Divine by Zero: Birthday Bras, High School Werewolves, and Army Brownies

Welcome once again to Divine by Zero, the only place where you can hear an anarchic liberal with a weird accent ramble about the crazy things in life. A few things came my way these past few days, and I have to give full blame for one of them to Stephenie Meyer.

  • First and foremost, happy birthday to the bra. Yesterday, the bra celebrated 100 years. Ladies, raise a toast for this wonderful piece of underwear. And gentlemen, also raise a toast to this wonderful piece of underwear.

  • The army released the recipe for brownies it uses to make these tasty treats for the troops… and it’s 26 pages long. Apparently, if you follow the directions exactly, you can make brownies that last for years. Anyone want to try this and comment below to tell us how they taste?
  • Science Daily released a report that states that exposure to certain bacteria can actually make you smarter. Specifically, exposure to something called mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in soil, can boost learning ability. I don’t buy this report at all. How can you explain nerds’ increased brain-power? We RARELY go outside! Sunlight burns.
  • And once again my state proves it’s on a crazy race with Arizona. In San Antonio, police arrested a man who had decals on his car that marked him part of the sheriff’s department in Baxar County but in the nation of the Republic of Texas. Police are charging the man with false identification, not impersonating a police officer. Why not charge him with the latter? Because doing so would mean that Texas officially recognizes the existence of the Republic of Texas, a make-believe country some die-hard conservatives here believe is the rightful nation in these parts. They don’t believe the “official” state laws apply to them and so just pretend they’re citizens of this Republic. It’d be like investigating Fox News for improper journalism. That would imply they actually do journalism.
  • We don’t hear a lot of good stories about the oil spill in the Gulf, but an 11-year-old in New York named Olivia Bouler has raised thousands of dollars by selling her drawings. There’s even a Facebook page about it. This is great because it shows the impact a single person can make on something as massive as this, but it also upsets me that a little girl’s drawings of birds have more fans on Facebook than I do… I somehow feel my manhood has been threatened… She must be stopped.
  • Speaking of funny/ horrifying things having to do with the spill, did you know the government employees in charge of inspecting the drilling were watching porn, drinking, and doing meth? Oh, and they were taking bribes, were childhood friends of the people who owned the rigs, and very likely have to kill puppies to reach climax.
  • Speaking of children, two brain trusts decided to give their baby Pop Rocks. How did it go? Well… just watch. This kid looks like he just walked in on his parents making him a little brother when the candy pops or something.

  • Republicans, meet the internet. We’re crazy. House Republicans set up a website a few days ago called America Speaking Out. The goal was to have everyday Americans suggest the course for policy so they wouldn’t feel like the Republicans were ignoring reality. Unfortunately, when you ask the internet for advice, you get advice like this.

“End Child Labor Laws […] We coddle children too much. They need to spend their youth in the factories.”

“How about if Congress actually do thier job and VET or Usurper in Chief, Obama is NOT a Natural Born Citizen in any way […] That fake so called birth certificate is useless.”

“A ‘teacher’ told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story.”

“English is are official langauge. Anybody who ain’t speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out.”

  • And finally… I know Stephanie Meyers is behind this. Somehow. A new trend in San Antonio schools is for kids to identify themselves as “werewolves.” I’m not making this up. They wear collars and identify with wolves. You HAVE to see this video to believe I am not just making things up.

That’s it for today. Stay tuned tomorrow, because some idiots on Facebook are launching “Everybody Draw the Holocaust Day” in response to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” I wish I could say I didn’t have to explain why this is wrong… but I do.

Link and share, please.

Texas Will Make Your Kids Stupid

You have to call this stuff when you see it.

March 17, 2010

Observant readers will note a recurring joke of mine is to mock anyone who brings up the innocence of children as an argument for censorship or any other type of control over ideas. The children are blank slates, these people say. We must protect their innocence, their big, cartoon-shaped eyes, and little ruffled heads from the harsh truths and evil of the world lest they sodomize the family dog.

