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Student Perception of Speed as Affected by Diction: how charged words, as opposed to academic and neutral language, heighten emotions, create bias and skew judgement with specific emphasis on outliers

It has been a long time since I have done a study. 1988, I think. Designed one or run one. A long time since I have written one, and I know I have made many errors here.

I have been telling my students that words matter. Words create perception and they can be used to create bias, emotion, action or inaction. We study appeals to pathos, logos, ethos, kairos.  Loaded language and logical fallacies. But I often sense they do not believe me.  So I thought I would put them in the middle of their own proof.

The result was many open eyes and one student who insisted he should be filming me as a TED talk.

The results are below.

 

Design
This study is designed to see if using a “charged” term, non-academic diction, can change perception of external events. Such language can be used to create bias or emotional states and it was my desire to demonstrate this to English honors and Advance Placement English Language and Composition classes. If the hypothesis is correct, this can demonstrate how “charged” terms can be used to control the overall responses of populations.

I hypothesis that using terms with a “positive charge” will increase perception of speed in a filmed vehicular accident.

Population
Three classes of tenth grade honors English students were tested, with populations of 18, 19 and 21. All classes were studying the same curriculum and in the same program at the same location in their curriculum and instructed with the same materials, methods and instructor.

Material
Each class was shown a five second film of a vehicular accident or a motorcycle striking a car that had just pulled out of a parking spot, as filled from a helmet camera. The film showed the motorcycle increasing in speed, with the sound of the engine extant, and striking the broadside of the car. It was made obvious, in the film, the rider was not hurt appreciably hurt, and there were no signs of injury in the film.

Method
Each class was asked to estimate the speed of the collision and to write the number, in miles per hour, on a note, but each class was asked using a slightly differently worded query. The control group was asked the question in academic diction devoid of purposefully charged language.  A second group was asked the same question with a word replacement or a neutral for a word with a “positive charge.”  The third group had a query with two words carrying a “positive charge.”

  1. What was the speed of the vehicle when the accident occurred?
  2. What was the speed of the vehicle when it smashed into the other?
  3. How fast was the vehicle when it smashed into the other one?

The notes were collected and the data compiled for mean, median and mode as well as lowest and highest outliers.

 

Population 1

27 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 4 mph. Highest Outlier 53 mph.

 

Population 2

33 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 12 mph. Highest outlier 55 mph.

 

Population 3

38 mph average speed estimate

35 median

35 – 40 split for the mode, with four estimates for each

Lowest outlier 18 mph. Highest outlier was 80 mph.

Results
The language with the least emotional charge, the academic diction, resulted in the lowest perceived mean speed as well as the lowest outliers.

The language with one added “charged” word increased the mean perceived speed 22.22% 33 mph over the control group
The median and mode did not shift but the lowest and highest perceived speed increased by 200% and 3.78% respectively over the control group.

The language with two “charged” words increased the mean perceived speed by 40.74% to 38 mph over the control.
The median increased 16.67% to 35 mph and the mode was split evenly between 35 and 40 mph. Using the mean of this mode to calculate percentage, the mode increased 25% over the control. Seemingly most telling is the increase in the outliers.  The lowest perceived speed increased from 4 mph to 18 mph (350%) and 80 for the highest (50.94%) over the control group.

It is clear using charged words increased perceived speed.

This can be extrapolated to other areas, such as crowd size, levels of violence, impending danger and many other real world events.

Interpretation
This demonstrates several things. Language can be leading/loaded even if language does not appear to be. Academic diction has the lowest “charge,” and this supports the need to teach students to be write in an academic fashion. It also supports the need to instruct them to understand the importance of diction, so they can recognize language which appears to create logos when it is really designed to create pathos, thus allowing students to notice subtle manipulations in language meant to create emotional responses to skew perception and/or drive opinion. Further, it demonstrates the need for careful word choice with high semantic value to decrease linguistic indeterminacy.

Replication and Refinement
In replicating this study, I would select a population corrected for gender and academic level to assure the populations were homogeneous. Further, I would add a 4th group with a variable “negatively charged” term to see if the perception of the estimated speed in such a group would be lower than the control.

