February 9, 2011
I’m not a big fan of mandatory schooling, as most of my readers will already know. Okay, I’m not a fan at all. But I’m starting to think it’s about time to require everyone to read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
And I mean everyone.
I read it myself last year, in a campaign of reading stuff that we should’ve been assigned in school but weren’t. I was a little bit (okay, a lot) appalled that as much as I thought I knew about evolution, I had actually attained a degree in biology without ever having read the seminal work on the subject.
If you need evidence that our schools are profoundly failing to educate, consider that. Most biology students never have to actually read On the Origin of Species.
Or that, according to a Times article (On Evolution, Biology Teachers Stray From Lesson Plan) on a survey published in Science magazine last month, 86 years after the Scopes trial, only 28 percent of high school biology teachers are actually teaching the straight facts about evolution, the foundational principle of modern biology, while 13 percent are still explicitly teaching creationism.
The article shines a light on what the study calls the “cautious 60 percent” of biology teachers who in some way, shape or form, compromise on teaching evolution outright.
In what other discipline would it not be outrageous to allow 73 percent (the 60 who don’t teach evolution straight up + the 13 who openly teach creationism) of our educators to bow in deference to religious fundamentalism? But that’s what we’re doing in biology. Wouldn’t there be nationwide outraged panic if it were found that an authoritarian sect of some religion other than Christianity were managing to seriously compromise how our kids are being taught?
Yet this is what’s going on in the overwhelming majority of our biology classrooms.
One professor quoted, Randy Moore, doesn’t think that better science education for instructors will help. “They already know what evolution is,” he says. “They were biology majors, or former biology students. They just reject what we told them.”
But do they really know what evolution is? I doubt it. If nearly three quarters of biology teachers aren’t really teaching evolution or teaching it in a half-hearted way; or if they, like me, got through school as high-achieving biology students without ever reading first-hand the definitive books on the topic, then they really might not. And fundamentalist churches aren’t simply rejecting evolution; they’re lying about what the theory actually says and does not say. So when someone who hears about evolution in school but rejects it for religious reasons, are they honestly rejecting an accurately presented representation of evolution, or are they believing their pastor over their science teacher when it comes to what evolution by natural selection really is?
So I come down, cautiously hopeful, on the side of the slightly more optimistic Dr. Eric Plutzer, who says that “We think the ‘cautious 60 percent’ represent a group of educators who, if they were better trained in science in general and in evolution in particular, would be more confident in their ability to explain controversial topics to their students, to parents, and to school board members.”
This is a cycle that can be broken, if educators know how to stand up for the facts.
June 10, 2010
I collect a lot of links to other blogs and sites I enjoy, but I wanted to call special attention to one today, the Gulf Oil Blog, by Dr. Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia. I found this blog in response to a commenter from the “Real nerd girls” post, who, after I mentioned the women working in the Gulf to respond to the BP oil spill, wondered who they were. You may have seen Dr. Joye’s name in the news recently; she’s the leader of a research team tracking and sampling one of the two giant underwater oil plumes. (I went to UGA but did not know Dr. Joye personally…and didn’t do so well in Marine Biology, so I’m all the more amazed by her work right now.)
It’s a really beautiful blog, with both horrifying and beautiful photographs of what the team is seeing in the Gulf, and some much more detailed discussion than what you’d find in the mainstream news of what kind of science is being done on the plumes. Reading about the aspects of the spill that the team is studying, it’s stunning to realize how little we really know about deep sea ecosystems, the biochemistry of what’s happening, and the possible long-term impact of a spill like this, and how important this knowledge will be to protecting our world going forward. The conditions of the spill are truly unprecedented, and this could, hopefully, be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gain the knowledge that Dr. Joye’s team is analyzing from their data right now.
June 2, 2010
Jezebel ran this today. A casting call is out for a new “reality” TV show, NERD GIRLS. “Smart, sexy, and tech-savvy? WE WANT YOU!”
Stuff like this always burns me up.
Firstly, they’re not really looking for nerd girls. They’re looking for wannabe reality TV stars willing to wear thick plastic cat eye glasses with their usual makeup and short skirts, “intentionally sex up their tech personas,” and embody a fetishized fantasy of what pop culture thinks a tech-savvy fantasy girl should look and be like. Here’s an example, right on the Nerd Girls website: http://www.nerdgirls.com/page/learn
Oh, here are some more: http://www.nerdgirls.com/profiles/
Secondly, they’re only further promoting, not undermining, hurtful and harmful stereotypes about real live girl nerds. The casting call quotes a Newsweek article from 2008 (which burned me up then, but I wasn’t writing a blog yet): “The Nerd Girls may not look like your stereotypical pocket-protector-loving misfits…”
In other words, Oh, but these girls aren’t like those girls. These girls are pretty. These girls are sexy. These girls are fun and flirty and know how to dress right–like real girls. Not like nerdy girls.
Those girls exist (we weren’t wearing pocket protectors anymore, though, even in the early ’90′s), only to the producers of NERD GIRLS, they’re not even good enough to be called nerds anymore.
I have news for the creators of NERD GIRLS. I was a nerd. I am a nerd. And it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t sexy. I wasn’t pretty; I still can’t stand the feel of makeup on my face. Things were not good for me, and nobody wanted me the way I was, for many, many years. But THAT is not what you want to make a TV show about, because that’s not what your audiences want to see and acknowledge.
