Saturday, May 19, 2012

The internet is NOT the problem, or, how I lost my faith

As some of you know, tomorrow there is going to be a big "Dangers of the Internet Asifa" (Asifa is an assembly or gathering) in NYC where 40,000 ultra orthodox Jewish men will supposedly gather at the Met's stadium to hear about the evils of the internet.  The event has sold so many tickets that the organizers have reportedly rented out another stadium with 20,000 more seats.

Women are not invited to the asifa.  Women are not invited to the overflow stadium. The party line is that they couldn't set up a mechitza (separating wall) in the stadium, and men and women can't be seated without a separation.  That excuse rings a little hollow when the organizers rent an additional 20,000 seat stadium, not so that women can actually attend, but so that more men can attend. If they have the money to rent another stadium, why not one for women instead of 20,000 more yeshiva bochers?  Is it because, perhaps, that the community assumes men are in charge of their households so who cares what women think anyway? Is it perhaps that this community gives knowledge to men and restricts knowledge from women (like the way men learn the Talmud - the basis of Jewish law - and women are not taught it), much in the same way that up until recently the Bible was written in Latin so that the priests could dictate knowledge to their parish without being questioned? Or the way that slaves weren't taught to read so they couldn't read about abolitionist ideas and that man has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? 

Speaking of suppression of information, this rally is supposedly about the dangers of the internet.  The main dangers of the internet are supposedly porn, which supposedly ruins Jewish families. 

Let me tell you a story of a Jewish family I know that was ruined by porn.  There was a frum family I knew that was good friends with my family, and I spent many shabbas meals at their house growing up. They had 4 kids, and from every outward appearance they had a happy family.  Shortly after I moved out of my parents house, I was shocked to hear that they were getting divorced. But when I heard the story of why they got divorced, I was a little confused.

Apparently the reason was porn.  A few years earlier, the wife of the couple had walked in on her husband watching porn.  Now, as far as I know, this was your garden-variety, heterosexual couple having fairly vanilla sex porn.  There were no farm animals or children or a revelation that he likes guys or people being whipped or electrocuted or anything.

So, the woman walks in on her husband watching garden variety heterosexual porn and FLIPS OUT and basically treats it like he was cheating on her with another woman. They go to therapy about it for years. But what is the final line that causes them to get divorced?  The woman catches her youngest son watching porn. And then blamed the husband! Because clearly there is no way that a teenaged boy would ever watch porn, unless it was her husband teaching him about it. What?

So did porn cause this divorce? I don't think so. I think what caused this divorce is that this woman was completely insane and equated porn with an affair. And then she decided to end a marriage that had lasted over 20 years and produced 4 kids because she couldn't stand the fact that her husband had looked at some tits on a screen and thought of this as him cheating.  Instead looking at porn is something that every normal guy looks at, and is not a big deal!  In fact, most women probably look at porn too. I certainly have. My husband looks at porn.  Heck, we've even watched porn together. Does this bother me? No! Why would it? Looking at porn doesn't take away from our sex life, it's not a real person that he's ever going to meet.  It doesn't make him less attracted to me.  I even asked him if it would be ok to write on my blog that he watches porn and he was like "sure, that's ok.  Tell them I watch lots of porn."  Ha!  If anything I'm more curious about what kind of porn he watches, and once when we were living together but not married yet, I went through some of the porn saved on his computer just out of curiosity to see what he was into (and later told him/apologized cause I felt like I was invading his privacy, which it was).  It was fairly boring, I was even a little disappointed there wasn't something more juicy in there.

But is this internet asifa actually about porn? An interesting article in the Jewish Forward about a hassidic internet cafe tells a slightly different story.   Apparently these cafes are popping up everywhere because internet has now been banned in their homes, but some people still need the internet for work/other things every once in a while.  So they have some internet cafes that have been popping up, with filtered internet connections that are "kosher." What is censored at this cafe at the urging of Lakewood Rabbis? Porn of course. But also Yahoo news, because of celebrities.  And those evil social networking sites like facebook (where, god forbid, you might actually have an easy way to keep in contact with your friends and share information). And what else do they mention is now completely censored due to pressure from Rabbis? Blogs.  Meaning if you are sitting in the cafe mentioned in this article and surfing the internet, you are not reading this blog.

They even mention a specific blog that is blocked, Failed Messiah, which is a great blog for finding out information about what Rabbis are doing wrong this week.  One fascinating article there points out that the man who came up with the idea of this internet asifa has been accused of beating children in his care and encouraging other teachers to beat students when he ran a yeshiva.