In further refinement, I would like to test to see if changing the charged adverb (fast, slowly, quickly) or the verb (smashed, collided, hit) have differing magnitudes of affect.

Discussion
We are aware that journalism can look objective but, upon examination, we find leading words and loaded language hiding in the sentences. This can have an effect on how we perceive an event. The word “mob” used for an assemblage instead of group can, and does, affect how people perceive the assemblage and this carries over to the perception of the individuals within the assemblage.

While I understand, in this test, the outliers skew the data, and it is possible the outliers should be taken into account when calculations are made, the outliers are of interest in themselves. Both ends of the outliers rose with inclusion of the charged words. The outlier at the higher end is of particular interest as it is the outliers in a society that cause the most dramatic and concentrated change and cause the most trauma as well (terrorism, murder, mass shootings) and if a small inclusion of a charged word can create a large increase in the emotional response of the top outliers, this is worth noting.

While we cannot combat this in every instance, we can begin to educate students to be aware it exists and to be on the lookout for the use of such language. Words with a positive charge can be used to excite/increase bias and bring activity when coupled with a call to action.  Words with a negative charge can dampen responses and reduce activity. We see this in political rhetoric as well as in sales, and we are seeing it increasingly in social media and fringe news sources.

It is possible that educating children to recognise and not accept the charging of language may help reduce the effect of this.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Culture, Education, psychology, Social

 

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Service

My father was in the US Navy. He was a bubblehead, as I have been told those who serve aboard submarines are called. He also served aboard a destroyer and it is quite possible I was, shall we say, engendered, within that destroyer, when it was in the Charlestown Navy Yard. I have the American flag that draped his coffin, given to me by an honor guard upon his burial, on my bookcase.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, Albert Cohen, English, joined the Canadian Army as an electrical engineer, and saw combat, during WWII – a Jew fighting fascism and hate during the Holocaust.

I had, as a child, thought about the military. But I wasn’t ready even to leave home to go away to college, and my life took a different direction with marriage, children, and a full life. Nothing to look back upon with even a gram of regret.

In the back of my mind, I always thought of my father’s and grandfather’s service. While I knew I wasn’t cut out for the military, for reasons which would become quite a bit more clear as I grew older, I felt there were ways I could contribute to my country. That I could make my country a better place. To that end, I worked on environmental issues, sat vigiles, walked demonstration lines, and spent many years working with Earth First! in defense of the territory, not just the map. I worked to defend what the flag stood for and what my father and grandfather fought for.

For this, I have paid, but have never been paid, though my price has not been as steep as many. Others have been beaten, or paid with their lives – taken by our own countrymen. Sometimes this was due to ideology, sometimes their bodies stood in the way of profit.

I have been told to leave our country. I have been told to get a job, while already working three. I have been hit by eggs thrown from moving cars, held at gunpoint, run off the road, spat on while chained to doors, pushed up against walls to be photographed by men in black jackets with the letters FBI on the back, had my livelihood and income threatened from within and without, and alienated family. And I have seen those beside me pay far more steeply than I.

I did this most of my life, but, there was a time, for a while, I stepped back. During the time I needed to heal, during the great confusion, depression, fracturing, and despondency that was the aftermath of the death of my wife, I could not act. I could not care. But in 2016 I heard a call my conscience could not refuse, and I began to care again. I attended a meeting for Bernie Sanders. While I would have happily voted for Hillary Clinton, and did, and not felt at all as though I had made a “lesser of the two evils” decision, Bernie was my real deal and I went to work.

A month later I was asked if I would take an actual elected position. I was surprised, to say the least. In an area that is not deeply red, but in which Democrats, let alone Greens, Progressives and Democratic Socialists tend to keep a low profile and don’t often win elections, I was asked to take on an official position – Precinct Committeeperson. I was asked by Sanjay Patel who, at that time, I had no idea I’d be voting for happily, working with delightedly, and stumping for constantly, to help elect to US Congress. But, then, I didn’t see myself running for office either. And that wasn’t the only thing I found myself doing that I would not have foreseen.

I had never worked in an official capacity before, but now I was reaching out to voters in my precinct and attending meetings, planning, and working in concert with many others (nearly never easy or enjoyable for me). I began working on registering people to vote. Then I was asked to be the chairman of the Voter Registration Committee. Then worked on the Candidate and Campaign Committee delineating what positions were coming up, qualifications for each, and then working to find people to run for those offices.

