Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Because You Know Sometimes Words Have a Meaning

I was six and standing in the tile center of a giant circular classroom.  I remember a commotion and I saw Jeff, a kid who wore velour shirts every day and had heavy eyes that looked like someone touched them up daily with eyeliner.   He shoved another kid into a desk and they started pushing and shoving each other.

Our teacher, Mrs. C, who seemed 80, but was probably in her mid 50s, ran over as quickly as her large frame could take her, and she separated the two, saying in her voice that sounded like she chain smoked two cartons a day, "what is going on here?"  

Jeff, with rage in his six year old goth eyes, looked at the other kid, pointed at him, and said "that kid called me a f**er."  

My already pale teacher seemed to go translucent and I heard a few gasps, and suddenly I felt chilled to the bone.  Finally the color came back into her face and she yanked Jeff out of the classroom in a way that would have had lawyers lining up to sue today.   He was going to the principal's office, presumably to be beaten to death with the thick oak paddle the principal was rumored to have, complete with half dollar size swiss cheese holes specifically designed to maximize speed and pain to the recipient.   Surely if we saw Jeff again, his ass would be hanging off of his bellybutton.   

At the tender age of six, I had never heard the F bomb in any context.   My parents were fluent in PG profanity, but the F word was never uttered.   Ever.   And certainly not in front of six-year-old me.  And the Yellow Webster's Elementary dictionaries we had didn't have a definition.  (Although you could find "ass" and "hell", so don't think I wasn't looking.)  I wasn't stupid enough to ask my parents what it meant, since it was clear from the usage, the anger of Jeff, and the oxygen that was sucked out of the room that the word was a BAD! word and not to be used.   

Which brings me to Kristi Capel, the Cleveland morning anchor who, at a loss for words to describe the music of Lady Gaga,  decided it was best to go with a racist term.  

Because of my hope and faith in humanity, I can accept that Capel's gaffe was unintentional and she had no idea what she was saying.

But does that let her off the hook?    

Ms. Capel didn't make up the word via random syllables, so she had to have heard it somewhere, and frequently enough for it to pull it out of her brain to use to describe Gaga's music.    Is it okay that she a) never connected the word with any sort of context in the times she heard it, b) never realized it was inappropriate, and c) never bothered to look up a word that she didn't know the meaning of it?  

A television news person should be perceptive, curious, and conscious of the world around her.   While it is easy to believe from Capel's humongous gaffe that she had no idea what she said, that's precisely why her employer should consider finding someone else to take her place.

And maybe she can take that time to brush up her reporter skills and find out whatever happened to Jeff, because I'm pretty sure he was paddled to death.    

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oklahoma Lawmakers Introduce Proposal for New AP US HIstory Exam

Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced HB 1380 to address what they see as deficiencies in the current redesign of official AP US History test that many high school students take for college credit.  

Below is a draft of the proposed replacement AP US History Exam, drafted by a think tank that includes three evangelical ministers, two GOP speechwriters, a Koch brother (the cute one), and the president of the Ronald Reagan Fan Club, the Ron-ettes!  


The United States is:   

A.  A country founded mostly by wealthy European white males that based its laws on those of civilizations of the past, but was shrewd enough to create a flexible government that evolved over time.   Its history has involved many struggles for individual populations to achieve the same rights that these white males had from the beginning, and its rise to power in the early 20th century came from a collective effort in conjunction with government to build up industry and the earning power of the middle class.   While it has played an important role in many global conflicts and as a world power, that role is in danger of diminishing as the country has overplayed its military hand while ignoring the continually reduced earning power of its citizens.   

B.   A country built on a series of laws that protect individual freedoms (such as worship) that has seen itself evolve over time as it tries to address, sometimes with limited success, extending these protections to all citizens.  

C.  The country I live in.   

D.  Awesome

E.  The most greatest country in the universe, founded by God, and ordained with laws, based on Judeo-Christian beliefs.  It gives everyone the ability to be a billionaire CEO of a Fortune 500 company if they just work hard enough and aren't filthy drug taking welfare cheats, and has since it was created back sometime in the 1700s.   Oh, and Martin Luther King is a pretty great guy who would be a Republican today.   Just please don't name a school or street for him in my neighborhood.  


A = 1
B = 2
C = 3
D = 4
E = 5  

Add the score above to 0 (as learned in our AP Math course) to get your score.    If you have received a 3 or above, you have received college credit that can be enjoyed at Bob Jones and Liberty University.   


