Senesence approaches

Not to brag, but – back in the day? I was one lean, mean spelling MACHINE, my friends. I mean, they are still talking about how I slayed at the Archdiocesan Spelling Bee back in ’88. Yeah, I’ve got my trophy. It’s 18″ high and has a plastic bee on top. I had some serious skills.

What happened to me?

Was it spell-check?
Was it the babies?
Is it the effect of years of reading middle schoolers’ written work?
Is it my advanced age?

For my skills are definitely in decline. Oh, sure, I can still spot the errors in other people’s spelling, for the most part. But that’s about as good as it gets. I cannot catch the errors in my own written work to save my life. Those of you with quick mouse reflexes may have caught my original version of “Trilogy” in an earlier post (that would be, “Triology.” Don’t you think that’s a better word, really?)

Also with the pronunciation. (Pronounciation? I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE. NOTHING IS CERTAIN IN THESE TURBULENT TIMES). All these words are showing up that I’ve been pronunciating incorrectly in my head and now I sound like a fool.

Is anyone else haveing this problem?

Activate Prior Knowledge

Just a little Maslow’s hierarchy in-joke as a shout-out to all the education class survivors out there.

(Actually, that’s not Maslow. It’s something else. But I know it is something I learned in an education class).

I’m starting to think there are hidden prerequisites for this class:

o Must have committed the intellectual insights of Dan Brown to memory
o Must have seen the tail end of a documentary on the Discovery Channel, or maybe it was the History Channel, where they talked about how Constantine invented the New Testament and they have this secret document that is Jesus’ autobiography. Or something like that.
o Must have completed “The Matrix Trilogy as the Ultimate Synthesis of Western and Eastern Thought” summer institute
o Drama 101

Who’s with me?!!

You know, they say that drinking caffeine close to bedtime is a bad idea! But I don’t think so! It’s not like I have school tomorrow or anything! Plus we’ve had these days off so I’m all rested so why not stay up all night hyper-surfing the Net! And I have all this laundry to do! What’s the problem?! Who’s with me?! Want to chat?!

More Materialist Musings

I’ve been neglecting my housekeeping of late because I’m spending so much time ruminating over the Big Questions that we touch upon in class.

(That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Mopping is overrated).

We keep coming back to the issue of materialism. Some students seem quite taken with the idea that, someday, we’ll be able to build a computer/robot that will replicate all of the activities of the human brain. And, when we do, this will be proof that there isn’t any such thing as a soul.

What of this idea?

Nine million years ago, when I was in college, I took a course on Philosophy of Mind that seemed to rest heavily on Descartes and Daniel Dennett. (or maybe I only remember the “D’s.”) As an aside: one notable feature of this class was my falling asleep, without fail, at 10:55 every day. Largely a result of my “sleep is for the weak” approach to my undergraduate education, this phenomenon resulted in my professor asking me bluntly, “Are you ever going to stay awake in my class?” To which I truthfully answered, “Probably not.”

Ergo, I’m a bit fuzzy in my recollection of Dennett’s arguments in Consciousness Explained, except for my general attitude of “I don’t buy it.” But Dennett seemed to agree that, someday, we’ll be able to replicate in the laboratory all of the intricacies of the human brain. And this will then confirm that everything we talk about as being metaphysical is really just an epiphenomenon (that’s my new word. I like it.) of the physical goings-on of our brain. There is no “consciousness” or “soul” or “mind” there – it’s just a collection of processes happening in response to external stimuli.

Mind you, I might be totally wrong about what Dennett’s arguments are, but I do think this is the end result of the materialist view of the world – a denial of the soul and even of the self. Correct me, gentle reader, if I am wrong there. But it just seems to me to follow from the idea that “all the things we ‘think’ are the result of physical processes in our brain” that “there isn’t really a ‘thinker.'” Right? Because how can there be a thinker when it’s all a matter of synapses firing away?

Supposedly, Francis Crick has said that the biologist must keep in mind the ever-present axiom that what (s)he is observing was not designed, but rather evolved. The materialist attitude towards the Mind seems to follow the same logic. I must keep in mind that whatever my opinions/emotions/dreams are, they are not something with objective reality, but are just the result of my brain’s physical processes at that moment. So when I smile at my son’s drawing of a dog, or laugh to myself at my students (not that I ever think anything in any way negative or critical of my students, or any students, ever, anywhere…/disclaimer off), or am wistful looking at my sleeping daughter, or entertain complex hypothetical revenge scenarios – I must constantly remind myself that what I am observing in my own mind is not a soul, but rather a constellation of physical goings-on in my brain. Nothing more.