First of all, what do these people mean by “innocent?” The dictionary.com definition states that innocence is:

1) the quality or state of being innocent; freedom from sin or moral wrong.

2) freedom from legal or specific wrong; guiltlessness: The prisoner proved his innocence.

3) simplicity; absence of guile or cunning; naiveté.

4) lack of knowledge or understanding.

5) harmlessness; innocuousness.

6) chastity.

7) an innocent person or thing.

8 ) bluet.

9) blue-eyed Mary.

Definitions #6 through #9 are useless for this debate since no one is forcing children to have sex, #7 refers back to the original word, and #8 and #9 are about flowers. #1 talks about the freedom from sin or moral wrong, but if you haven’t made mistakes, you haven’t lived. The second refers to criminal cases, but it’s #3 and #4 that really interest me.

The absence of guile and cunning implies a lack of subtlety. Guile and cunning though, are not necessarily bad things. People need to be subtle, to act with precision in situations that require it. For example, reading someone’s body language and facial expressions to see if you’re making progress with him or her isn’t bad. It’s good diplomacy. However, #4 is the real kicker. It basically makes “innocent” a synonym of “ignorant.” In other words, innocence is really lack of knowledge. This, most would agree, is a bad thing. We want knowledge. It’s what makes civilization possible.

Even so, Texas has just decided to keep the “innocence” of its children by rewriting social studies books to such a degree that the next generation will know little to no truth about the world. This is dangerous not just for Texas, but for the rest of the country. The Lone Star State’s educational budget is well over $20 BILLION dollars. Books that get bought here eventually find their way into other states.

Among the noted changes are Thomas Jefferson’s deletion from early American history, talking about McCarthyism in a more positive light, and showing the Founding Fathers’ religious reasons and logic for the American Revolution and the founding of our country.

Were you as light-headed as I was after reading this?

This SCARED me. George Orwell wrote, “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” Human civilization, modern civilization at least, is based on the idea that accumulated knowledge passes on to the next generation. We continue to grow. Think of it this way. Before we had a way to accurately record information, it had to be passed from master to apprentice. When someone died, the information they knew died within them unless someone else remembered it. With the advent of writing, we now have a way for future generations to access the sum total of human knowledge.

Control what gets said or what doesn’t get said, control the record, and you have control over the future.

Some will argue that the Education Board has this authority. We did, after all, elect them to their positions. The problem is that NONE of the people on the Board are historians, sociologists, or experts in any field relevant to the changes they’ve proposed. They didn’t consult with said experts, either. In fact, many of them are vocal creationists.

In an effort to be as thorough as possible, let’s go through some of these changes just so we can all agree on why they’re wrong. It’s not enough to say they’re wrong. It’s important to understand WHY.

Removing mention of Thomas Jefferson and his work on the Declaration of Independence

While no one on the Board has explained this one, people in the blogosphere and all over the intrawebs have their theories. The best one is that Jefferson was a deist, which rubs the religious conservatives on the Board the wrong way. That is, he believed in some supreme being, but it wasn’t tied to a particular religion. He was more of a humanist than a religious man and is famous among advocates for humanism for his creation of the Jefferson Bible.

He essentially rewrote the New Testament to remove religious dogma and the supernatural and focus instead on Christ’s messages. It’s essentially a humanist version of Christianity.

In fact, most of the Founding Fathers were deists. While they used the words “Creator” and “God,” many like Jefferson were critical of religion and the regulation thereof. Anyone who claims the Founders were Christian and intended for the country to follow Christian ideals has never really read Jefferson’s work.

We’ll bring this up later…

Oh, and if you want to read the Jefferson Bible, it’s located here.


The Pursuit of Happiness by =kelly–bean on deviantART

Discussing the violence of the Black Panthers alongside discussions on Doctor King in the Civil Rights movement while also mentioning the votes Republicans put forth for equality since, as one member on the Board said, “Republicans need a little credit for that [and] I think it’s going to surprise some students.”

Well gosh-darn, if it wasn’t for those brave Republicans, the Civil Rights Movement would have died in its infancy. I guess all those protestors who were beaten, attacked by dogs, had the hoses turned on them, were arrested, or otherwise suffered for their rights should be damn grateful for those Republicans.