This seems about a bit more than porn. This seems like censorship of information. Mostly it seems like the Rabbis don't want anyone to know that abuse happens in the frum community, that they are not perfect, and that the leadership is not infallible.  I don't even think that it's the OTD information and arguments against god and the torah that the Rabbis who are pro-censoring the internet are worrying about. I think it's about questioning their authority and finding out that that the emperors - them - have no clothes. In some cases quite literally. 

And they are right to be worried.  Some people in the frum community say that people go off the derech for emotional reasons, not logical reasons. I think that's true to the extent that some people will not even consider the possibility of their Rabbis not being infallible until they have emotionally lost their "faith" in their Rabbis after seeing evidence of their fallibility.  And when you lose faith in the leadership, the rest unravels pretty quickly.

Looking back, that certainly was the way it was for me.  I went off the derech before there was even much of an internet.  When I told my story here about how I went off the derech I focused mostly on things that happened after I turned 15, and the process of extracting myself from the Jewish community. But I did have two very formative experience that I didn't mention then that set me up to be skeptical of rabbis.

Something I'm realizing about myself as I write this - I've always, since a young age (since the first story I'm about to tell) made a distinction between "school rabbis" and "shul rabbis."  School rabbis, the teachers at my school who taught Jewish-specific classes, I felt were not to be trusted. I was highly skeptical of them.  I questioned them and didn't like their answers. But up until the second story, I felt that Shul rabbis, the rabbis who led weekend services and Jewish youth groups, could be trusted, and had my best interests in mind, and had no reason to lie to me.  Perhaps as a result of this distinction, I stopped following some Jewish rules secretly between the two stories- mostly the rules I felt were more chumras/minhag (Customs) than halacha (law) - like I would use electricity on shabbas (cause that's not actually lighting a fire, especially if my computer was on the whole time) but I wouldn't "work," I would play video games. I would eat dairy and fish, and food without hechshers (kosher certification) but with kosher ingredients, but wouldn't eat non-kosher meat or meat and milk together. And I was still a part of the orthodox Jewish community after the first story (although secretly somewhat OTD), but after the second I left the community and the rules entirely.

It wasn't until I went through both stories and lost faith in both school and shul rabbis, that I started really searching for reasons to explain how so many people could believe in the torah if it was actually not true. Which led me to a lot of philosophy and biblical criticism, which led to a compete loss of faith in god and my beliefs developing into that of an atheist. But I didn't believe Judaism and the Torah were true before I looked at any logical arguments for it- and that was because I had lost my faith in the leaders of the Jewish community, in both shul rabbis and school rabbis. Once you lose faith in the leadership, you lose it all the way back. If a Rabbi today is a liar or an idiot, that means Ezra, the person who read the torah after the Jews returned to Israel from Babylon (when they seemingly didn't know it already because they newly understood the words) could have just made the whole thing up.  Or the cohen gadol (high priest) who "Found" the  book of law could have made the whole thing up. (Hat tip to Fence Sitter for that second link.)  Or maybe even Moshe Rabeinu (Moses) made the whole thing up if he ever existed, no one was up there with him on that mountain or when he talked to that "burning bush" or whatever. Maybe even he thought it was true, but he was just crazy and heard voices.

So here are the two stories: The first took place when I was in first grade. I only have a very vague direct memory of this part of the story, but at one point my teacher, whose name was Morah Pearl (I don't know her last name- Morah means "teacher") hit me in class.  I don't remember where she hit me or how hard, I just remember where I was sitting in the class. I told my parents, and they came into the school.  What happened next I remember very clearly - I remember sitting in an office with the principal (Rabbi Goldstein of Yeshiva of North Jersey, now the Dean of that school apparently, hey there rabbi, I hope you're reading this!) and being forced to write a letter apologizing to the teacher about "lying" about her hitting me.  I remember crying and insisting I wasn't lying and being very angry and not understanding why they were forcing me to lie, when I knew I was right and she had hit me and I wasn't lying.  I remember writing the letter anyway, and the Rabbi spelling out words he was telling me to write, because I couldn't write very well at the time and couldn't spell words like "apologize" because I was in fucking first grade.  And I remember after that, in Morah Pearl's class, instead of struggling to read Hebrew and daven (pray) like I had been until that point, I started my first secret "OTD" act - I would only move my lips and pretend to daven (which I did on and off for years).  And I never trusted a school rabbi again.

