Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Sunflower yellow

with 32 comments

Helianthus annuus; August 22; northeast quadrant of Mopac and US 183.
More of these sunflowers persisted through August, and
now into September, than I remember seeing in any previous year.

◊ ◊

“When schoolchildren start paying union dues,
that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”
— Albert Shanker (1928–1997), long-time head of the United Federation of Teachers.
His remarkably honest statement goes a long way toward explaining why
American public schools do such a poor job educating students.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 5, 2021 at 4:31 AM

32 Responses

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  1. This common native plant thrives throughout the Midwestern states. They can get very tall and gangly, but I love them because they provide a lot of seed for birds in autumn and winter. We have a few growing along the alley fence, but most are found down in the river bottom on the leased land. Your image really highlights the detail of their beauty, and who could ignore the brilliant yellow color?


    September 5, 2021 at 6:43 AM

    • It’s good to hear you’ve got plenty on your leased land. I don’t know how they’re doing there this year, but as I mentioned in my text, here in 2021 they’ve persisted in quantity well past their usual peak in May or June, and even now in September I’m still seeing more of them than I have at this time in previous years. That’s obviously fine with me. You said it well: “who could ignore the brilliant yellow color?” Not I.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 7:02 AM

  2. The combination of sharp detail and slightly-olive-colored yellow makes for a fine and unusual portrait. Like you, I’ve noticed large stands of these sunflowers still in bloom and looking remarkably fresh. I suppose part of it could be the consistent rains we’ve had. Whatever the reason, it’s nice to have them lingering into September.


    September 5, 2021 at 7:12 AM

    • Long lingering sunflowers slide into September, or so your comment made me think. In this portrait I got to eat my cake and have it too, sort of, with yellow in the foreground as well as the background. I hadn’t thought about olive, except as a yummy addition to a salad at lunch today.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 8:08 AM

  3. I like this still-wrapped-up portrait, different and handsome.
    Shanker’s declaration should’ve been something like “My job is to look after the interests of teachers, and thereby act in the best interest of the schoolchildren, too.”

    Robert Parker

    September 5, 2021 at 8:07 AM

    • In my previous reply just now I mentioned that “in this portrait I got to eat my cake and have it too, sort of, with yellow in the foreground as well as the background.” I can extend that to your observation: in addition to the still-partly-wrapped bud as the primary subject, there’s the bright yellow of the fully open sunflowers beyond the bud.

      If Shanker had spoken your version of the sentence, I don’t think anyone would have faulted him. The fact that he said what he did say is telling—and it tells more than the speaker would normally reveal. The next time you get a chance to (re)watch Woody Allen’s 1973 science-fiction comedy “Sleeper,” one line may jump out at you. After the character that Allen plays wakes up 200 years in the future, he learns that civilization was destroyed when “a man by the name of Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear warhead.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 8:20 AM

      • I loved that movie, but saw it years ago and didn’t remember that line. I do remember (I think) Allen identifying Charles DeGaulle as a famous TV chef. Teachers need organizations to advocate for them, they are underpaid and under pressure, as I’m sure you will agree. Shanker’s statement seems offensive, but it’s mostly a shot of reality. He was responsible for looking out for the interests of teachers, just as a defense attorney is duty bound to look out for the interests of the accused, and not those of the victim. And that’s not a bad analogy, since teachers always seem to be in the dock.

        Robert Parker

        September 5, 2021 at 8:38 AM

        • You make a good analogy with lawyers representing clients. I’m all for promoting the well-being of teachers—provided they really do their job and teach well. Unfortunately, too many American teachers do a poor job, not having been good students themselves. You may have heard me say that Finland requires prospective teachers to score in the top academic tier in college to even be allowed to enter a teacher training program. In contrast, education majors here on average consistently score at or near the bottom in the rankings of the various majors as represented by standardized test scores.

          Here’s an anecdote that has stayed with me. On a plane flight in the 1970s or 80s I found myself sitting next to a young woman who turned out to be an elementary school student teacher. Naturally as a teacher myself I asked her questions about her experiences. At one point in the conversation she said that she would mark the students’ arithmetic tests if the teacher gave her the answer key. Think about that. Someone who can’t figure out the answers to an elementary school arithmetic test on her own has no business teaching our kids. And yet teachers’ unions make it hard to get rid of incompetent teachers.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 5, 2021 at 9:01 AM

          • Yeah, it’s true that unions feel obligated to protect the bad apples, but perhaps the bigger issue is recruiting good apples. How are you going to attract top students when teachers are underpaid, swamped with paperwork and oversized classes, forced to adhere to rigid schedules and rubrics, using textbooks edited by ideologues from both ends of the political spectrum, and somehow expected to simultaneously fill a number of parenting roles. Kind of a hard sell if you ask me.
            I guess I’d assume that student teacher on the plane was just nervous and insecure, rather than incapable of calculating the answers, but of course, you were there and I wasn’t. When I was in high school, one of my former grade school teachers asked me to assist the kids in her class that were struggling with math. I was hardly a stellar math student, far from it, but it turned out to be helpful, because the math whizzes often talk over the kids’ heads, and use unspoken short cuts, while I had a good grasp of how math problems can sometimes paralyze thought and prevent kids from thinking them through. So I’d keep it simple and let them discover that they could indeed do the math, if they gave themselves a chance, by talking as one unskillful math guy to another.