Sarcasm aside, what is gained by mentioning one of the more militant and socialist groups alongside Doctor King’s message of non-violence and equality for all human beings? It tells students with little concept of the scientific method or historical analysis that certain groups got their rights not just through protest, but through violence and intimidation. While it is important to know that there were several groups involved in the struggle, it is the kind of thing that needs to be explained in context, and given the shortage of decent, honest teachers in this state willing to go against the curriculum, I wonder how many will actually do that.

The Black Panthers had many viewpoints and many agendas. Yes, they should be studied, but they should be studied in context.


The Dream by ~sorrowmonkey86 on deviantART

Calling into question the existence of the Separation of Church and State and not having students learn that the Constitution prevents the government from favoring a single religion

Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by President John Adams in 1797, states:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

There. We signed a treaty stating we were not a Christian nation or a nation based or biased on ANY religious beliefs. The fact that we have leaders that frame the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a religious, Christian context should frighten all of us. Not only are we in a situation where rational conversation and diplomacy could save us, but we are fanning the flames we thought we’d put out more than two hundred years ago.

Nothing like the ol’ Crusades mentality to diffuse tensions in the Middle East, huh? I mean, these problems have been going on for 6,000 years… They can’t go on forever, right?

Also, Thomas Jefferson is the one who coined the term “separation of church and state” in a letter written in 1802 to Danbury Baptists in which Tommy said:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

That slave-bangin’ Nazi communist! No wonder they took him out of the books!


Seperation of Church and State by *servilonus on deviantART

Discussing the NRA, the Moral Majority, the Contract with America, and the Heritage Foundation in talks about the rise of conservatism in our country while also leaving out mention of minority groups and individuals like César Chávez

The one thing the Board kept saying throughout these debates is that history books had become too liberal. These changes were designed to correct that mistake and show the conservative side of things.

Wow. Pot to kettle. Pot to kettle. You’re black.

Given how long and hard so many conservatives rail against affirmative action, that’s what this is, but it’s even worse because instead of adding conservative ideology to the textbooks, they’ve taken out liberal, progressive achievements. They took out Hispanic achievements in Texas history, which is weird considering that Hispanics make up such a large section of the population. Basically, the new books show the last thirty years not as the overall history of our nation or state, but as a history of conservatism.

Even if you buy the argument that this is just to balance out the history and show both sides of things, you can’t have a debate if the book only has one side. This is also why you don’t “teach the argument” in middle and high school. It’s the same argument made for Intelligent Design and Creationism in science classrooms. You need a solid background in the scientific method, the tools to do research, and the maturity and wisdom to argue and make logical observations. Public schools rarely if ever do this, so how can you expect kids to make an informed decision if a) you present both sides as legitimate and b) the people debating (students) don’t know enough to understand the concepts by themselves?


Asinine American 6 by ~saintabyssal on deviantART

McCarthyism will be shown in a positive light

According to Board member Don McLeroy, McCarthy has been vindicated since the good senator was asked, in a moment forever burned into the national consciousness, if he had any sense of decency in his witch-hunt for communists within the United States. The argument from the Board is that McCarthy was eventually proven right by the transcripts of the Verona intercepts from the former Soviet Union. These show, some Board members say, that McCarthy was dead-on in his suspicions that communists had infiltrated the government.

One problem.

Even if he was right, utterly correct in every assumption, he used anti-communism as a weapon, not to destroy communism, but for political gain. The normal discourse that could have occurred between the parties was not about policy, but about the fear that anyone could be an enemy of the state, and by the time McCarthy came into the spotlight, he turned what could have been an investigation on a legitimate threat into public theater. Even worse, this paranoia ruined lives. Suspicion was enough to get people into real trouble, get them blacklisted, etc. While there may have been communists in Washington and elsewhere, and evidence has shown there were spies on US soil, he was and forever will be the 1950’s version of Glenn Beck.