This happened in first grade (1989ish or thereabouts) and I was very young at the time and was wondering what else was going on there, so a few months ago when me and my dad were emailing back and forth talking about something else I asked him
Speaking of weird old memories, I've recently been thinking about that thing that happened in like first or second grade with morah pearl hitting me in class and then all the drama afterwards....some day we're going to have to talk more about that and you'll have to explain what happened from your perspective, cause I only remember parts of it, but I do remember you having some file folder with notes about it. :)
 His response  speaks for itself
Wow!  Morah Pearl... Yes, I kept a file on all of you.  I labelled them "grief files."
If I recall correctly, they called Mom and me into school, YNJ, thinking that we would gang up on you and make you recant your accusation. They made you out to seem like a pathological liar.  Now, being older and wiser, I know that they were required to report any potential abuse to the state authorities.  They were trying to quash this. Instead, Mom and I took your side and believed you.  (You even wrote a note to the teacher asking her innocently why she would lie about the whole episode when she knew it to be true.) They then took you aside into a private room while distracting us and put more pressure on you to recant.  But you stuck to your guns. We were furious that they would add insult to injury by doing this to you and let them have it. 
Ultimately, it was incidents like that, and [other incident with my brother], that led us to pull all three of you out of YNJ and put you in SAR, which was more progressive and forward thinking.
As bad as you think you had it, I probably had it worse. I was hit pretty often by my rebbies, way until 9th grade when I was taller than them. It's amazing that I didn't convert and become a Muslim or Catholic in spite.  Instead, I became a Rabbi in 2005.  Now, I don't have to be that impressed by other rabbis since I have that title too.
It's amazing that any of us turned out sane.

I think what I remember is when I was "taken into a private room" according to my dad, which is when I was forced to write that letter. And maybe in the end I didn't write it after all as my dad remembers me sticking to my guns? I remember writing it though so maybe I only stuck to my guns verbally...

The second story, which explains how I lost my faith in Shul rabbis, took place many years later when I had just finished up my senior year of high school. I was very involved in NCSY (a jewish youth group) as a teenager and went to events at least once a month, and that was when Rabbi Baruch Lanner was an NCSY rabbi high up in the NCSY hierarchy.   I went to school with his daughters, he taught at my school at one point while I was there (although I didn't take his class), I had talked to him a number of times at NCSY events, and I knew Rabbi Lanner.  Not as well as a boy I was dating at the time did though, since that boy was one of the boys whom Rabbi Lanner had kicked in the balls. For those not familiar with the story here is the original story that blew the whole thing open in which he is accused of both sexually molesting young teenage girls and physically abusing young boys by kicking them in the balls. This went on for several decades, and several other rabbis were told, including a beit din, and yet he continued to work with children, and no one ever reported him to the police, until that story was published by a Jewish newspaper.  Rabbi Lanner was eventually  convicted and went to jail for 7 years and is now out on parole living in Florida last I heard.

But before he was convicted, and after his wife divorced him (and after the story above came out) Rabbi Lanner lived at the house of my parent's rabbi (and at the time my rabbi) for several months. My rabbi, who had a teenage daughter my age and in my class at school who also lived in that house, invited into his home a child molester accused of molesting teenage girls. When the accusations came out, my former rabbi got up on the pulpit and told the congregation that we should give him the benefit of the doubt, and we should always stand behind our fellow jews, even if the evil media falsely accuses him.  And me, sitting in the audience, knowing the boy I was dating had been personally kicked in the balls by that piece of shit Lanner? That's when I lost my faith in Shul Rabbis.  Because I know my Rabbi fully believed he was doing the right thing by defending a fellow jew and helping him in his time of need, which showed how poor his judgement was. And how could I follow someone with such poor judgement?

The problem is not the internet. The internet didn't cause abuse. People did that.  The problem is the abuse, and ESPECIALLY the leadership trying to cover up the abuse. The problem is what they are doing - trying to hide information.  The coverup is often as bad as or worse than the crime, and if I was trying to tell these rabbis how they could prevent people from going OTD I would say - be actual leaders.  Stop covering up horrible abuses, even if it's scary to admit your community isn't perfect.  The abuse is the problem, not the victims coming forward about it. Weed it out.