Then came the door to door. No, not me. No. Never. Hold a gun on me, ok. Spit on me. Fine. But I’m not knocking on a stranger’s door! But the candidates… I believed in these people. They were my friends. I worked with them. Knew them. So, now, yes, I’ll try it. And so began the canvassing. The canvassing. The never-ending canvassing.

It was frightful. It still is. It twists my stomach. I hate it. And I did it anyway. Many of us did. But many said no. They had anxiety. It made them nervous. They had as many excuses as to why they could not take an active part in defending and improving our country as they had complaints about what was wrong with it. I could easily have claimed the same. I did not.

And running for office? “No. Have you found anyone to run against _____”? No, not yet. “We need someone to run against ____.” Yes, that is why we are asking you. You are qualified and we think you’d be great. Are you willing to do it? “No. Are you going to find someone to run against _____?” They didn’t see the connection between what they were asking others to do but were unwilling to do themselves. And wondered why change did not come.

But, slowly, our slate filled. And did so with people of sterling quality and character that I am proud to work with. People who are worth fighting anxiety and a roaring head and the dread felt before each and every knock. These people are worth that. Our country is worth that. Our grandchildren are worth that.

All positions but one. One open position. One position with no one to run for it. The position with a name that challenged anyone to dare put it on a sign. So befuddling no one knew what or where it was. Sebastian Inlet Tax District Commission. An environmental position and I said sure. Why not?

“I wish I could vote for you, but I don’t live in Sebastian.” You don’t need to.
“I didn’t know you lived in Sebastian.” I don’t.
“I wish I could vote for you.” You can.

Lee had always wanted me to run for office. School board. But I have seen what happens to teachers who run for school board and lose. And their spouses if they happen to teach as well. No. But, here – this was a position few had heard of, low profile, and science-oriented. I could do this. All I needed to do was learn about coastal engineering, fluid and colloidal dynamics, biosolids, environmental policy and a few other things.

Besides, I wanted to be the first autistic person to win a public office. I filled out the forms.

And I was too late. A year too late. Sarah Hernandez or Enfield, Connecticut. Fine. I was doing it anyway!

Then came the fundraising. The asking for money. The accounting and webforms. The letters from the Florida Division of Elections, Office of Campaign Finance telling me I had done this wrong, that wrong, the other things wrong, and my needing to ask for help, though no one would step up to be the campaign treasurer.

Public speaking was not a problem. But, more and more, the dealing with people, though I should have been just discussing science they wanted to concentrate on anything but, became harder and harder. It was my thought canvassing would become easier the more I did it, but some months in it began to twist my stomach even more. The more I did it, the worse it got. Walking up to a house, I would feel ill. I’d wish no one was home. Beg the deities that no one would answer the door. But they were. They did. And I kept going.

Press conferences were ok, but “meet and greets” would leave me sitting in a corner with my head roaring and my body rocking. During a fundraiser, Arlene found me sitting in a corner rocking back and forth. During a pre-Pride event, Marge found me on the floor, in a corner, singing to myself, holding my head. Even at the election watch party, even with benefit of Cruzian and Coke, I lasted less than an hour and Lisa and I left to bring home Chinese food and watch at home.

Seeing myself spoken about in third person was strange. Even, as so much of it was, positively glowingly. But the attacks. Public attacks on me as a teacher. Attacks that followed me to school. Complaints and allegations out of nowhere two weeks before the election followed by parents writing publicly about me being a “piece of shit” and a “horrible human being.” Nothing I had ever experienced in nearly two decades of education. And these coming from not just locally, but far away as Washington state.

Why did I keep going? Service. To make the world better, in large part. To do my share, as I had done before, but in a new and different way, as it seemed needed at the time. Certainly I am not the first person one thinks of when running for office. A person with great difficulty reading, and misreading, faces or tone, won’t talk to people he doesn’t know, won’t engage in anything that doesn’t have clear rules of parameters, and won’t engage in small-talk or banter but will simply dive into didactic, cannot stand crowds, bright lights, and noise, is not who one looks for as a candidate. I am not well-suited for it. It made Earth First! feel easy.