Paranoid, self-righteous, and so utterly convinced in his world-view that the real issues became lost.


Little Joe cover by ~Toastuh on deviantART

Referring to capitalism as “free market enterprise”

When I worked as a speechwriter in Congress, I had a meeting with my boss and his chief of staff. The purpose of the meeting? To find out what my formal title would be. Apparently, “speechwriter” wasn’t the kind of term they wanted on their business cards. Eventually, we settled on “Congressional Researcher.” Research was, after all, one of the things I had to do to write speeches.

I still called myself a speechwriter when someone asked me what I did.

Board members say the word “capitalism” has too many negative connotations, hence the name change. Well, yes, it has negative connotations because of the recent Wall Street fiascos and the economic meltdown caused by the banks. Capitalism is good in that it allows people to work and receive payment based on their input, at least in theory, but when you live in a country where a small percentage control over 90% of the wealth and corporations now have the same rights as people, people are going to question it. Changing the name is a cheap attempt at diverting criticism.

After all, who would argue against freedom in a free market enterprise?

Them damn commies, that’s who!


Jesus by ~gl0wstick on deviantART

Requiring students learn about personal choices because, said another member, “sociology tends to blame society for everything”

Maybe because sociology is the study of SOCIETIES?! A psychologist would look at individuals. Sweet and sour baby Jesus, I want to find these people’s elementary school teachers so I can smack them for letting these wastes of genetic material graduate.


blind and dumb by ~KlausF on deviantART

Hip hop is not considered a social movement, but country and rock and roll are

Not a legitimate social movement? It started in the Bronx in the late 1970’s and has spread to every corner of the world, including the Middle East. National Geographic called it “the world’s favorite youth culture.” It’s become a rallying cry, and whatever you might think of its merits as an art form, it’s been part of struggles here and abroad.

Besides, are you telling me artists like THIS haven’t impacted society?

Please. I don’t listen to hip hop on a regular basis and have a lot of derision for the stuff that shows up on the pop charts and calls itself hip hop, but even I can appreciate the contributions of people like Run-DMC, Jay-Z, NWA, and 2Pac to music and society.

Oh, and to anyone who still says this isn’t a significant movement, do a Google search for “hip hop.” I turned the filters all the way up and still got 146 million hits. That means anything with “objectionable” material got left out.

I then looked up, without ANY filters, “conservatism” (7.88 million), “conservative” (55.5 million), “Glenn Beck” (13.7 million), “Sarah Palin” (24.6 million), “Rush Limbaugh” (4.47 million), and “George W. Bush” (30.9 million). These six search terms totaled 137.05 million hits.

Oops.


Hip Hop Yoda by ~Almigh-T on deviantART

For the three or so of you that are still reading, I went into this much detail because the actions of the Texas Board of Education are going to hurt this country for the next ten years unless their actions are countered. When I was attending public school, I excelled in spite of my education. I learned outside the classroom because I knew I wasn’t being taught properly. I had the very good fortune of having teachers who took time away from their schedule and gave extra attention to the students who wanted to learn more.

But they are the exception.

The children aren’t innocent. Never have been. They’re ignorant. Ignorant little ragamuffins who really don’t know anything about the world except what we teach them. Knowledge is the currency of academia. It shapes our world view. The problem with these changes in the textbooks is that some are half-truths and others are outright lies. If a child is brought up a certain way, that child will likely stay on that path until something drastic happens to change its world view.

History is science. In science, theories are subject to brutal, adamantine-edged razors that will shred anything without proper proof. These changes are propaganda. The Board has stated it has an agenda. These are lies!

And children will believe them.

Children believe their adults. They have faith. But faith is blind. Faith is trust without evidence. Kind of like how the Board has faith in this interpretation of history. They can’t prove it. Seven lies multiplied by seven, multiplied by seven again.

Am I being too unreasonable if I write that I want to napalm these people, then shove a bunker-buster down their throats?

I Am Become Teacher

You've seen teachers like this and you know it.