In my first story, the coverup was worst than the crime. I don't even remember the hit, and I was only 6 or 7 years old when this all went down, but 24 years later I clearly remember being forced to write that letter, I remember writing the words, I remember where the principal was in the room, and I remember my first taste of injustice. Later it was not Rabbi Lanner who made me lose my faith entirely, but it was my own Rabbi inviting him into his home and telling everyone not to believe in his crimes, which I knew were true, that led to a loss of faith.

This covering up shit is destroying faith in Rabbis, which is destroying the Jewish religion. The internet is not the problem, the coverup is the problem, and blaming it on the internet is the worst thing you can do- because to all the kids like I was a kid 12 and 24 years ago, who knew the truth of what really happened, all we see is information being covered up. And if religion can stand on it's own two feet, as religious people claim it can, why try to cover up every other option? Why censor a blog that exposes the wrong doing of Rabbis, and which can help victims network with each other and gain information about other victims coming forward about their abusers?   That actually happened in the case I'm going to discuss in a few paragraphs - an alleged victim saw this guy on the internet and then went and checked him out in public and told people there that this was the same person who had molested him as a child.

If you have to hide blogs reporting on what you are doing by censoring the internet, that's because what you are doing is wrong and you don't want them to find out about it. And the more people wake up to that, the more people see religion for what it really is - a bunch of charlatans doing a giant magic trick and hiding information from the public that isn't convenient to the big fake show they are putting on. And why the fuck should I care what some charlatan dictator says?

Thankfully, some within and without the frum community have started to realize this.  Last week a large group of thousands of chassidim rallied to support and raise money for an accused child molester (typical of the ultra orthodox community).  This particular man stands accused of molesting a 12 year old girl who was sent to him for therapy after questioning religion.  Basically she was sent there for some good ole brainwashing (he's not even a licensed therapist) after starting to go OTD, and she allegedly got sexually molested for several years while her parents paid for the privilege. Or at least that's what he stands accused of - the trial is happening soon I believe.

This case hit particularly close to home, because when I was 17 or 18 my parents took me to a frum family therapist to discuss all my "acting out," which is where I first told them I wasn't religious anymore. And that guy was a creep and kept looking at my legs and saying creepy things like "Well you are a beautiful young lady" when we were alone. I even stared long and hard at a picture of this guy to try to see if it was the same guy (and honestly it could be, I can't really remember what he looked like, since we only went to see him once or twice like 13 years ago).

Anyway, for the first time in my memory, instead of the community gathering solely to support the "Falsely accused child molester," there was a counter protest of about 100 frum and OTD people there to support the victim, the way any rational human being should!

At tomorrow's anti-internet asifa, 385 people have already signed up for a counter-rally called The Internet is NOT the problem to bring awareness to child abuse in the Jewish community. They will meet at the corner of 126th and Roosevelt Ave from 5-8pm to peacefully bring awareness of the institutionalized cover up of child abuse in the Jewish community.

I really really wish I could be there, and part of me really wants to take off on a crazy last minute 12 hour road trip so I could be.  But since I can't, I hope some of you will go in my place.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Exactly 3 years ago, right around this time

Mid-wedding ceremony.  The envelope had our wedding license in it and also had notes on our vows:

[Name], I promise to be your trusted friend, loving companion and equal partner. I promise to love and support you, through life’s successes and failures, for rich or for poor, through sickness and good health. I promise to love you not only despite your flaws, but also because of them. I promise to stand by you through the good times and the bad, for you make the good times all the more enjoyable, and the bad times all the more bearable. I promise to honor and respect you as my husband/wife, now and for the rest of our days.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's day, peaceful life

Yesterday was mother's day and I sent my mom a text and she texted me back saying "thanks for remembering."  First time we've had contact on mother's day for years.

Mothers, man.  I can't tell you what a relief it is that me and my mom are on speaking terms again.  Having a mom that has rejected you sucks, it's like having a mother that's dead except you know she is out there, alive, still not talking to you and disapproving of you.  I went years without talking to her, during which I would still think about her and this situation with her every single day.  Even without talking to her for that whole time, I was still thinking about her all the time.

And it really was like having no mother or a dead parent for several years. She missed so many important things in my life. She missed my wedding, and the fun of wedding planning (although the first time I was engaged she completely took over wedding planning which I found very unfun, so maybe we were better off this way).  She missed me buying my first house, and going on my big interviews, and deciding what job I was going to take and where I was going to live (possibly for the rest of my life).  And I missed recipes and baby pictures and having someone to ask for advice about stupid things that you need moms for.