One of the candidates I grew to know is Mel Martin, who ran for Florida State Senate. She is a Marine Corp veteran and I won’t say anything more about her as a person because if I write one compliment, I will feel compelled, and am quite capable, of filling the next five minutes with her virtues. She is one of the few people who knew what challenges I was running with. Instead, I will simply give her space to speak on her own. She has this to say.

“After serving with the marines – some of the finest people on Earth – and retiring four years ago, I honestly did not believe I’d be in the company of true, selfless warriors again. But I was absolutely wrong. While marines fight for each other to accomplish the mission, with the backdrop of patriotic duty, YOU are directly fighting in the spirit of patriotism – for the very pillars of society we inherited and intend to pass to the following generations. We’re not fighting simply as Americans, we’re fighting FOR America.”

And there was what I had often wanted to say, thought for years to say, but could not as I had not the experience of both kinds of service. And, so spoken by an actual member of the armed forces, a veteran, this was more appreciated than I could, at the time, express. Service comes in different types. And those on the street don’t get paid, and, sometimes, meet the same ends, at the hands, however, of their own countrymen. Bombed, burned, jailed. Lose our jobs, homes, families. In service to that which is greater than ourselves. Without benefit of remuneration of any sort, we serve.

Different, yes. And I do not pretend to know what it is like to be in a firefight. My hat’s off to members of the armed forces, always. Respect and appreciation. Often amazement. But I also respect those who have given so much to fight at home to make this home better for us all. Those who worked far past their comfort and risked themselves when they could have stayed at home, and often lost so much.

To them, I say, also, thank you for your service.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2018 in Culture, Social

 

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Vote for Adam.  Wait… what? A New Adventure.

Vote for Adam.  Wait… what? A New Adventure.

Not ever wanting to be bored, not having enough to do being a precint committerperson, a chairman of the county’s voter registration committee, teaching full-time, which is never just full-time, and seeing patients, I thought I’d run for office.  But not just any office. I chose an office that is so obscure, yet important, with such a misleading name that I can’t just run for it – I have to fully explain it nearly every time I mention it.

My wife always wanted me to run for office. She was thinking school board. But I know what happens to teachers who run for school board around here. Better win or look for a new job.

I chose Sebastian Inlet District Commission – a commission that is one hundred years old this year and is charged with keeping the beaches and rivers in as natural a condition as possible (after they cut four un-natural inlets into it), restoring them when they are not, with promoting education and conservation, and protecting the lives of the creatures that live in and around them from Vero in the south to Rockledge in the north.  That’s fifty miles, through two counties, of one of the most ecologically diverse waterways in North America.

What they actually do, though, is keep millage rates low so people can afford to buy houses on the beach, and so development can keep moving forward, and business have plenty of rich folks to buy their stuff.

I’m running against a man who believes dinosaurs are still alive and well in Africa. Who doesn’t believe in science. What else am I to do?

I told a local group of about 300 people that I was going to change that. And, if I can’t change it, make the other four people on the commission as miserable as possible for at least four years.  And they know I can do it.

I have worked as an environmentalist in social and direct action for many years.  Since my twenties. From the outside of the Establishment, and sometimes outside of the Law. Now it’s time to do so from the inside.  And, I hope, make my wife proud as well.

For me, this is my dive back into deep ecology and ecospirituality.  In many ways, this may not be quite as exciting as my days with Earth First!, but I hope it will have a deep and lasting benefits and significantly less involvement from the FBI. And it might be safer, although, in this political climate, I might be less dangerous taking my chances sitting in trees and fighting bulldozers.

People who want to dismantle the EPA are the real ecoterrorists, and they are in office.  Time for me to be in office too.

So, if you’d like to help me, I’d love that. Please donate a little bit, or share the link to this, or the link below.

http://bit.ly/adamtritt
https://www.facebook.com/scienceandsustainability

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Nature, Social

 

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James 2:14-26

 

Praying is what you do
When you pick up the shovel
and plant a tree,
Surrounding the roots with mulch,
Dirt under your fingers.

