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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Would you like to auto-recycle all your old items now?

When you’re interested enough in something, and sense that there’s so much depth to plumb and you know so little, the beginning of the pieces coming together, for you at least, can seem like a revelation. Like, maybe this stuff is actually not only the key to my life, the way out and up and on to my full potential (which might not be much, but at least it’s an honest evaluation), but it might explain a while lot more. It might explain the entire span of evolution, of the rises and falls and ultimate future demise of human civilization, and even why Trump got elected.

For you, the defining paradigm might be electrolyte balance. Or maybe a macrobiotic or paleolithic diet. Maybe it’s mindful living, or a growth mindset. Maybe keeping your home fires burning, or an attitude of trust and obey, for there’s no other way (not likely, if you are reading this). I respect your right to choose your own lens through which to see the world, but the one I’m trying on is the biology, my love.

The genes we carry want to carry on. That’s by definition, not necessarily an indication of divine purpose (though I don’t rule out the possibility). According to Richard Dawkins, the ultimate unit of life and the driver of all survival instinct is the gene. How genes operate is by building bodies around them made of cells, in myriad forms which carry them into all kinds of environments so they can absorb resources–atoms and molecules to be made into genes and cells and body copies to carry them around. Doesn’t even matter which kind of body they build, as long as it efficiently does the work of replicating those genes and spreading them around. That can be by reproduction, but also by being a host for the replication of other cells and bodies such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses, or food–a quick remix of ingredients, of another beast carrying around similar genes. It’s not the species that’s trying to survive, or the population, or family, or individual, but the genes inside them all.

So if a species which has so far been successful at allowing the replication of the genes within it starts to threaten the replication of the exact same genes in other species (such as chimps, dogs, frogs, or bacteria, all of which are carrying around many of the same genes in varying degrees) it would make sense that the other carriers of the genes might take it down in some way. Likewise, if a carrier gets off on a side track of thinking and behaving as if replication isn’t so important after all, that it’s the life of the spirit, or culture, or just the individual me, myself and I, that matters, then again, the genes influencing that carrier either directly (from within) or indirectly (in the ecosystem) should interfere and go to plan B.226.3alpha, which is, let that species self-destruct, releasing its genes into the parasites, symbionts, decomposers and predators better equipped to do the job. Fire and the gnashing of teeth, start again.

A bit more about the curbing of reproduction: If the evolutionary success or fitness of a species is defined as its ability to sustainably reproduce, why would a population ever stop trying to be fruitful and multiply? Why is it that as humans become more “educated,” they are less likely to try for large families or engage in polygamy, and more likely to use contraception, delay childbearing, or choose not to have children at all? Not, as in the bees and other species, to take care of the head couples’ brood because it ensures the survival of the genes we share in common. Why would genes, which by definition are replicators, allow the formation of thoughts and behaviors that lead to the reduction of reproductive behaviors?

History shows that it’s the most educated and technologically advanced that use, waste, and pollute the most resources, so it’s definitely in the interests of genes to curtail the reproduction of such beings. And we thought it was a sign of higher culture to exercise choice over our own bodies, and of progress to embrace a diversity of types of love, even if they aren’t centered around procreation! Instead, it could be an adaptation to the rise of extra-destructive variations in the human genome, a function of genes that are cutting down on a bad model. Maybe a subsistence life with a good deal of natural mortality might be better for the survival of the fittest. A cultural agenda focused on the eradication of poverty, disease, and homelessness may be at odds with the agenda of the genes within our bodies and in the bodies around us, from the tiniest virus to the dearest friend or relative.

I don’t want that to be true. I’ve got attached to those aspects of my culture and beliefs. Dawkins says we can “rebel” against our genes, the main example being contraception. I’m not convinced—I think Dawkins is being inconsistent. I think he just wants to believe that being an intellectual is higher on the evolutionary chain of fitness than being the head of a polygamous cult in the desert or one of the throngs of wiry street urchins of the inner city that grows up to leave broods of unwashed, unloved children staring through laundry hanging in urban alleys crawling with rats, disease, and criminals. Just like he wants to believe that there is a divine and benevolent creator, though this belief is differently expressed, as a reckless, headlong plunge into logical analysis of biological evidence to the apparent contrary. I can relate to that.

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2016 in Ideas, science

 

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Ten things I don’t want to read in real estate listings

I just read a listing that had at least five of these irritating, misleading, or otherwise off-putting descriptions. I know the list would be different for others, but here’s mine:

10. Wide open plan

If I lived by myself, I might like to keep an eye on the kitchen while I’m kicking back by the fire or working in my office nook. But with a family of six, how is a person to carry on a private conversation, with meaningful hand signals? And I don’t want to to be faced with the mess some snacking teen made in the kitchen while I’m trying to work on lesson plans at the dining table. Give me a few different sizes of rooms with walls between, mostly with doors, some locking. Then getting together for meals or conversation is a special event, not an obligation.

9. Exclusive

Makes me feel excluded, which I find very triggering. Or, if it’s only exclusive of burglars, then “security system” would be a better choice of words.

8. Soaring (vaulted) ceilings

I don’t want to soar in my own home, or hang large chandeliers, or even seagull mobiles. For that feeling, I go to a cathedral, an airport, or a gymnasium. Lots of things need to soar there. In a house it just creates a draft through wasted space, with occasional shafts of dust-filled light stabbing through.

7. Immaculate

What does that have to do with anything, except the price of housekeeping, landscaping, and power washing services, plus a good home stager? I’m not buying those. Or did you mean morally immaculate?