And I've noticed, since around new years when she came to visit me and B (and since which we've talked about once a month or once every 6 weeks on the phone).  I haven't been obsessing as much.  I haven't been thinking about her as much even.  Knowing that things are better between us just gives me a peace of mind I've been missing for a few years. 

It's nice.  Hopefully this lasts.  I worry that when I have kids, especially if one is a boy and we don't circumcise him (as we fully intend not to do if we ever have a boy) it will make everything crazy again.  The one thing this whole thing has taught me is that my parent's love can be withdrawn for years if they get crazy enough, so not to count on it.

But for now I have a stack full of childhood pictures, my old flute and flute notes/books, and my mom's chicken bbq recipe, none of which I would have gotten if I hadn't called my mom last thanksgiving.  So even if this fragile peace doesn't last, I still have that. :)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Are southerners more assimilated than northerners? And other random thoughts about civilization

A few days ago we had graduation, and afterwards I was hanging out with a colleague of mine who is also a state legislator.  I told him as a politics junkie/someone in a job that could actually maybe lead to a political career for some people (like it did for my colleague!), my secret dream is to run for some kind of local or state level office one day like 15-20 years from now after I'm done having kids and have tenure and all that good stuff.  But that I'm afraid as a jewish atheist professor from the north I could never get elected in my state.  He was like "Well you don't have to tell them you're an atheist, I just say I'm x religion, which is the religion I grew up with, but nobody knows I haven't gone to church in 30 years. So just say you're Jewish and you'll be fine!"

Which is interesting.  It's funny how I spent so many years worried about anti-semitism, but my friend says if I want to be elected I should pretend to be just jewish and not an atheist. I'm sure I don't have to go into the numerous polls that show almost half of americans would refuse to elect an atheist- even less than would elect a gay person or a muslim (In the hierarchy of prejudice).  That's probably due to something similar to what we call "homosocial reproduction" in the workplace- people promote people to positions of power who they think will make decisions similar to themselves, which they think will be people who look like them and have similar belief systems (one of the myriad explanations for why white men tend to be in positions of power is because the people who tend to have the power to promote people also tend to be white men, and they tend to think other white men will make similar decisions as them). One way this can be signaled in the political arena is via religious beliefs (or complete lack of them).

My colleague also had some interesting insights on the difference between how jews are viewed in the north vs. the south- he says in the north he thinks groups like jews/italians/etc, everyone focuses a lot on individual culture and ethnicity (ethnicity definition: A shared culture/history/language/national origin). But down here according to him (and not sure I agree) there is a more "southern culture" that just incorporates everyone pretty much vs. a focus on the culture of individual ethnic groups that you find in the northeast, and most people here (according to him) don't really understand what a jew is other then some relatively obscure group they haven't heard much about, since there aren't very many jewish people around.

Perhaps backing up my colleague's theory, this is a map that shows county by county the biggest group of people in that county by proclaimed national origin (from the 2000 census, bigger version here).  In the northeast there are clear groups or what we call "enclaves" of italians, irish, german, english, etc.  But in the south?  Every county is either African-American or just plain ole' "American."  (that's the beige color) And these are definitely not first/native American kind of Americans. 

 So the Northeast, more so than the South (and by "the south" I'm referring to the Southeast, as the Southwest is a whole other kettle of worms), seems to emulate my old soc 101 professors adage that "We are not a melting pot, we are more like a salad bowl, with each ethnic group retaining it's distinct flavor but still 'dressed' with the same American popular culture dressing"

I think if this is true it's probably because the big ethnic cultural groups we see in the northeast (jews, italians, irish, dominicans, haitians, pennsylvania dutch, puerto ricans, etc.) just don't have a critical mass of people down here- most people here are either european mutt white protestants of some kind or african american protestants of some kind (or interracial).  That is to say, most people here are not new immigrants and do not retain a specific ethnic identity related to the specific nation their ancestors came from- we do have a significant population of Latino immigrants that is growing, but other then that, most people around here probably have had families that have been in the US for hundreds of years. While the northeast, especially the NYC area where I grew up, has always been an area of recent immigrants, and many of the people in that area have been here 130 years or fewer.  