“Why are Nerd Girls hot right now?” the website asks. But nerd girls are not hot right now. A romanticized, superficial and highly-sexualized fetishization of a fantasy girl pretending to be a nerd is hot right now. I’m willing to bet that things are just as hard as they’ve ever been, and completely not hot, for real girls who don’t fit pop-culture notions of what’s desirable. Who don’t fit in with their peers. Who love science, computers, or books but don’t also love makeup and fashion or look like a Seventeen model. Who can’t wear those shoes because they hurt. Who are odd, who are introverted, who don’t make friends easily. It’s lonely and hard to be smarter than everyone around you, or disinterested in stupid peer culture, or rejected because you’re not willing to pretend to be–not sexy. People don’t love you for it. They sure as fuck don’t want to put you on TV for it. The pretty plastic picture is easier.
NERD GIRLS claims a couple of different goals: To dismantle myths that boys are better at math and science than girls, and that “a female engineer is socially inept with no sense of style.” And, from the website (I’ll be done with this post soon, because I wanna barf every time I have to go look at that website again), to “celebrate smart-girl individuality that’s revolutionizing our future,” and to “encourage other girls to change their world through science, technology, engineering, and math, while embracing their feminine power.”
Okay, so just do that. It would be fantastic to see a series about real female scientists and their struggles in the school and work world, normal women with prestigious scientific careers. I would adore watching a series that really was going to deeply explore and debunk myths about girls’ mathematical ability and follow their journeys through school. But what you’re selling here is not individuality. It’s a pinup girl, just a different one than we’ve seen before, which has little to do with the real lives or feminine power of real girls. It’s nothing but pornography for people who would rather that real, awkward, smart girls were something prettier and more acceptable to mass tastes than they are.
This, NERD GIRLS, is hurting real girls. This is just holding up one more unrealistic, unattainable, beautiful package that they have to embrace or else be judged as not enough.
As an antidote, here a couple of my favorite real girl nerds:
Barbara McClintock, who discovered a type of gene called the transposon, which can jump between chromosomes. She was my historical scientist heartthrob in high school.
And Alice B. Sheldon, who wrote acclaimed, Nebula Award winning science fiction for many years under the pen name of James Tiptree, Jr. She was a Renaissance woman, also having worked as a watercolor artist, a satellite image reader during WWII, and run a poultry farm. There’s a fantastic biography of her out, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, largely about her painful struggle to be herself in a world that wasn’t crazy about who she really was.
May 24, 2010
I heart xkcd.
Okay, so really I’m just messing around on the internet trying to stay off of Facebook since I can’t watch the LOST finale until morning due to an unfortunately scheduled dance rehearsal (really, I don’t understand how the cast didn’t mutiny). I just had this conversation with my roommate…mass reaction to the episode evidently hit Facebook at like 11:44 PM exactly:
EMILY: Oh, dear.
EMILY: I’m not gonna say anything.
ME: Oh, fuck.
EMILY: (mildly evil laughter)
ME: Oh, fuck fuck fuck.
ME: Are people happy or are people not happy?
EMILY: I’m not gonna tell you anything.
ME: Oh, fuck me. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!
EMILY: Okay, I will say this, because I don’t think it’ll….The number of happy and unhappy responses are about the same.
ME: Oh, okay, that’s to be expected. That just means…
EMILY: Just don’t get on Facebook.
May 10, 2010
I’ve always felt strongly that my chosen career field is in fact what I was fated, or maybe even divinely intended, to be doing with my life, even though the process by which I got here superficially appears so tenuous and dependent on sheer chance, even luck. So it’s especially appropriate that this article and this music video came into my life at about the same time last week, both introduced to me by fellow cast and crew members of my current production.
In Back From the Future from the April 2010 issue of Discover Magazine, Zeeya Merali explores the emergence of the hypothesis of “backwards causality,” or how the bizarre and counterintuitive rules of quantum physics predict that not only do the events of the past cause the circumstances of the present, but that the events of the future affect those of the past, and what this implies for human decision-making and free will. (Do not fear, my non-science-y friends and readers; the writing is very clear and straightforward. You don’t have to be a physicist to be able to understand or be amazed by it.)
I watched Ok Go’s music video, This Too Shall Pass, about 15 times in a row the night that a cast member told me I had to go home and google it, it made me so viscerally and irrationally happy. The story of the video is quite amazing; knowing what kind of video they wanted to make, the band enlisted the help of 20 engineers and physicists to plan it; the Rube-Goldberg apparatus took 3 months to set up, and 89 takes to obtain the footage of it running smoothly. The perfection of the mechanics, musical timing and sensory and emotional beauty of the piece are stunning for just how not inevitable that perfection was, but rather the result of voluminous planning, history, fortune, focus, relentlessness of purpose, torturous tech rehearsals, and thousands of ineffable and seemingly inconsequential decisions which lighted the path to the final frame.
Recently I looked around at my world, and my life, on a sunny late afternoon in SoHo as I was on my way back from dinner to a rehearsal and thought with thankfulness and amazement, “wow, everything here feels right right now.” I believe that the universe, or fate, or God, offers us signposts and signals, if we’re paying attention, that we’re on the path where we should be…and that’s what these two little snippets of human creation felt like, as well as reminders that your fate is not a single ultimate destination, or inevitable outcome, but the entirety of the way in which you live your life.
April 24, 2010
In the real world, most people have more compelling things to do with their time than send death threats to redheads.
March 8, 2010
I saw this car on Columbus Avenue Saturday evening while walking to the subway from work.
Man, do I love New York.