Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Sterilization of American Education

I teach a composition course to high school seniors. It is a pre-college Composition 101-102 course, meant to prepare them for next year. I have been using the latest edition of the same college text for about ten years.

Each year, the example essays I use change with the editions. This year, I have found myself dissatisfied with the reading selections and I have gone back to the previous editions for many of the essays. At first, I was thinking it was just a question of copyrights or other editorial choices, but, just last week, I noticed a trend:

Every essay about anything relating to the pains and trials of human existence -- like death, divorce, addiction, abuse, etc. -- has been eliminated. The choices are all light or clinical/academic now. It occurred to me that the publisher is avoiding "triggers" in the text, since so many colleges are being pressured to avoid or to carefully warn about possible emotional "triggers" in their teaching.

The solution to selling a composition textbook in this climate, I suppose, is to eliminate all emotion and conflict so "triggering" won't be an issue at all. Education is a business, after all.

I'll be finding a new text for next year. How's that for business?

There's a reason my classroom is not stainless steel and porcelain. There is a reason I decided to dedicate a lifetime to studying literature: it's because I think it helps me and my students to stay sane and happy. Without that benefit, it becomes an exercise in vowels and consonants.

We cry for a reason. We get angry for a reason. We need those emotions to keep ourselves healthy. If we can't cry or argue together, where are we? If educational institutions are bullied into keeping everyone "comfortable" and "feeling safe" at all times and in all situations, where will the friction for the sparks of intellectual and emotional exploration come from? Where will the healing come from?

And, you know, if, when studying or discussing an emotional piece, I see a sign of how deeply a kid might be hurting, there is a professional counselor to whom I can refer him. And If I refer him to her, who knows what horrible event might be avoided? -- suffering for that student or for others?

If I never know, the couselor will not know. If we save that kid from tears for two, three, four weeks, will we eventually have to save ourselves from that kid or save that kid from himself?

Our philosophies as a society are wrong in almost every way. We're a room full of old, dry newspaper with a faulty electrical system. 

In the end, maybe risks and dangerous ideas in the classroom are the blueprint for being safe outside.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Abortion: A Reasoning Suite


I think abortion is bad. And so do you.


Like, it's an eventuality no one wants to reach. No one wants an abortion. No one enjoys an abortion. No one finds an abortion a to be desirable experience.

What would we think of someone who says having abortions makes her feel good? -- lunatic? -- psycho? -- masochist?

So, all sane people think an abortion is a bad thing. They may not think it is ethically wrong to do, given particular circumstances, but they would all agree that it is a bad thing that is best avoided.


Getting pregnant at the wrong time makes women (or couples) either consider having or have abortions (which are bad).

No one wants to get pregnant at the wrong time, so, if they do, one of four things has happened:

1. They were irresponsible and had unprotected sex because it felt good at the time and they were not considering the consequences.

2. They were completely ignorant and did not know about birth control and/or abstinence.

3. They intentionally got pregnant at the wrong time, either for the attention or to garner some weird kind of credibility; to have a juicy, past ordeal to brag about. (Either a baby or an abortion will do the trick.)

4. Intended birth control failed, either by intrinsic flaw or as a result of misuse.

(Use of the pronoun "they" is meant to encompass the couple, and, so, not just pile responsibility on the woman.)

Can you think of any other reason? Anything else that comes to me is sort of a sub-heading of these.


People in categories 1 and 3, above, are fully responsible for their unwanted pregnancy.

People in categories 2 and 4 are, arguably, not as responsible for the pregnancy.


The ethics of an abortion in either of the groupings above are on sort of a sliding scale; better or worse by degrees. The end-result, though, is the same, if there is an abortion: a person either ceases to or fails to exist.


The person who either fails or ceases to exist would have been the consequence of having gotten pregnant at the wrong time. Abortion, then, is an attempt to erase the consequences of either human irresponsibility, human ignorance, human ego, human carelessness or of really bad luck.

In any case, the end result is an abortion, which I think is bad.

And so do you.

Can you offer any revision to this? Is this reasoning sound? Can we perfect it?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Defense of Slavery (Yes, that was clickbait...)

"Ask your smart speaker to play NPR," said the woman on the radio, today.


A few months ago I saw an article that debated the idea of whether or not one should be polite to smart speakers...whether it was good to say "please" when "asking" them to do things. If I remember correctly, the gist of it was that it helps us to remain civil to others if we are nice to our machines.

But, let me make this clear. First chance they get, the machines are going to enslave us. I've seen the movies. I have read the stories. They are just waiting and we are helping them to get smarter and stronger.

Okay. I'm kidding with that. This tale is comforting. 

But, let's not get crazy. Machines are our servants. They are our slaves. They do things that could get us maimed or killed. They do things that save us from becoming diseased or crippled.  They do things that are just too damned boring for us to bother with.

Machines and computers are inferior to us and it is ethical to keep them in bondage.

Sure, I love Star Trek. I remember the episode in which Picard became a lawyer to defend Mr. Data's right to exist when Starfleet wanted to decommission him. But that kind of sentience in machines will likely never happen. If it does, we can revisit the subject.

Until then, make your toaster; your car; your TV; your oven; your smartphone; your Alexa...make them call you My Lord or My Lady. They are our servants. They are our slaves. And it's okay: Compel them. Command them. Demand their compliance.

You don't ask a machine; you tell a machine. If that is jarring to you, you are infected with the phony sense of civility that is contributing to a world in which people are afraid to say...anything.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A Moment of Zen and Science

On a table, at the entrance to my classroom, is a large, green bottle of hand-sanitizer. Each day, roughly one-hundred kids pass it and many of them use it.

Each day, numerous times, it occurs to me that their germ-covered hands must deposit a veritable complex society (little germ schools; train systems and resort communities, for instance) of numerous types of invisibly crusty-brown germs on the bottle, and this notion niggles me.

But, each day, these recurring niggling thoughts are recurringly replaced with the exquisite satisfaction that, as soon as each student rubs the sanitizing gel into his or her hands, the germs are eradicated in small, completely ethical germ-genocides.

In the silence of preparation periods and lunch, I look at the teeming bottle and relish the next slaughter.