In fact we can see classic patterns of assimilation in my very family history that may explain why places like the south may have fewer ethnic enclaves and less of an emphasis on ethnic cultural practices than the northeast. My grandparents and father on my dad's side were new immigrants to this country. My dad is technically an immigrant but he moved here when he was around 3 or 4 years old so he does not necessarily have the same characteristics of someone who immigrated at an older age. So we have first generation of immigrants- and they landed in NYC.  My late paternal grandfather was a NYC cab driver and radiator repair man, and my late grandmother did piece work for a textile company and worked in a sweatshop for a while, so they were typical immigrants working low paying jobs and struggling to make ends meet.  My mom's side's history is a little less known to me, but I think either my great grandparents or maybe their parents immigrated here from Romania and I'm pretty sure my great grandparents were also low wage workers in NYC.   Then, the next generation became professionals and moved out to the suburbs of NYC- on my mom's side my grandfather used the GI Bill after serving in World War 2 to pay his way through college and law school and bought a nice house near the beach in one of the outer boroughs of NYC. My dad got a PHD and eventually moved to NJ.

So poor and in NYC, professional class and in the suburbs, and now is my generation- where we are moving further away. I moved down south.

Classic pattern- people arrive on the coasts in major urban centers, the next generation moves to the suburbs, and then after that people start moving inland, to the in between places.  Why? Well one major reason is they are cheaper, and later generations do not feel the need to gather in immigrant enclaves the way earlier generations (and sometimes their children) do, because they are more adept at assimilating into mainstream US culture. Another classic reason is flight from immigrants- when even newer immigrants come in, the old immigrants feel threatened by the new group of immigrants who are seen as different from them.

Even our language patterns follow the classic immigrant pattern.  My paternal grandparent's first language was yiddish and they also spoke polish, german, hebrew, and english. My dad understood yiddish but can't speak it fluently (his parents spoke polish in front of him when they wanted to keep a secret and yiddish to my dad when they wanted to keep a secret from us kids).  Me? I know a lot of yiddish words, and can understand the random phrase here or there, but definitely can't understand what's going on when people talk yiddish around me.

Anyway one thing I think we as the United States does better than other countries, which makes me super proud to be an American, is the diversity. America truly is a nation of immigrants at this point, and unlike those silly European countries where they get all threatened over new immigrants because THEIR ancestors have been on that land for 2000 years or something, we are the place where everyone comes to all mix together. In a way that can be a detriment- I think part of the reason it seems nearly every highly developed country has socialized medicine except the United States is that in those European countries (which make up the bulk of the most highly developed countries), everyone feels like they are related to each other kinda, the way all jews say hi to other jews because you feel like going back 1000 years you probably have a grandparent in common or something. That gives you a sense of social obligation to each other and to your community that perhaps we don't have enough of in this country.

But at the same time, the reason I think we are known as a country of innovators is because of the strength of our diversity- we have all sorts of different ideas from all sorts of different cultures meeting up in one place, and when you have that many different types of perspectives, it leads to innovative ways of seeing things vs. when you have one group that all come from the same perspectives.   The trick is to be able to harness the power of that diversity while also being able to foster a sense that we are all in this together, which is essential to a civilization.

In that second respect I think we are not doing a good enough job right now.   I keep hearing people sayings things like "why should I have to pay taxes to educate your kid, if you decided to have a kid then you can pay for them!" "Why should my taxes pay for people to go to college for free or pay off student loans, I had to pay for my school and I worked my way through it myself!" (Usually the people saying this went to a public state university that was heavily subsidized by taxpayers and which therefore cost a lot less than public universities do today, due to a systematic disinvestment in public universities by state governments over the past several decades).

It is essential to have mass education, to teach everyone the basis of certain skills, in order to have more great people. In Detroit, before the whole city went to hell, they used to be known for all the musicians coming out of that city. Why? It wasn't because of the water or something. It was because they had an exceptionally strong music program in their public schools, in which every child was taught to play an instrument. If you teach everyone to play an instrument, you will have more great musicians emerge. If you teach everyone math and engineering, you will have more great engineers and number crunchers and mathematicians emerge.  If everyone plays sports as kids, you will have more great athletes.  If everyone is taught to paint in school, more great artists will emerge. If Picasso had never picked up a paintbrush, we wouldn't have his art.  If I had never taken a sociology class, who knows what I would be doing right now.