March 3, 2010

I didn’t have the right tie. I needed something that said “professional” but didn’t say “uptight.” The one with the black and white pattern was out. It looked too much like an artists’ impression of a Higgs boson. I finally went with a dark blue tie that, while simple, wasn’t so simple as to make the students think I was a total square. Or that I know what “square” meant. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of twenty new adults. Some were frustrated. I could see it in their eyes. Deer in the headlights. I’m sure I had the same look. I always did on the first day.

We learn from others. Sometimes we master a skill. Sometimes they give us a nice little diploma or a plaque that tells the world we’re certified at something. Congrats! You passed high school! You can practice law! Open up a medical practice!

We owe our teachers. But how much is the student’s work and how much is the teacher doing his or her job? We’d like to think a great teacher can make any student learn. Every parent would love to know every teacher is a certified expert in a particular field, that hours of training and years of education have produced something greater than a teacher, a metahuman capable of virtually downloading the knowledge into a student’s head.

Oh, if only this were true.

Sometimes, teachers don’t do their job, and sometimes they have to face the consequences. A school district in Rhode Island recently fired every teacher in the town’s only high school. All of the teachers. And some staff.

I’ve actually gotten into heated arguments with fellow educators over how much responsibility a teacher holds in his or her classroom. If a student fails, does the responsibility rest with the teacher or the pupil? If I can’t teach someone how to properly conjugate verbs, is it that I’m not explaining it properly, or does the student not want to be there?

Or maybe they have a case of the dumb.

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Three weeks in. It wasn’t the first class I taught, but I could already see them struggling. I could name four or five I knew would pass. They weren’t doing great at that point, but they had drive and they wanted to learn.

Baby steps.

Others didn’t care. They talked while I lectured. They didn’t contribute to the group work in class. More than once, they asked for breaks because they forgot their homework. No drive. I tried to teach, but focusing too much attention on them would have denied the ones who did want to succeed of the opportunity to actually learn.

It was academic triage. There was blood on the floor.

My mother’s been a teacher for years, and until I entered education, I had no idea just how difficult it is to really teach. You have to be a combination friend, drill instructor, mentor, and listener. You can’t have too heavy a hand or you’ll be labeled a tyrant and inspire contempt. If you’re too soft and become everyone’s friend, you will not keep control over a single pupil, let alone a full classroom.

You need to be human, yet more than human.


Patton Resurrection by ~DraxianDezigns on deviantART

Which was the case for the Rhode Island high school? It’s hard to tell. I believe, firmly believe, that anyone can learn any subject given enough time. People are, however, inclined towards certain subjects. I do better with language. Not so hot at math, but I do great at physics, mostly because I think of it in poetic terms. Others are musically inclined and some have a talent for languages. That’s great, but if pushed, most of us can learn enough to pass PE, music classes, and English. If we know how to learn, we can absorb almost any kind of knowledge.

Without knowing more, it’s difficult to say what happened in Rhode Island. If the students were failing due to one or two subjects or classes, it’s likely the teachers were to blame. If they failed every course, it could be one or both.

Midterms came and went. Five good grades. Average, but certainly better than before. The Five asked questions. They talked to me. They got help outside of class. Public school didn’t prepare them for college. Not really. They knew how to follow format, but those rules didn’t apply in the real world. Slowly, they opened themselves to new ideas, new ways of thinking. Writing was a chore, but it was something they could change.

Others went through the motions. They never wanted to do their best, just enough to pass, but that wasn’t enough. Not with me.


Student crossing by ~kladek on deviantART

When I once mentioned that it was impossible to teach someone who didn’t want to learn, a fellow educator proceeded to explain for five minutes why I was dead wrong. A good teacher could teach anyone, she said with the kind of certainty you usually hear from a preacher on Sunday. A teacher shouldn’t blame the students any more than an artist should blame the instruments.

That sounds fine, and it does make the teacher sound like a superhuman who can do anything, but reality is much more different.

First of all, as regular readers can probably guess, I’m of the opinion that children are neither innocent nor blank slates. They have goals, agendas, and background. They have personalities. They know what they want, and although they lack experience, they’re far from innocent. No such thing.

