Monday, December 20, 2010

“I love my father like salt.”

The above quote is from Shakespeare’s King Lear and is how Cordelia measures her love for her father – which he totally misunderstands.  For her, food is tasteless without salt and thus, nothing is more important than salt.  This was so for many people and nations throughout history.

I love it when I get to see something in a new light especially when it’s something I pretty much take for granted.  Like salt, for example.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the book At Home by Bill Bryson which is an interesting trip through history via the house, its rooms and all that we can find in it.  Going from room to room, we get a grand tour of social history, geography, science, and technology (everything but the kitchen sink, you might say). And he makes it such an entertaining trip.  Lots of digressions that deal with the nitty gritty of being human, really.  And he mentions salt. And pepper, for that matter.

I can tell you at once that nothing you touch today will have more bloodshed, suffering, and woe attached to it than the innocuous twin pillars of your salt and pepper set.

Whoa, that’s a lot of drama for something that sits on my dinner table.

The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky and S.D. Schindler (553.632 KUS 2006) takes this fascinating topic and spins out the history and science of this substance – its chemical makeup, why the body needs it, which countries exploited it for economic reasons, and how people have used it for centuries.  This is an adaptation of his adult best seller, making it accessible for kids, ages 9-12.

The grand narrative that is attached to this everyday item makes it ideal for connecting content areas across the curriculum.  Take a unit about explorers and exploration.  Salt as a preservative was important as it enabled people to travel long distances with food readily available to eat or trade.  Also, salt was of major economic importance for many countries such as China, Rome, France, India, Mexico and the United States, to name only a few, and typically remained in the hands of government for this reason.

There are lots of science connections, too. Let’s start with geology and learn about the connection between oil and salt domes.  For health, learn about the biological requirements of humans and other animals for salt.  Technological advancements in preservation changed the role of salt as a preservative.  Industrial uses for the separate components of salt, sodium and chlorine have also been exploited to make pharmaceuticals, baking soda, explosives and bleach.

For such a ho-hum kind of thing, salt has amazing potential for the classroom.  What would we do without it?


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