Yes there are always exceptions to this rule, but in general, if someone can't communicate effectively, they can have the most amazing idea in the world and we will never hear about it. The more people we bring up to the novice level in a variety of different areas, the more people can rise above it.And not just the "STEM" (science/technology/engineering/math) fields either which are all the rage in the government's talk of education right now- yes it's important that we are brought up to have a basic competency in those areas that surpasses today's level, for exactly the reasons I just talked about- the more people who rise to that basic level, the more great innovations we will have in that area. But the problem comes when educators focus ONLY on that area to the detriment of others, when we have more and more standardized tests testing memorized knowledge and fewer and fewer art and music programs, which I see as an increasing trend- civilization is not made by mindless number crunchers who can memorize information and spit it back to you, we also need thinkers and politicians and artists and musicians and yes, even athletes.  These are where great ideas emerge and are presented in a way that can bring about change. We also need to learn history and political science and yes, even sociology, psychology, and philosophy/logic so that we have a nation of educated adults, because without an educated public that can recognize the difference between evidence and opinion, between logic and shenanigans, and between the truth and what people wish was the truth, a representative democracy is a sham that's run by whichever huckster that can pull the wool over the most people's eyes.

I once read something about how you can track the rise and decline of great civilizations by the quality of their art. When the art is great, that's when the civilization is great- and you can see in places like ancient Rome/Greece, there is a "peak point" to their art, and after that things get tacky looking and repetitive and it seems unoriginal and like progress stops being made. I think that's because the quality of education causes the quality of a civilization- when education is great, everything is great, and civilization peaks. When education begins to decline, civilization begins to decline with it. That's why things like the the slaughter of the public school system in Philadelphia, along with widespread rising class sizes, the hugely increasing price of a college degree, and the increasing emphasis on memorization of material and formulas for standardized tests vs. emphasis on critical thinking make me worry for the future.   In fact the other day when they were retiring space shuttles all over the place, that made me think- is this an augor? Are we on a down swing? Has our civilization peaked and one day we'll be talking about how back in the good days we could send people to outer space (and when I tell my kids that, will they say "no way! really?")? Or can we turn things around for the better? And how?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Summertime and the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high

School has officially ended for the semester! I won a grant to get paid to do research over the summer (woo!) and start meeting with my research assistant a week from next Tuesday. Meanwhile I'm taking a 4 day weekend this weekend before I have to go in for a workshop all day next Tuesday, and may or may not come in to work another day that week to work on some other research projects. I'm making good progress on several projects and hope to submit 2 articles to journals and another to a conference by mid June.

I talked to my mom this week for her birthday for about half an hour. She gave me a recipe for bbq chicken wings for a party I'm having for my own 30th birthday in a few weeks- my first "grown up" party where we will have a bunch of colleagues over with their spouses and kids, along with a few other people including hopefully a fellow OTD Blogger who lives near bye and a few profs from other departments/universities. . The last party I had (besides my wedding) was my 25th birthday party and that involved a bunch of grad students and friends and beer and a crappy grill we found in our backyard. This one will involve great food and birthday cake and an actual real grill and real lawn furniture vs. sitting on a short wall in an alley full of broken glass and in seats in a tiny backyard that had lots of poison ivy!

Meanwhile while talking to my mom we figured out my party is actually on shavuot, ha! But she didn't really say anything. Nor did she say anything mean or snarky when I told her (when talking about my upcoming party) that I asked everyone to bring a side dish for my party- which clearly will not be kosher. No, she actually was like "that's a great idea, cause side dishes are always such a pain to get together, that way you only have to focus on the main dishes!"

So yeah.  That seems to be going well.

Today I transplanted the little pepper plants I grew from seed into the ground outside, I've been hardening them off for the past week. I also planted green beans and jack o lantern pumpkins in the backyard.  Tomorrow I'm planting the potatoes, and maybe I'll take some pictures.  It's been in the high 80s and 90s the past week or so, summer has come to the south.

My party is in a few weeks, and my (otd) brother and his girlfriend are coming to visit the week before that on the way back from a motercycle trip to New Orleans (my brother is a biker and has traveled all over the east coast/the southeast on his bike). On the day of my actual 30th birthday B and I are going to wake up early, take the dogs, and drive several hours to an island right off the coast that is dog friendly, and spend the day on an island beach before driving back home at night. Trashy novels of some type may be involved. Or maybe a that Barabara Erenreich book that's been on my nightstand for months because I never have any energy to read for fun during the school year with all the reading I do for school.

It's summer!  Time for research, and relaxing, and not having to speak in front of a crowd again (with the exception of a conference here or there) until late August!