One of the best parts about having a kid is getting to give them all the cool bits of the world -- like the kid discovering evolution, for instance; or just over the past few days, she's started reading Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy (and if you think I'm happy that she likes evolution, you cannot imagine the delight when she came to me and said, "You know, I really like science fiction...")
Anyway, making your living on via a large socialist institution like a university has its benefits. I mean, the pay isn't great and there's all the committee work and it does require that one at least pretend to know how to get along with one's fellow humans, not to mention the hours (people think university professors work nine hours a week -- ha! if I stop working before ten at night I do a little happy dance): BUT: you've got this great available culture:
(1) Plays, given by our theater department, which now that the kid is old enough we've been taking her to. These knock her out. It doesn't hurt that one of my favorite students, and one that she likes a lot, is in the plays ("Is Jack going to be in this one?" she demands when I tell her we're going to a play. Since he's one of the best actors at the university right now, he always is, so she always consents to go.); but watching her being captivated by drama itself is so cool.
(2) The science building, the science professors, science. We've got a nice science building (unlike the English building, grr) and nice science professors. The kid and I like to go look at the fossils and the fish and the rocks; when we run into the science professors, they are always doing cool things, and will tell the kid about them. She just loves this.
(3) Music. Me, I'm musically illiterate, but mr. delagar, it's half his life. He and the kid spend hours listening to prog rock and classical music and the Beatles, and I can't tell you what they're listening to, discussing what's happening -- she recently confided to me that prog rock is her favorite sort of music. I wailed in pretended grief. "Better than Billy Bragg?" I said. "Better than Paul Simon? Better than STEVE EARLE?" She looked very prim. "Please, Mama."
(1) Our heat, which has been broken for who knows how long, we only found out it was broken when we tried to turn it on last week, and have been freezing in the dark since, is finally fixed again. Yay!
(2) My bad shoulder is scheduled to be mended, by out-patient surgery, on December 3rd, about which procedure I have mixed feelings. The guy in my class who just had the same procedure done says ow-ow-ow, and boy if I think it hurts NOW. OTOH, boy does it hurt now. On the third hand, December 3rd is right before the semester ends, and how will I write on the board for the last week of class? Fume, fume.
(3) The kid is studying evolution, on her own. Well, I will admit I craftily left a couple of kids' books about evolution lying about on the table in the living room where we all do our school work...then when she read the first one and came to me saying, yo, this is cool, I responded with just the right touch of idle oh, yeah, it is, huh? which one must use with the ten-year-old kid if one is to get her solidly on the hook...but man, I am so pleased. I was twelve when I started reading about evolution, and it started me down the track to my general love of science that has never gone away. (If I could only do math, you know, maybe I'd be an actual scientist. Instead, I just write about them.) She's read all (which means three) the books the Pork Smith Public library had for kids on evolution -- they have no books for adolescents, huh, imagine that -- and I found one book at the local bookstore that wasn't an OOOO-Evolution-is-EEEEEvil book (Evolving Planet, it's pretty good) and got her that. Now I'm waiting for the books PZ recommended over on his site, many of which I scored on Paperback Swap, to come in the mail.
(4) How did the end of the semester get so close? Must be all the Vicodin I've been doing.
(5) Now that the semester is drawing to a close, I need more books to read. Who has suggestions?
I taught in Idaho for three years, and the LDS students there, my students, I liked them a lot, even if some of the men did rat me to the dean every time I said fuck in class. And even if some of them did have this...attitude toward the Native Americans that I found difficult to get past. (Others came to me in my office after the class would go off on how lazy and entitled Indians were to tell me not every LDS felt that way, and how it used to be worse, how their parents had taught them when they were little that God hated dark people, so I should know things were changing...)
But they did their work, and they had immensely complex lives, due to the pressures their religion was putting on them, and when I was pregnant and in danger of miscarrying, and we had to move at short notice, one of my LDS students conscripted her husband and sons into moving my entire house for me -- I didn't ask her for this, she just did it -- and they would do things like that.
This here is what happens when you teach ID or Creationism as Science.
There's a reason the Right is so far behind the curve when it comes to science and technology -- oh, not guns and not accounting: I bet they can multiple and figure their sales tax right sharp.
But give them something that requires critical thinking or knowledge of the scientific method? Hopeless.
I gave my freshmen two essays, both by conservative English writers (by which I mean from England), both dealing with, among other things, scientific studies (one on kids with ADHD, the other on prison populations and nutrition): they couldn't understand the arguments being made.
One problem, of course, was that when these students don't like a thesis they won't read a work, and the first essay was arguing that evidence exists that Ritalin helps children with ADHD. Well, my students know that's not true (how do they know it? They just do) so they flat out refused to hear or read any evidence to the contrary.
But they also just don't have the tools to understand scientific reasoning: their education has not prepared them for it. What's a blind study? (Shit, they don't even know what a scientific study is.) What's a placebo? What's a control group? What's empirical evidence? They have no idea.