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Mr. Wilhelmi, Mike Huckabee, and Why Science, Education, and Learning Matters

Among all of my many classes in grade school, Mr. Wilhelmi's 7th grade biology stood out, and not just because it's where we had sex ed.   Mr. Wilhelmi believed in bringing science to life, and his classroom was full of animals, pictures, and displays among the black lab tables where dead frogs, cow eyes, and worms would meet their ultimate fate.   He even had a real bathtub with a small alligator in it.  Have to imagine that Allstate might frown on that little liability these days.

Mr. Wilhelmi introduced me to the idea of science experiments and testing a hypothesis against a control to collect data that either supports or refutes your idea.  My experiment was one of those dumb ideas you come up with out of desperation (and a desire to do something simple).    I would test how much food mice would eat under normal room temperature versus a warmer environment (controlled with a highly advanced scientific tool called a heating pad).   Each day I would weigh out the amount of food the mice ate (from my carefully crafted food dish designed to keep food from being spread everywhere) and compare the two.   In those days before Word, Powerpoint, and Excel, I handwrote a large report complete with hand-drawn graphs, hypothesis, conclusion, and experiment methodology.

While the results of that experiment are lost in the fog of memory (I think heat made the mice eat more), the method of critical analysis behind it did not.   Mr. Wilhelmi, like countless English teachers I had, taught me to look critically at what I had done, looking for flaws in my analysis, flaws in my experiment, flaws in my conclusions.   It planted in me that in order to reinforce your thoughts and beliefs, you must first work to destroy them.  And you must be willing to admit that at any time an outside force (or rethinking) might blow everything you assumed out of the water.

Mr. Wilhelmi was much beloved by his students.  He respected us and he shared with us an infectious joy for learning, critical thinking, and self improvement.  And he taught us at a public school.

It is of Mr. Wilhelmi and my other many fine public school teachers I think of when I see the efforts among some politicians to continue to destroy public education and attack the science behind evolution, climate change, and any other facts that don't fit into the narratives they create.   These teachers taught us not just facts, but how to think critically.   By challenging us to step outside of our own preconceived notions, explore, and understand logic and reason, they created in us learners and thinkers.   And all of this happened in a rural suburb of Louisville, Kentucky.

I say this after watching Mike Huckabee get destroyed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show for Huckabee's false assertions about the coasts being "Bubbleville" who think they're "elite" because they are educated, but are really out of touch with the real experts, who apparently learned all they needed to know by building a '56 Plymouth from the ground up and going to Sunday services.  

I've often wondered if the people that embrace the views of people like Huckabee have ever stopped to critically analyze what he is saying.   Huckabee and others like him are attacking those who seek and attain higher education, arguing that those who are either willfully ignorant or ignorant through their circumstances are somehow wiser and more noble than those who are better educated.

In the America I grew up in, the goal was not to be CEO or as wealthy as possible, but to grow up better educated and better off than the generation before you.  If Huckabee truly believes higher education is bad and life is better off in the hands of a couple of "Bubbaville" guys who pull up to you in a pickup truck with a box of tools, I encourage him to entrust his medical care to Cletus and Jethro and their Stanley wrenches.    In the meantime, I'm going to continue to seek out those more educated and more dedicated to subjects than I am to become informed on them.

Your System Sucks

When my Xbox 360's power cord died, I decided to do some research on the next generation of videogame systems.   Xbox One vs. PS4.  Which one is better.    I found a couple of articles that gave some vague recommendations, but nothing conclusive.  So I decided to scroll down to the comments to see how people had weighed in.

"XBOX sucks, PS4 kicks butt."

"PS4 network is great if you like never being able to use it."  

"What are you talking about?  Xbox Live blows, it is down more than a broken elevator."
And those were the polite comments.   It dawned on me that these were the same things I saw when I was interested in buying the iPhone 6 but was looking at comments on Android phones.   

And the same comments I read whenever the local college rivalry fires up (which is 365 days a year).   

And the same comments regarding religious faiths or lack thereof.   

And the same comments on the candidates we support, political parties we endorse, and more.  
It got me to thinking.   If we can't discuss the pluses and minuses of the gadgets we use each day, how in the hell are we ever going to have civility in the issues that really matter?    

In this day and age in which we can comment, talk, and post about anything with some anonymity, we seem to be more interesting in "winning" then learning or understanding.   Instead of discussing our beliefs and viewpoints with honesty, facts, data, and humility, we simply resort to "Your System Sucks".     

It's enough to make a guy go back to his Atari.  

Which is still better than your Intellivision.