Saturday, March 24, 2018

Girls Can Do Math and Science

I recall the first episode of the revolutionary television program The Wonder Years that premiered after the 1988 Super Bowl.  Somewhere in a box stored away I have recordings of every episode on VHS tapes that I will most likely never watch.  It is probably my favorite television show because it took me back to my childhood, though I was a few years younger than the main character, Kevin Arnold.  There were many nights when I could picture myself in that show.  

Another character in the show that made a big impression on fans was Kevin’s girl friend, Winnie Cooper, played by Danica McKellar.  Many of the storylines took viewers through the joy,  pain, and awkwardness of young adolescent boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, as well as the culture classes that took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  For many of us that remember televisions shows from our youth (or younger adult years!), we sometimes have those moments wondering whatever happened to some of the stars in those shows we were dedicated to.  In the case of Danica McKellar, she continues to act periodically, but she has also become a renowned mathematician and advocate for math education, particularly for girls.  She has published a number of books about math that can be found on her website  She also recently wrote a story that appeared on about math education that I think you will find interesting and have included below: 

I Want Girls to Learn Math and Science — and Their Own Self-Worth — Despite Stereotypes

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I Hated The Election of 2016

When I started writing this blog I purposely decided to avoid talking politics.  There is enough of that conversation that invades our daily lives.  Yes, my political leanings come through in many of the articles I have written, but I have worked hard to temper them as much as possible and still make the point I wanted to make without offending and with the purpose of getting people to think and reflect.  Today’s article is going to take politics head on, and I am not going to temper my opinions and beliefs.  I think you can see that based on the fact that I have used a very strong word in the title, yet I hope that you will read what I have to say with an open mind.  

I bring this all up because of where we are at in our country over a year-and-a-half after the new President took office.  What took place in that election has only been magnified since, and I think it scary how horrible people are treating one another in our country.  The lack of civility in the election, both the primary and general ones, was disgusting.  At the time I often asked myself and others, “Is this who we have become?”  In the months since, it would appear that is so.

One of the definitions for civil is “courteous.”  Another is “public.”  Until 2016, political campaigns were for the most part civil.  Oh there were instances of some dirty tricks here and there, but in terms of the manner in which candidates addressed each other, it was almost always courteous and largely respectful.  I remember when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Benson put Dan Quayle in his place with a sharply worded comment, but stated in a respectful manner.  We expected our leaders to be courteous in their public comments, and when one deviated from that, they were generally heavily criticized by colleagues, the public, and the media.  In this country there has been a strong sense of decorum, perhaps not quite to the extent of England, but people did not mind if you had a difference of opinion as long as you debate in a respectful manner.  However, that has changed and I find it reprehensible.  

For this lack of civility I point my finger right at the POTUS.  During the campaign prior to the Republican primary he made outlandish statements, calling a female opponent ugly and make untrue disparaging remarks about one’s father being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy.  He used belittling nicknames for opponents, such as Little Marco, Low-energy Jeb,  and Lyin’ Ted.  Incredibly, once he won the GOP nomination he took it up a number of notches, referring to Crooked Hillary and “Pocahontas" Elizabeth Warren in unbecoming terms.  Replaying video of him talking about grabbing females by their genitals and mocking individuals with handicaps are yet the tip of the iceberg of vulgar and volatile comments he made.  And, he has continued with his tweets and pronouncements.  He has called a football player that was expressing his 1st Amendment rights a “son of a bitch” and mocked individuals who have different opinions.  

Of great concern to me is that this has given license to others to do the same.  Sure, all of us have made denigrating or derogatory comments about people, generally in private or in the company of friends.  Some of the things I have heard close friends say about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are certainly not appropriate to say in public, and I do not recall political leaders saying those things in a public forum.  But now we have public personalities doing that.  LeBron James has called the President a Bum.  Other people have tweeted that he is an “asshole.”  There is no filter, and that has trickled down in our day to day life.  People believe they can say whatever they want without repercussions, or if there are, then it’s almost like they come out swinging!

The 1st Amendment is perhaps the most understood part of our Constitution.  Our freedom of speech is not an all out say-whatever-is-on-your-mind-whenever-you-want-to-say-it guarantee!  I have made this statement a number of times over my career: With freedom comes responsibility!  I try to impress that on students when we have conversations about the newfound freedom many of them have in high school.  Teenagers love to argue!  Every parent knows that, and the smartest among us know that the adult never wins that argument!  That said, when it comes to issues where people are speaking their mind or saying what needs to be said, there is a responsibility.  There are laws that govern speech, and actions like libel and slander prevent people from going off and saying whatever they want regardless of what harm it might cause.  But without reaching those levels of responsibility, there is something called civility and respect.  When our nation’s leaders fire obscene and vile comments at others, it is natural that Joe Public is going to do the same.  

I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between this “new” practice of spewing hateful or disgusting things and high school students becoming more emboldened with what they say.  Teenagers have always pushed the boundaries.  That said, when they hear or read what is being said by adults who are public figures with seemingly little consequence, I cannot help but believe it leads them to do the same.  What we have found is that when confronted, more often than not the teenager sees nothing wrong with what they said.  A classic example was when I confronted a girl about making a derogatory comment about another girl that begins with the letter b.  Her response was “Well, she is and I’m not sorry I said it!  If you knew her, that’s what you would call her too!”  Unfortunately it has become acceptable  in common public conversation to refer to people in such a derogatory manner.  Thank you Mr. POTUS!