That’s the part I just don’t buy. I don’t buy the non-existence of the soul, ultimately. And once you get to accepting that you have a soul, it would seem you cannot ignore the ramifications thereof. As Lewis says in Mere Christianity, you get to have a more liberal view of humanity. You no longer have to think that the overwhelming majority throughout the overwhelming majority of history have been tragically wrong in thinking they had something of a divine spark in them.

Of course, let’s remember that all their “thinking” was really just a tragic epiphenomenon of evolving into what one student has called, “bacteria who use tools.”

“Write What You Know”

Here’s the thing. Both on this blog, and in my general (non-existent) writing career, I’ve always struggled with the “Write What You Know” mantra. Because it seems to me that I can’t write about the really interesting/funny/sad things going on in my life without hurting the feelings of the people involved…kind of a “you mean that was what you thought of me?” conundrum. There are poignant conversations that I want to put to (virtual) paper that I just can’t because they were real conversations.

How do Real Writers handle that? I mean, don’t you always run the risk of the people you care about being hurt when they see how you’ve modeled characters on them?

Understand that this post is entirely academic at this point and is not meant to convey, “Ah, Deprived World! You suffer the absence of my Great American Novel because I am so profoundly kind and sensitive to your little feelings!” Just kind of wondering how actual writers deal with this stuff.

Flakiness and the Neophyte Pedagogue

The problem with teaching a class for the first time, at least in my experience, is that you really don’t know what will be the best way of approaching a particular topic until you’ve gotten immersed in it and assessed what the students already know and how to challenge them to a deeper understanding. That’s been particularly evident in my Hebrew Scriptures class, in which I’ll think, “yes, we can move past The Fall!” and then, sure enough, we have to endure an annoying round of the 15-year-old boys chuckling, “yeah, heh heh, it was all the woman’s fault, heh” and then we’re somehow short-circuited right back to “It’s all made up,” while the few islands of maturity (i.e., the girls) roll their eyes and attempt to reason with the troglodytes. What annoys me is that I know they don’t really think that, and they’re just trying to provoke the girls, but on the other hand – this is kind of a big, pervasive idea across many cultures and time periods. But it’s not really what I want to talk about right now, because I don’t want to give the appearance of being on my feminist soapbox and also…we need to move on.

Having said that…another problem is that, no matter what I’ve planned, a better idea will strike me at random during the course of what we’re talking about in class. This probably wouldn’t be as much a problem this year if I weren’t so new to teaching this particular class.

For example: I’m rereading Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Okay, I’ll admit: I’m reading it for the first time. I think I tried reading it in high school when I was still in my “all shall bow down before the reasonableness of my arguments for Catholicism” phase and found it to be too British and opaque for me. I’m enjoying it quite a bit, although part of me wants to find a book I can read and watch Sahara at the same time. Also, the binding of my copy is really crappy, so that there are already pages falling out, and I just got it.

What was I saying?

Chesterton. Talks about fairy tales.

The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales…There is the terrible allegory of the “sleeping Beauty,” which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep.”

Wow! I’d never thought about that before! And, of course, the sweetest part of the allegory is that the princess has to be ransomed by the prince. You know…JESUS. Of course, I don’t remember the story entirely, so I keep thinking to myself, “and there’s the apple!” but that’s Snow White, of course. But I think this is going to be a really interesting topic to discuss with the students whenever school reconvenes (we’re taking two days off for a gasoline holiday, you know). And I think this might be their first (groan) research paper. Choose a fable or fairy tale (I’ll give them a list) and discuss how it could be interpreted as an allegory for the story of The Fall.

Now, having said that…I’m not sure what other fairy tales could apply.

There’s that one with the fish who’s really a prince, and he can grant the farmer’s wishes, but the farmer’s wife is greedy…no, that doesn’t work…hmmm…

Alright, readers – any suggestions? Maybe I should just have them stick to Sleeping Beauty…no, surely there are others…perhaps I need to Google…