There are three kinds of students. The first kind includes the ones who listen to the teacher and do what he or she says. They do their work, pay attention, and are what you’d call the “average” student. The second type includes the ones that learn in spite of their education. Trust me on this: Texas public schools are a bit of joke. Standards and regulations make it impossible to properly teach anything meaningful. It’s likely the same all over the country, but I was lucky enough to have a handful of teachers that pushed me to learn despite my education, as Mark Twain once said. Finally, the last group has the students who want to do the bare minimum to pass. They don’t even want to be average.


Just Average by ~Kaywa on deviantART

School works both ways. If you have someone to guide you, someone who wants to teach, just apply yourself. Ask questions. If the teacher won’t do this, pick up the slack yourself. And if you happen to have a teacher who wants to teach and you put forth the effort, you’ll have an experience you’ll never forget.

The halls smelled like winter. Every time someone opened a door, the cold air killed the heat. For a few moments, the smell of students crammed into the few computer labs was gone, replaced with the cool scent of dirt and desert. By the time my class was full, I looked around. Everyone was nervous. I knew how it would end. The next three hours would be the final page in the book. They helped write it. They edited their parts, their dialogue. I gave them the paper and told them how the story could end.

If they didn’t write it with the tools I gave them, I would write it for them.

I have a job to do when I work with a student. I do my job and I’ve never had a student who wanted to learn not do well. I’ve also dropped the ball. I haven’t explained things correctly, but I’ve always tried my best. While I have a sense of humor about life, I do take my work seriously.

I’ve thanked my teachers. The real teachers.

Have you?

Merriam-Webster: Rated xXx

It's like porn for intellectuals.

January 26, 2010

Censoring or destroying knowledge is a long tradition that goes back to such prestigious groups as Nazis, the Inquisition, and the crusade of those here in America to protect us from words, thoughts, and ideas that could corrupt us and make us worship the almighty Leviathan in his fiery pit of pitchforks. Many groups, particularly fundamentalist groups and even many moderate religious groups, still consider certain books too dangerous for children or the general population to read. The Harry Potter series, for example, is supposedly a gateway to dirty, dirty pagan worship and filthy thoughts.

These groups have their reasons, twisted as they are, for having these books banned from schools and libraries, so imagine my surprise when I read THIS:

That’s right, folks, now the evil masterminds at Merriam-Webster are conspiring to turn children into sodomizing Cthulhu-worshipers from the Twelfth Dimension. If you skipped the article, let me give you cliff notes version. A school district in California recently banned the famous dictionary because a parent found out it contained the phrase “oral sex” as well as a “graphic” description of said act.

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If you have children in the room… they don’t have to leave. The definition in the book is “oral stimulation of the genitals.”

Wow. Typically you need an Adult Pass for that kind of graphic carnality.

Sex is, admittedly, one of the most taboo areas in any society. Very few cultures widely accept sex as something casual. Sex is acknowledged, but rarely openly discussed. However, it exists. Denying its existence doesn’t make it go away. I know that many won’t see it that way, but that’s what this school district did. They’re going to bury the information and hope their kids don’t find out about it from a purely academic book, a text with no agenda other than containing raw, factual information for reference. Maybe these kids can research it on their own. I hear you get some funny things if you type “oral sex” into Google.


-Google SafeSearch Won’t Help- by ~RaineSageRocks on deviantART

The other problem with the ban is that the parents didn’t ban some book from a sex ed class or a biology book that maybe went into a little too much detail. They banned the dictionary.

The DICTIONARY.

As far as basic books go, dictionaries are up there with thesauruses, atlases, and other books that sound awkward in the plural. The most telling part of the article is the acknowledgement by a member of the district that they will look through the book for other objectionable terms. Look, Big Brother, if you look for something to hate, you’re going to find it. It’s easy to hate. All you need is a justification. I’d love to follow this story more closely, maybe interview parents who support the move, and see how many more objectionable terms they can find in the dictionary.

Actually… I went to Merriam-Webster’s site for the latest in lexiconic pornography and general filth. You ready for this?

