion of equality among worms, perhaps citing the recent children’s picture book, Worm Loves Worm. I imagine that, like the other characters of that story, our worm’s schoolmates would benefit by having more diversity in class.
And then, because my thoughts tend to careen suddenly to darkness, I might mention my unfinished horror novel, “Our Heroic Annelid Makes a Daring Escape.”
You see, moles often capture worms and save them for later. The doomed worms are stored inside the mole’s burrow.
The mole doesn’t kill the worms – then they’d rot. But worms can’t just be left inside a mud-lined burrow – then they’d dig their way out.
So moles mutilate their captives. An injured worm is unable to dig free, and, because worms rely largely on their sematosensory system to construct a mental image of the world, the worm is partially blinded.
But worms can regenerate. So the tension of the story becomes, will the worm heal before the mole returns to eat it?
All told, I would be willing to teach an earthworm. It seems that worms have the cognitive capacity to learn at least a little. But it would be heartbreaking to have one of my students captured by a mole.