Thursday, May 19, 2016

An Impolitic Convocation of Words, words, words

I was speaking with the wife yesterday, bemoaning my ability to maintain a weight of which I can be proud. She said I looked fine. She might be right, but I don't see it. I'm constantly 5 pounds over what I want to be.

"The thing is," I said, "I am trying to have a girlish figure and ANY figure you have is, by definition, a girlish figure. It's just not fair!"

She gave me the kind of laugh that spouses of so many years give when the actual message is "I'll laugh if you promise to stop talking, NOW."

But the thing is, if we want to talk about privileges inherent in language, we have to start acknowledging that some groups have an automatic advantage. Women don't just have a lock on their figure. They also have girlish laughter and their own mystique. I can never have that mystique. And definitions? There are Broad definitions, but no male ones! And Flicks? Chick flicks. No male movies. Lady fingers, Dame Fortune, Lass-o's and (imported from England), Bird feed.

And they aren't the only ones -- different professions have co-opted certain things and we are forced to pay homage to them. Fireman's carry! Do I get a carry? No. Secretary hand (that's an old fashioned term for proper handwriting). Principal investor! Why should we have this inherent bias which gives principals the advantage linguistically? Where are the teacher investors? And golfer Gary Player gets his own piano!

Languages are complex and dynamic. They don't always mean what they say or say what they mean. Slangs, figures of speech and conventions drift in and out and it might serve us better to work on speaking and writing clearly, and working to understand ideas instead of grasping at straws to be offended by the words. Don't confuse the medium with the message or you will be offended by baby oil.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A boot to the Education

Today, I celebrate my ignorance. Yes, I work in education, and yes, I think that I think that education is important, but there is so much stuff that I don't know and yet I get along just fine. Before you say anything (anything at all), I know that Paul Reiser discussed the issue of not knowing things in 1986. But he seemed troubled by it. I refuse to be.

A student asked me today, "What's the difference between a primary and a caucus?" I told him I had no idea but that in the real world, it isn't really an issue. Most of politics is the same with me. Unless Marvel is planning on making a movie about them, I intend to ignore Super Delegates. And math? Yes, it is nice to know basic algebra because I often have to solve for X, or some other letter, but pre-calc? For that, if it ever comes up, I'll use a pre-calculator. I'm joking of course -- it will never come up.

Does anyone not currently in the field of not having any friends really consider it important to balance redox equations? Spoiler alert: redox has nothing to do with the color red or oxen (or cookies!) so who cares? If I drop a brick, does it not fall? When do people worry about how fast it will fall? Are my mitochondria any less mighty if I have no idea what they do? (This one, though, I remember...they are the powerhouse of the cell. I never understood what that meant, but that's the phrase.)

Surely someone could say the same for English -- does anyone really need to know what motivated Holden Caufield? Does anybody really care? No. The truth is that English teachers think it is nice if you recall the plot and such of a book you read 10 years ago but the goal is in the skill at being able to approach any OTHER text. But does learning about co-secants (who apparently share top billing with other co-secants) equip me with the skills to confront any whatever it is that co-secants do or are? I really have no idea.

This is not to say that I don't know stuff. I know a ridiculous amount of stuff. More properly, I know an amount of ridiculous stuff. I know trivia and a collection of random facts and bits about many different fields of learning. I can contribute fascinating (and sometimes true) minutiae about disciplines ranging from Astronomy to Zoology with special stops at Theology and Cynology, and the occasional Nephology. These are what have gotten me through the social situations that confront me. These are what have shaped my success, not knowing who participated in the Hundred Years War [hint, not the Hundred-yearsians. I know, right?]

We should replace our entire curriculum with Trivial Pursuit competitions, almanacs and reference books. We have to push the kinds of things people need to know, like why some pencils are number 2 and others aren't. Because that comes up all the time. Celebrate the ignorance by realizing that knowing how to drive does not require understanding how the engine works.

So the next time you are kicking yourself because you suddenly need to compute a factorial before you put that quarter in the meter realize that that never happened. Factorials are stupid.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy just day

I don't like "days" -- special days set aside to codify what should be a constant mantra, "Be nice to people and overtly recognize how great everyone is, consistently." I don't like birthdays, Fathers' Day, Mothers' Day, Siblings' Day, Grandparents' Day, and the loads of other days made to fill the coffers of card makers and assuage the guilt of people who forgot to be nice the other approximately 364 days of the year.

This rankles people (sometimes, people gotta get rankled, I always say). People say, "Sure we love ______ every day, but isn't it great to set a day aside to celebrate?" I don't celebrate oxygen on one particular day -- I work hard to be conscious of my addiction to it every day. I think isolating one day implicitly gives us permission not to pay attention the rest of the time. Yes, we still love and respect and all that, but we don't remember because it isn't the "right" Day to say we remember. I don't like that. I want to remember every day. I want to say "thank you" as frequently as I can. I want to shout out that I am in awe of what people do all the time. I don't want to define a 24 hour period when one person or group gets respect and then take him, her or them for granted when midnight rolls around again.

So, yes, my mom is awesome. She did a great job with me which allows me to ignore her performance when it comes to my siblings. My wife is the greatest. She birthed children and still had time (and inclination) to put up with me. My sister and sisters-in-law are models of motherly skill and compassion, and my other mom-type relatives, and friends and such are moms without compare. But a day? What about tomorrow? Would it be wrong to make breakfast in bed for someone next Sunday? Shouldn't I buy a card, or take someone out for a meal in November also?

People who are incredible everyday need to be acknowledged, thanked and put on a pedestal every day. If I am not already doing that then no cutesy post or card or quick phone call should make a difference. Here's to moms. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week and throughout the year.

So on Sunday, May 8, I want to do what I should do every day -- celebrate everyone. And I intend to do the same tomorrow. Maybe if we all got into the habit of seeing and celebrating the best that is all around us, all the time, the world might be a happier place.