Cracker.

Ball.

Bed.

Knocker.

Coprophilia.

If you don’t know what the last one means, I suggest not Googling it. Just look it up in the dictionary.

At least the people who wanted to ban Harry Potter had some sort of religious backing as their evidence, however tenuous it was to reality, but this one’s actually giving me a headache trying to figure out. Normally, when a book is going to get banned, it’s for its subject matter and not individual words. At one point, the FCC didn’t fine stations for unforseable swears on live television. Now, one BLEEP and you’ve got to fork over a few thousand dollars. Sarah Palin tried to ban books while Mayor of Wasilla. She didn’t succeed, but I’m sure she had her reasons for asking the librarian what she could do to get certain books removed should the need arise. I’m sure I wouldn’t agree with them.

But this?

The dictionary? The DICTIONARY?!

The sad thing is that the articles detailing this incident all say that one parent called to complain. ONE. Too may times, I’ve heard people make arguments based on one dumb person speaking up or one anomaly in the data. It’s the same tactic creationists use to try and discredit carbon dating and, by extension, evolution. They will point to the most absurd or out-there finds from radiocarbon dating and hold them up and some kind of proof that the science doesn’t work. In reality, this just shows that somewhere along the line, something went wrong in an experiment, and science generally catches these mistakes and addresses the problem. Science acknowledges these mistakes and learns from them. It’s the beauty of the scientific method.

If one person objects to something, people cry about the tyranny of the mob. Yes, sometimes democracy isn’t the best policy. Sometimes the group is wrong. If it weren’t for a few people speaking out and forcing change, we’d still have legal segregation in this country. This, however, is different. This is one person decrying a book for containing a fact he or she found objectionable. Democracy is not “all or nothing.” We don’t hold elections until everyone votes the same way. We don’t make education decisions based on public opinion, or at least I don’t. I proudly say that I didn’t follow the regulations set forth in my teaching curriculum, and my students were better for it. We don’t even vote for American Idol by unanimous vote, so why do we rush to remove whatever one person or a small group deems offensive without any valid reason? Some things ARE offensive, but we can usually articulate some sort of response, explain our reasoning.

We can have a debate.

You know, there are entire populations killed in the Bible. I find blood and warfare disgusting. Let’s ban that one next. Hey, The Lord of the Rings has elves, dwarves, and feudal kingdoms, a thoroughly European construction. I think we should take it out of our libraries before we infect our youth with socialist ideas. I get my info on the world from Fox News. While we’re at it, I can’t pronounce names in German, so let’s not teach kids about World War II. I also don’t like cauliflower. Let’s ban cauliflower.

Is there a number all these yahoos call?

Adults Only

Porn and social studies... Man, homeworks going to be WEIRD.

February 8, 2010

When I was in high school, teachers sometimes used films to highlight points in science, English, and history classes. We’d read a short story, then watch an adaptation of it and try and find the differences, discuss its themes, and otherwise enjoy the lesson more because the lesson came alive. Even the kids who didn’t like to read could participate, though not as well, as the ones who read. Science films let us see our lessons instead of just reading about them, and in a world where multimedia now applies to everything we do, it’s really the next logical step in education. Films are a new tool.

And every new tool needs a determined opposition. Click on the image to go to the story.

If you skip the link, here’s the deal. Council Rock high school students are protesting a movement led by several parents to ban the use of R-rated movies for educational purposes. The school uses films such as Schindler’s List, Merchant of Venice and Saving Private Ryan to supplement lessons, and the district already has a policy that allows parents to not give permission for their children to see the films. Some, however, say that this creates an unequal playing field and R-rated movies should be banned completely.

Said one concerned parent, “Do we not have filters on our computers? These movies are potentially harmful to our children…I can’t help but think that these things will have an effect on our children. There are many other school districts in the area that have excellent educational programs that do not allow Rated R films to be shown. So why do we?”

Oh the children. Who will speak for them?

Several hundred high school students have signed petitions asking the school board to not proceed with the ban, but as of this writing, no action has been taken.