Prayer is what you have
When you cook a meal for someone
Who is ill. Give respite to a
Caretaker. Take on a task
Someone else would usually do.

Praying is visiting hospice
When you are tired of death.

Prayer is cleaning a toilet that isn’t yours,
Building a house you won’t ever live in.
Sow seeds for food you will never eat.
It is the knock on the door,
The letter in the mail,
The call on the phone.
Marching in the street.
Chaining to the door.

Praying is holding someone else’s hand,
Listening to someone else’s story,
Holding space after they have left.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2017 in philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Social

 

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Ode to the Philly Cheesesteak from Pat’s

Just because. Just because.

Just because I miss Philly. Just because someone close by got a local (Indian Harbour Beach, I think) cheesesteak and said it was the best anywhere.

Just because I want a cheesesteak with everything, and that includes ambiance and attitude.

Just because. Just because.

Ode to the Philly Cheesesteak from Pat’s

Oh my Philly cheesesteak–
I buy you
From Pat’s King of Steaks.
Fuck Geno’s across the street.
I order fast before
Counterman screams at me,
“Whadja want?
Dare’s people waitin’
In line!”
I order your divine
Slices of cow,
Yelling over the counter
“One Cheesesteak wid
And yo, don’t spare da sauce!”
He throws it at me,
Friendly-like.
Yeah.
Fuck Geno’s.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2017 in Culture, Food, Poetry, Social, Travel

 

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Pride

It is not through my own efforts of will, creativity, invention or industry that I was born here. This is true of all people who are not immigrants, as truly, only one who has risked pain, suffering, and life can count pride in such. Hence I have no pride in  being an American, as there should be no pride in the color of one’s skin, gender, preference or any other accident of biology or birth.

Different dictionaries will define pride in slightly different ways, but each has at its core the same sense – a deep pleasure or satisfaction which comes from one’s own achievements or those with whom one is closely associated and can say one had a part or influence. My citizenship is no achievement, as it was for my grandmother, nor is the color of my skin. And any sense of pride in such matters is misguided, at best, used to bolster ego, or, at worst, a week device to create cohesion in a group which wishes to set itself apart from others, to divide, and all too often, for the purpose of establishing or continuing dominance and power, whether that power is imaginary or manifest.

Yet lack of pride does in no way decry, does not extirpate, a sense of duty, and that deep sense of duty is all the stronger for being born of love for the Land, and the principles for which it stands than if it was born from a false idea of pride or, in a sense, to expiate for that lack. A sense of duty to this Country, as evidenced in concern, compassion, for the welfare of the Land and the People, will do more for our common good than any concept of selfish pride, and pride is always, at its core, selfish. Duty in action is patriotism.

Thus, in that sense of duty, and the honor which grows from it, it is only right that we tell the truth where we see it. That we are loyal to our Country, but not to the transitory holders of power, as they are only the agents we set in place for the good of our Country, and their powers and authorities as we have granted, and are to be removed when it is clear the best interest of the Country is no longer served by their borrowed powers. That speaking the truth to those who hold power is a patriotic act, surpassed only by acting on those truths. And if acting on those truths can be done so within the confines of the law, that it be done so, as the law, in a free Country, is but a vehicle to codify, to ensure, equity and justice, but when acting within the confines of the law is contrary to justice, which is the higher law, to compassion, which is the higher law, that patriotism demands those laws be broken. Duty demands those laws be not obeyed. That it is better to suffer for justice and compassion and truth, for one’s Neighbours and Land, than to live falsely for pride.

If one can do this, then, at last, there will be something of which one can be truly, properly proud.

 

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Culture, philosophy, Social

 

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Bluebird

The first science article I remember reading was about Thor Heyerdahl. In the 1940’s, the Norwegian ethnographer and explorer postulated the Central Pacific islands were populated by South Americans who drifted from Peru to their new homes on rafts. This article, on a stiff card, came from the box in the back of the classroom. This was, I think, second grade.

There were four boxes back there. Maybe eight inches cube, maybe a bit longer than wide, they were named after birds. Each contained cards with articles and stories plus reading comprehension questions. Bluebird was the highest of the four levels.

If that was second grade, then four years earlier was when I learned to read. And five years earlier was when I learned to walk and when my parents were told learning to read would be out of the question for me..