6. Stunning

This is not a positive emotion to have about a house, its grounds, or the price. Trust me, I know.

5. Over sized

Oops–you built it too big to be practical or comfortable, so I can see why you want to sell it. Too hard to heat, to clean, or to locate your cell phone, family members, or pets in. But why turn off potential buyers before they even take a look?

4. Be the envy of…

To tell you the truth, I think about this quality a lot. Except, it’s a test of whether I would be ashamed to live in a certain house, not whether it’s desirable. I don’t want to buy a property that would evoke sinfully covetous thoughts in others. I don’t want to be a symbol of  the inherent social inequity that can arise from being born into privilege or living a self-centered, materialistic life. I also don’t want to use my possessions to compensate for a deficient sense of self worth.

3. Minutes to everything

Two minutes to the on ramp and convenience store, or to the metal and glass recycling sorter services? Five hundred minutes to a grocery store or the nearest school? Really, that’s not even useful information.

2. One of a Kind

That’s just way too open to interpretation. It fits the underground concrete bunker, the condo designed for boarding stray cats, and the converted lunatic asylum.

1. Well appointed

Not because it isn’t a good, useful expression that replaces a longer one, but because I had to look it up to make sure it didn’t mean “fancy enough for doctors and lawyers to entertain in.”

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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New classroom setup and projects

Still living the privilege of working with fine professionals who are also amiable and fun, and serving students particularly willing to learn and unusually respectful to us and one another. Still wondering if it’s a long term calling, or a place on the road toward working more with at risk youth. Still working hard to teach five different subjects and thankful for ample planning time. I have my new classroom painted (covered the institutional pasty yellow with sky blue to counter the lack of windows), chairs, projector, and whiteboards set up. It’s so much easier to teach in one room all day, no more carrying laptop, text, and paperwork back and forth.

Students are really getting the hang of things, incidences of failure to hand in assignments are falling, people are doing corrections to bombed quizzes or homework they didn’t understand. They are grasping the connection between practice, participation, perseverance, and success (mostly reflected by grades, in the math classes). If I have the same students for a second math next year, they should be able to roll with my system pretty well, as I will have  tweaked it to align with what they need to accomplish and what is practical in the time given. I hope that all the quieter students who need help will realize I’m eager to give it, and that extra tutoring is worth the time spent.

In environmental science, we’re getting into an experimental design on decomposition. In the process of learning how to properly design a controlled experiment, I plan to cover the cycling of matter, the chemistry and biology of decomposition, municipal solid waste management, and the effects of solid waste on the environment. Also connecting soon with a study of current waste production at school and home, and problem solving around that. I started too late last year to do much at the other school, but even the “reluctant learners” there were pretty enthusiastic about cutting down on waste, and all but two took turns at weighing bags of garbage. I’m thinking it would be interesting to post the daily and weekly amount of the different types of waste we generate to raise awareness first. I’m sure the students will have good ideas.

In biology, I decided that we were getting seriously bogged down in the chapter about the nature of Homo sapiens, so I skipped forward to look at the essential characteristics of all living things. I gave a project borrowed from last year’s colleagues and adapted it. After choosing a species of organism (from an assigned category) and researching it, the students are to create posters illustrating and explaining how their species show evidence of each essential characteristic. They can use any reasonable list of characteristics, and since the list in the text specifically names evolution in terms of common ancestry and species evolving into other species, I gave the option of focusing on shorter term evolution within populations as they adapt to changing environmental conditions. Nods all around.

I think the common ancestry idea is pushed a little too heavily, anyway, without even offering a definition of “species,” so Bible believers just assume it’s the same as the biblical “kinds’ (Hebrew min), which they are taught were created distinct by God and don’t morph into one another. Sure would be interesting to go into a discussion of that with the Hebrew text and commentaries and all, but, oh, no, not in public school! I really think the teaching of evolution should start with the evidence right in front of us not the overarching theory that took years to emerge once Darwin and Wallace got to thinking about their findings. Darwin was certainly bothered by it all, and I’m sure had a real conflict between his desire for intellectual honesty and his traditional biblical teachings. As it was for Darwin, evolutionary theory is a great candidate for inquiry based learning, but in the text, which is usually so oriented that way, the end findings are stated up front before fossils, or Darwin, or comparative embryology, or DNA, are even mentioned.

I’m looking forward to seeing the visuals some of these artistically talented/practices students will create. Now that we have lots of wall space of our very own, they’ll be a nice addition to the decor. When I saw the other teachers punching staples through the expensive vinyl wallpaper, I knew it would be okay to cover the place with posters and bulletin boards. I even put up the evolutionary tree of life poster, reminding myself that I need not, should not, feel apologetic about it. And hoping that if anyone does object, they will come directly to me and have a conversation. The principal has alluded to the fact that he would always advise that if parents have issues, and that he has my back as to teaching public school biology.

To tell the truth, from our school website, you’d never know it is a public and not a Christian school. I wondered if I should mention the presence of two very obvious Christian signage items on the front page of our website, but being new, I don’t want to be the one who tries to scratch the Christian image–I would probably get surprised stares from all but maybe one of the staff, and rumors might get about to the parents that I was anti-Christian. Still, I do think we should make it known that the school is a public school and welcomes all homeschooling families. The name even sounds private school-ish. I wonder how the non-religious students are feeling (if, indeed there are any decidedly non-religious, or even less theologically conservative).

 

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2016 in Education

 

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