Yeah, because high school is already such wonderful preparation for the real world, right?

There are really two issues at work here. First of all, do these movies enhance the learning experience? Secondly, are these movies harmful?

Let’s talk about the second issue first. Are movies harmful? The parent who gave the above quote seems to think so. How is a movie harmful? Will it teach children that certain kinds of behavior are acceptable? That really depends on the individual movie. One of the movies referenced is Saving Private Ryan. It’s bloody, violent, and features scenes during one of the most far-reaching wars of the last century. High school students won’t see these images of men getting cut down by machine gun fire and suddenly come to the realization that they too must get a fifty-caliber machine-gun and go PCP-monkey-crazy on someone.

These are the kids that play GTA, remember? This is the Modern Warfare generation. They know what it’s like to see someone get shot in a FICTIONAL account because THEY’RE the ones doing the shooting. They may be desensitized, a by-product of society taking a much more lax view of violence, but they aren’t going to suddenly see the Battle of Normandy and get some insight into violent behavior. At best they’ll realize that these kinds of things actually happen, that real people have suffered in wars, and maybe they’ll get a certain respect for the men and women that actually put a uniform on then put their lives on the line. Besides, if a student can see history, even a recreation of it, it makes the lesson much more real.

Movie ratings are a knotted affair, so all I’ll say is that an R-rating is not the harsh stamp many people think it means. The MPAA says:

An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children.

An R-rating doesn’t mean much concrete information. What, may I ask, is an “adult activity” and an “adult theme”? I guess showing people working in a cubicle farm would be considered an adult activity. Is menopause an adult theme? Not a lot of teenage girls with inactive reproductive systems. And what exactly does “hard language” mean? If I use the word “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis,” I think most people would consider that hard language. I can barely pronounce it. The rating, as many other people much more highly qualified than me have said, is highly subjective and open to debate. It’s, at best, a highly imperfect gauge of a film’s content and themes. Furthermore, the argument that we have filters on our computers and should use the same kind of logic when shielding students misses one very crucial point. YOU set the filters. You can put them up, lessen them, increase them to eleven, whatever. But it’s YOUR choice.

This brings us to the second point. Everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners and others need to read information. Some learn by hearing. In a class, I try to use as many senses as possible. Pictures, diagrams, charts, hands-on activities with groups, anything to get the kids motivated. I’m sorry, but high school students need a swift kick in the pants. They can be… well, dense.

I’m sorry, but I loved my students and I wanted them all to succeed, but I’m a realist. I know not all of them will pass. I know it. They know it.

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If there were movies that actually taught English and writing, I would have shown them. The sad thing is that parents, according to the article, didn’t say much other than the movies were inappropriate and they might hurt the students.

How?

How does a movie hurt a 14-18 year-old? Does the DVD jump out of the case and slit someone’s throat?

The movies work. The students themselves, the ones being “affected” by these images, are the ones who are lobbying to keep them. They’re saying the tool works, and yet some parents still want to take them away based on the fear of the hypothetical student hearing a naughty word or otherwise seeing something bad.

Next they’ll be dancing!

I’m speaking as a teacher, tutor, and writer. If a tool works, we need it. We’ve coddled the students in this country so much that you can actually pass high school without doing any work. Seriously. The United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas, will pass students for the sake of moving them to another level on the theory that they’re not going to pass their current grade level, so they should try in the next one. In this way, a student who never passes a single gradel can graduate high school without any comprehensive reading, writing, reasoning, mathematics, or even study skills. Budgets get slashed and teachers have their hands tied by bureaucracy and the ignorance of a few paranoid parents.

If I’d had the time and resources to show movies, I would have done so if I felt the movie would contribute to the lesson. You can’t discount any strategy when you’re trying to teach. If you need to bring hand-puppets and do voices, do it. Learning is a skill. Many people don’t have it. Teachers need to pick up the slack and use whatever means possible to make sure the students retain knowledge. Movies are one such tool. It’s not like the district was showing Showgirls or Battlefield Earth.

Now THAT would be a crime.