This is why schools need to teach real science, not some "contraversy." Real science teaches what real evidence and real knowledge is. Without that, how are any of us here in America ever going to learn how to figure out what the right answer is?
Right now, here in Pork Smith, they're going on what their Bible and their Preacher tells them the right answer is. You see how well that's been working.
It's really not a pretty sight, what's happening on the blogs and in their sphere. Did you catch P. J. O'Rourke's -- well, I don't know what to call it...that thing he published in The Weekly Standard. You can't call it an essay, since he's not putting forth any coherent thesis (if he has a coherent thought in that mess, I didn't encounter it). It's not a call to action, or a dissection of the failed Conservative strategy (which maybe it was meant to be?), or even a lament. Maybe it's a tantrum?
Whatever it is, it is, like so much of what's happening on the Right just now, it's astounding in its totally lunacy. I mean, for the past eight years we have watched them drift further from reality. Now they're totally into some sort of alt.world. (For another look at this, check out the blogs Dr. Helen or RightWingSparkle or Blog And Mablog.
(From the last:
But the laws they pass, and the laws they seek to approve, are not the central point. The central point is not Roe, but rather what Roe makes possible -- the actual shedding of blood. Abortion is one of the sacraments of the secular state, and sodomy is another. What matters there is not the perverse ceremony at city hall, but what that makes possible -- sodomy ratified, approved, and consummated. )
Anyway, here's P. J. Just bits of him, because that's all I can take, but here's the link if you want the Full Barking Lunatic Effect.
It should be especially easy to move voters to the right. Sensible adults are conservative in most aspects of their private lives. If this weren't so, imagine driving on I-95: The majority of drivers are drunk, stoned, making out, or watching TV, while the rest are trying to calculate the size of their carbon footprints on the backs of Whole Foods receipts while negotiating lane changes. People are even more conservative if they have children. Nobody with kids is a liberal, except maybe one pothead in Marin County. Everybody wants his or her children to respect freedom, exercise responsibility, be honest, get educated, have opportunities, and own a bunch of guns.
The real message of the conservative pro-life position is that we're in favor of living. We consider people--with a few obvious exceptions--to be assets. Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources.
The left has no idea what's going on in the financial crisis. And I honor their confusion. Jim Jerk down the road from me, with all the cars up on blocks in his front yard, falls behind in his mortgage payments, and the economy of Iceland implodes. I'm missing a few pieces of this puzzle myself.
He rants on like this for pages -- contradicting most things he says within paragraphs of where he says them, as where he says the Right is in favor of the living, and then, two sentences later, he's getting snarky about how the poor need trailers (who was it didn't want to fund Katrina survivors? Was that the left?). And, again, after a few more paragraphs, he's on about how pro-life he is, except he wants to kill the "teen-age boys" who have gotten the teen girls pregnant (apparently he's not so clear on who really gets teen-age girls pregnant, usually). So he's pro-life, you know, and he likes people, except if they're the people he doesn't like? Like leftists and people who annoy him?
(1) How cool is it that the Obamas want to get a shelter dog? (The mutt joke was also funny).
(2) So mr. delagar and I are watching Life on Mars last week, which is a show he likes mainly because it is a huge fantasy of his to be transported back to 1973, where he would never leave the record stores; and I am watching for anthropological purposes; anyway, it took this, um, religious turn last week. Oh! the hero is an atheist! Oh! Jesus sends an angel to him to deal with his atheism (after first pitching a nine-year-old girl off a roof, mind you, to create a plot-line wherein the soul-searching/answered prayers can occur). Oh! Why is our hero an atheist? Because when he was a tot, it develops, he prayed and prayed, and Jesus never answered his prayers. Oh! In this episode, the nine-year-old dies so that his prayer can finally be answered! Voila! God does answer prayers!
Can I just....what?
As an atheist, this annoys me, because, no, that's not why we're atheists. (I prayed and prayed for a pony and every time I looked in my backyard, no pony, so screw this.) If I were a follower of any religion, including Christianity, I would hope it would annoy me more.
Also, can't we just have cool SF? Do we have to have pandering to the whack religious right? They lost! Can we go back to regular TV now? Please?
So I made my students read Natalie Angier's essay "Atheism and Children" which is always such a treat.
My goal with this essay is to teach them:
(1) how, when your thesis is a difficult one, as hers is here, your approach needs to be crafted with care (I think this essay fails because she takes the wrong approach)
(2) how the Rogerian method should especially be used when you have a difficult thesis: Angier, in this essay, mocks and derides those she should be reaching out to, the religious thinkers in her audience. Well, that's a problem, as I point out to my students -- or as I would like to.
Unfortunately, I can't get them beyond their fury that I have given them a text written by an evil atheist to read. They're certain I have done this in an attempt to convert them to secular humanism. "You won't make me quit Christ!" is the response, along with impassioned witnessing about Miracles I Have Seen.