Heyerdahl was wrong, it turned out – South Americans did not drift to the Central Pacific. He was terribly eurocentric and felt the migration could not possibly have come from east to west due to lack navigational skill and instrumentation. That the Pacific islands could only have been populated by accident. His son, an academic, said his father did everything backwards – came up with an idea, then made the facts fit it. Genetics, some seventy years after his voyage, would prove him wrong.

But I didn’t know that in second grade. In second grade I could not get enough of Thor Heyerdahl, or anything else that came from the Bluebird box.

You can’t have bluebird boxes today. See if you can follow this. I can’t, and I’m a professional.

Having boxes the kids move through and up from is now considered tracking. This is like having a college track and a technical track in secondary school. Even though the kids can progress from one box to the next, it still separates the kids into groups. But teachers are supposed to differentiate. They get reviewed for, receive scores for, differentiation. Differentiation is when a teacher recognises students have different skill levels and adjusts the work for those differing abilities. That isn’t tracking. When I taught ESL, recently, we used a computer program that tested the student’s reading skills, took articles and adjusted the lexile (reading level) of the content so it was a just difficult enough to make the students stretch their abilities, but could still read it, and then gave them a series of reading comprehension questions, letting them move up through the levels of difficulty at their own pace. That isn’t tracking. But boxes are.

When I was reading from the Bluebird box, computers were more true to their name – they computed. They performed complicated functions with numbers. They counted people and trajectories and helped send men to the moon and took up entire large rooms. They didn’t fit on a desk, adjust articles for kids from Honduras, China and Syria, and then fold up when not in use. Maybe it’s just that boxes are bad. He boxes were simple. The boxes were tactile. I liked the boxes.

I walked proudly to the Bluebird box for another article every chance I got. I devoured them. Anthropology. Botany. Zoology. Mineralogy. Physics. By mid-second grade, I had moved to articles that weren’t in boxes, and then books.

My first book inspired by the Bluebird box was Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl – the story of his 4, 300 mile trip across the Pacific on a balsa-wood raft. Then Leakey and his discovery of Lucy. Once I read a card from the Bluebird box, whatever it was about, I wanted to read more. More about bees. More about volcanoes. More about of trees. More about Aborigines. From the box to the books..

I read anthropology. And archeology. I was fascinated by them. And myths. Lots of myths. In sixth grade I read book after book of Aboriginal and African myths. From there, Philosophy. In eighth grade, I read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Bach. Realm of Numbers and The Planet that Wasn’t, essays on mathematics and Physics, respectively, by Asimov. I read the collected works of Carl Jung. I read Also Sprach Zarathustra by Nietzsche. Zen Flesh Zen Bones by Paul Reps. Tao Te Ching, translation by Feng and English. I read the biographies of Steinmetz and Tesla. I read The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you are by Alan Watts, and started the ABCs of Science Fiction – Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. I eventually made it to Zelazney, though I am not a fan.

I also learned about primary sources. I found I preferred reading first hand material rather than second hand accounts. Why have someone tell me what a bunch of other people said when I could read it for myself? After that, my disdain for textbooks was obvious. This often drove my teachers to distraction as I would raise my hand and say, “actually. . . ” and quote exactly what the inventor, explorer, or author said, instead of the paraphrase which was, often, to my understanding, watered-down, misinterpreted or wholly incorrect

In ninth grade, I had heard about pep rallies. They sounded like monstrous things and I dreaded even the idea of them. I’d rather read and didn’t want to participate in anything that wasn’t academic. So every time we students were supposed to be in the gym, I was hiding in the library with a book. I succeeded in avoiding pep rallies until I was found with Oedipus Rex under a table and was removed from the library as I protested that I was learning, which was the function of school, and saw no point in the pep rally, let alone forcing me to attend it. I recall citing Dewey regarding the Pragmatic philosophy of education as I was lead down the hallways and into the gym. Kids were stomping and screaming. I collapsed in the bleachers. Fell on another student. They never made me leave the library again.

That is not entirely true. Once I was asked to go back into the gym.