            Robert Parker

            September 5, 2021 at 11:39 AM

            • I’ll grant you the situation is complicated. Education has been particularly susceptible to fads. For example, No Child Left Behind was bound to fail. Given the normal curve of mental human abilities, there will always be some people at the low end who will necessarily be left behind (just as I’ll always be left behind when it comes to choosing players for a basketball team). Or take so-called individual learning styles, which were and unfortunately still are big in education: cognitive science has shown that tailoring education to such styles doesn’t work. It puts a big burden on teachers but accomplishes nothing except to make students feel good even though they don’t learn any better. And if teachers are doing their job and exposing kids to the required material and holding them accountable for it, there’s no reason to waste huge amounts of time practicing for standardized tests. I could go on and on.

              I wish I could live back through my interaction with the student teacher on the plane to make sure I was right in my interpretation. What I reported to you is the impression I had at the time. Of course misunderstandings are possible. Much evidence has surfaced in the intervening decades (including the rankings of students by major that I mentioned) to show that there are indeed too many incompetent teachers.

              I’ll agree with you that the smartest teachers aren’t always or even often the best suited to deal with middle-of-the-road and especially poor students. I’ve long felt that the most intellectual teachers should be put to work teaching the brightest students, who crave a teacher at their own level and learn so much more that way.

              When I think back to the elementary school teachers I had so long ago, as far as I can tell from my then-child’s perspective, none of them were scholars, but every single one of them was competent: they could all do arithmetic and spell and write decent sentences. That’s unfortunately no longer a given.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 5, 2021 at 2:49 PM

            • As for attracting the top talent to teach, my personal stance vis-à-vis school administrators has always been: go away, shut the door, leave me alone, and let me teach. I’ve been willing to accept not such great pay (especially compared to tradespeople like plumbers and electricians) in return for autonomy and the freedom from educational nonsense. How well my students perform is the only criterion on which I should be judged. I may be over-extrapolating, but I think at least some and maybe even many other good teachers would take that trade, too.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 5, 2021 at 2:55 PM

              • I think you’re probably right about that. I know some folks who remain sad or even bitter over the loss of their right to organize a syllabus as they think appropriate.

                Robert Parker

                September 5, 2021 at 4:03 PM

                • I’m of two minds about that. I always made it a point to teach more than what the standard syllabus required, but I’m aware that some teachers who are left to their own devices deviate from the required material and therefore don’t cover all of it.

                  Steve Schwartzman

                  September 5, 2021 at 9:56 PM

  4. Most sunflower photos show this majestic flower in full bloom. I like your capture of the sunflower still in its early budding stage. Well done, Steve!

    Peter Klopp

    September 5, 2021 at 9:00 AM

  5. Gorgeous photographs.

    Many years ago I attended a reception for newly entering masters and doctorate students at a major university in the Northeast. I asked each their purpose of teaching. Very few could answer the question. Those who answered answered incoherently. I mentioned this to the dean, rather pointedly and asked if the purpose for teaching was part of the entrance interview. He blushed and said it wasn’t. The next year I went to the same reception and asked each candidate their purpose for teaching. Each gave me a very good, passionate answer. I later spoke to the dean. He said that he added my question to the opening interview. He acknowledged that it made a huge difference.

    Michael Scandling

    September 5, 2021 at 11:02 AM

    • Wow, I’ve never known anyone who has so personally and directly affected the process for screening incoming graduate students. Good for you!

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 1:57 PM

      • Thank you. It seemed to me to be such an obvious question… I have had the honor to have met and gotten to know some really excellent teachers in my life. Each one of them had one thing in common: a deep passion and strong purpose to teach, to help each student to bring out the best in himself or herself, to teach critical thinking, and to instill a lifelong passion for discovery and learning. A true teacher inspires, then teaches. And then, through teaching, continues to inspire. Have you ever seen the movie, Stand and Deliver? I’ll bet you have. About a math teacher. A true story.

        Michael Scandling

        September 5, 2021 at 4:18 PM

        • Yes, I’ve seen it. I’ve often covered extra material but I’ve never come close to spending the huge amounts of extra time that Jaime Escalante did.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 5, 2021 at 9:58 PM

  6. Lovely petal details, nice to see the florets peeking though the petals.


    September 5, 2021 at 11:34 AM

    • We could say the disc florets peek out through the petals (to the tune of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”).

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 2:00 PM

  7. Nice. Linda mentioned a Crayola color, Cornflower Blue. I wonder if there was one called Sunflower Yellow. Currently only Sunglow.

    Steve Gingold

    September 5, 2021 at 1:01 PM

    • I think you’re onto something with Sunflower Yellow as a Crayola color. Maybe you should suggest it to the company.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 2:02 PM

      • I don’t think I’d be the first to think of it. There had been Dandelion but that was retired. Also Inchworm.

        Steve Gingold

        September 5, 2021 at 2:07 PM

  8. I also like that you show the flower in its not-full-bloom mode as they’re interesting and attractive no matter which stage they’re in.


    September 5, 2021 at 3:52 PM

    • I’ve shown my share of fully open sunflowers, so this partly open phase is a welcome portent of what’s to come. And I’ve also shown my share of the seed head remains that follow.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 5, 2021 at 9:50 PM

  9. Gorgeous blooms .. I was only looking at their seeds yesterday, wondering when I shall poke them in the ground ..


    September 10, 2021 at 4:23 PM

    • The seeds of these wild sunflowers poked themselves in the ground. Let’s hope yours are as successful.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 10, 2021 at 6:58 PM

  10. Stunning

    Yoli B

    September 12, 2021 at 12:29 PM

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