Really not the point of this class, I say, shutting them off, at which point they sulk through the ensuing discussion.
I went meta on them this time: Why did I give you this text? I asked them. They glowered. Do you think I thought you liked atheists? I inquired. Hmm? Do you think I live in a cave?
I explained why I gave it to them. I explained what my pedagogical technique here was meant to be. They thawed, maybe 10%. I got them to look at the actual essay, a tiny bit.
But here's the interesting part: I was explaining the part where Angier shows why she wants her daughter to be an atheist -- one of the few parts where Angier supports her argument:
According to a recent CBS poll, 55 percent of Americans believe that god created humans in their present form...Only 13 percent of Americans say that humans evolved from ancestral species, no god involved. Only 13 percent. The evidence that humans evolved from prehominid primates, and they from earlier mammals, and so on back to the first cell on earth some 3.8 billion years ago is incontrovertible, is based on a Himalayan chain’s worth of data. The evidence for divine intervention is, to date, non-existent.
Yet here we have people talking about it as though they were discussing whether they prefer chocolate praline ice cream or rocky road, as though it were a matter of taste. To me, this borders on being, well, unethical. And to me, instilling in my daughter an appreciation for the difference between evidence and opinion is a critical part of childrearing.
I asked them what this meant: what Angier was on about.
They couldn't tell me. Well, they had heard of evolution, though, this being Arkansas, very few had studied it. But they didn't get the difference between the two approaches to knowledge she was discussing. So I outlined empirical evidence and recieved wisdom on the board for them, and discussed this, using my usual example -- how many eggs do blue jays lay and how we know this, why, we fund a multi-year study in which we go and look and keep meticulous records and do the math and that is how we know; and Aristotle's "knowledge" that women had more teeth than men, and my grandfather's utter certainty that women had one more rib than men do -- both of these last examples of received wisdom --
At which point I got stopped by the class.
See, women do have one more rib than men. They all knew this for a fact.
(No, well, not all of them. But I'd say at least a third of the class insisted to me that women have one more rib than men do.)
I stared at them. The fuck, I almost said, right outloud in class. See, because my grandfather, dead now 20 years, when I was 19, he and I had that fight. But he was born in 1914 and never got educated past the seventh grade, in a Kentucky hill school.
These are Arkansas kids from 2008.
"No," I said, carefully. "No, really...that's a myth..."
"No," one of them insisted to me. "Because God took Adam's rib in the garden, to make Eve. So men have one less rib than women do."
"Okay," I said. "No. And no. And go study some anatomy, because no."
The kid came home from school yesterday dejected: they had held a school election, and Obama had lost, 11-16 (McCain got 16 votes).
"Obama got eleven votes?" I said. "In Arkansas? Really?"
Granted, the Montessori School is the most liberal school in Pork Smith, but still...
Nevertheless, mr. delagar and I, like Rachel Maddow, were wretched balls of nervous terror until 10.00 p.m. central time when, while we were surfing channels, we heard John Stewart on Comedy Central call the race.
After that, we were just drinking heavily.
Oh boy, oh boy.
Did you hear that speech? Is that a President?
God, it's so splendid to be in a country that's doing the right thing again.
I don't think I've ever really wanted a President to be elected before. In 2000/2004 I just didn't want (DO NOT WANT) Bush to be elected. Here, clearly, I don't want McCain/Palin, not so much for McCain, who I don't believe is a bad guy, despite his recent behavior during the election; no, I don't want Palin, and I don't want the Republican far-Right policies, which are wrong-headed and willfully ignorant, and openly hostile to humanist/feminist principles.
But more than that, I want Obama. I'm puzzled how anyone, who is not a Far-Right anti-humanist/anti-Feminist, and has been paying attention, could not want him. I'll admit, before I started paying attention, I didn't want him: I wanted Edwards, who struck me as the more likely to give the working class what we need. But Obama, if you listen to him, this guy is smart. This guy pays attention. This guy listens. This guy thinks ahead. And this guy knows his history, and his economics. He knows what happens when you destroy the middle class. (If you want to know why Rome fell, btw, it was not hot baths, or soft living, or gay sex, or lead in their water pipes, or giving women the vote: it was destroying their middle class: taking land away from their small farmers -- that was the Roman version of the middle class -- leaving them with no tax base. They tried to make it up by sacking the provinces for a time, but you can only reverse outsource for so long. Gets too pricey in the end.)
So Obama winning -- yes, I want.
And yes, I'm worried he won't.
Especially since people I was thinking would vote Obama are now telling me they aren't, or didn't, or won't vote at all this year -- they don't have time? WHAT? WHAT?
You don't have TIME to vote? Now? This year? The most important vote of our generation? Are you fucking kidding me? Are you HIGH?
And someone else told me he voted for RON FUCKING PAUL?!?