I don’t like dissection and I took part in only one. A frog. The smell of formalin was terrible, and I did not slice it open myself. I was paired with another student who did the slicing and who was, unfortunately, not Grace Barcia. As I was watching him poke around inside I, popular as I was, felt something  wet hit my head. Then my face. I was soon being pelted with livers and lungs and other airborn ampbianalia. The teacher had a rather loose concept of classroom management, especially considering we were in a lab with organs, scalpels and chemicals. So I walked out. I never took part in a dissection again.

Thus, when welcoming the incoming ninth graders with a gym-full of tables displaying all our school had to offer, I was a strange choice to put in charge of the table displaying our menagerie of dissecta. It had the usual jars of fetal pigs, frogs and other animals, none of which I had ever personally taken a scalpel to. One notable object on the table was a (If you are squeamish, please skip down four paragraphs) cat. Skinless, four furless paws adhered to a board, one could examine the surface musculature in detail. I was left, behind a table covered in dissected animals, with a skinless cat, a gym full of high school students, and I was in danger of being bored.

So I sold the cat.

I hawked that cat to everyone who walked by, billing it as the perfect pet. “You’ll always know where it is, you never have to clean up after it and all it takes is a little bit of dusting now and then. Plus, it is guaranteed never to shed!”

I finally sold it for nine one-dollar off Frito-Lay’s coupons. I knew better than to accept actual money. That might have gotten me in trouble.

I don’t know what happened to that cat. It was the morning, and it wouldn’t fit into a backpack, or into anything but a fully empty locker, so I imagine it was hard to not see a student walking around with a skinless cat glued to a wooden plank, but it would not be the first obvious thing missed at my high school.

Another obvious thing missed at my high school was the relatively vacuous state of our library, and our local public version wasn’t much better. The large, full, beautiful library was too far away, in downtown Miami, so I spent quite a bit of my time at Waldenbooks in the Mall at 163rd Street or Arts and Science Bookstore in North Miami. There I read the bulk of Freud, Heisenberg, and as much Alan Watts as I could find. Through the next years, right through college, and still today, I found the use of secondary sources was only to lead me to primary ones.

In college when we came to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I went to the original for a more full understanding, reading Toward a Psychology of Being and finding it so much more meaningful, making much more sense. Reading the original took Maslow’s work from a theory in a textbook to something whole, deep and complete. Once I read his own words, I could see his theory played out everywhere in daily life. That is not something I would have ever gotten from the textbook, no matter how much it cost.

Having Marty Fromm as a teacher in Human Relations, I read the works of her lover, Gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls. Then Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving, and Erik Erikson’s Childhood and Society, then Rogers and more Rogers. Having read Adler’s Understanding Human Nature, as well as other essays by the famed psychologist, when I had the delight of meeting, and spending an extended amount of time with, Margot Adler, author, activist and NPR journalist, we were able to discuss her grandfather’s work, at length, with an understanding of the original texts. Luckily, I had read her books as well.

I read Piaget from Piaget, not a textbook. I read Assagioli and Ellis, Harlow and Groff. I read Milgram from Milgram, Zimbardo from Zimbardo, Allport from Allport and Kohlberg from Kohlberg. In education classes, I read Jefferson and Mann and Dewey, Skinner, Hegel, Kant.

As a massage therapist, I read my textbooks, but I also read Alexander, Feldenkraise, Ling and Rolf. I know that made it difficult to have conversations with me, but if you knew the other students in my class, you’d see that was certainly a plus.

As a teacher I’m an absolute fiend when it comes to source reliability and the use of primary sources in research. Just ask. It’s ok, kids. You can tell them the truth.

Today, though I read less now that my eyes are often problematic, and sometimes listen to books, I’m still likely to read an article, see the study discussed, regardless of the field, and then immediately go to find the study. I am always appreciative of the nuances of the original which seldom translates into the paraphrasing and description found in secondhand accounts.

And, regardless of what I’m reading, and right now I’m reading The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton and The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, I think, believe it or not, nearly daily about the Bluebird Box. and what it did for me. Shallow enough to be beautifully wide and varied and deep enough to provoke an interest that has lasted my entire life, with neither dulling nor diminution, in a child who was never supposed to be able to read. The Bluebird box is still the best box. You can quote me on that.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Social

 

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