Weekly Review: November 6th to November 12th

I have implemented the first stage of my strategy, using a feed reader to manage my feeds. Consolidating all of the different streams of information down so that I just have to deal with the one website each day has been a blessing. I am still tinkering with this aspect of the strategy: I am thinking of moving to an offline feed reader because I’m not sure how long Reader saves all the posts I highlight with a star.

I failed this week to implement the second stage of my strategy, writing a little bit of the Weekly Review each day instead of all at once. There is always tomorrow to begin the Weekly Review: November 13th to November 19th!

Want to Learn Poetry from Matthew Koslowski?

I am developing a one session course to introduce adults to reading poetry for pleasure. The tentative title is, “Bawdy&Body: An Introduction to Poetry for Adults.” If you live in eastern Massachusetts, or around here, and would be interested in attending such a course, contact me.

These Things Caught My Eye

Who is Allowed to Speak?

One night I shared with my then-girlfriend Jessica a radical idea: I think that schools should be forums for people to express all their ideas, no matter how outlandish we might view them to be, in a context of discussion and debate. To goad her a little bit, I said that I think it entirely reasonable to have a Knight of the Ku Klux Klan address a classroom one day and a member of the Black Panthers to address it another.

She asked me if I would let a jihadist radical address students. When I said yes, she asked me curtly, “Would you allow him to speak before or after you searched him for hidden bombs and weapons?”

I believe in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Ray Luc Levasseur, founder and former leader the United Freedom Front, was invited to speak at a forum at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts system. I did not hear about his invitation until it had been withdrawn amid a great deal of controversy in the Boston Globe. The forum was arranged by the UMass Libraries to openly discuss terrorism.

Mr. Levasseur was involved in criminal activities that did involve bombings. Yes, people died because of his activities. But I think that by villifying Mr. Levasseur and refusing to discuss with him his aims, his purposes, and his thinking we have lost an opportunity. What would Mr. Levasseur say of his activities? I wonder.

The head of the Special Collections and University Archives, Robert Cox, reflected on the hubbub in a Boston Globe article:

“The UMass Libraries developed this forum as an opportunity to focus on terrorism, one of the most difficult social issues confronting the country,” Cox said. “However, it is now clear that, given the strong reaction generated by this event, we can no longer achieve the kind of meaningful exchange intended.”

I can understand the fear and the hesitation to let someone speak. But I think that if the United States of America wants to stay true to its core principals, no matter how flawed our implementations of the same have been throughout our history, we need to allow people forums to speak.

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Beaker Would Have Trouble in Danvers High School

A principal in Danvers, Massachusetts, a suburban town about 25 miles north of Boston, has banned students from saying, “Meep!” No, this is not a joke.

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Karen Armstrong on the Core of Religion

Human beings can make a religion out of anything. By that I mean, adherants to any group — be it a band, an author, or a sports team — can become devotees and fanatics. In narrowing our focus down to the Truth of That Thing, we begin to create walls between us that are artificial.

Ask anyone wearing a Boston Red Sox cap walking down the streets of Boston how they feel about the Yankees, and you’ll hear, “Yankees Suck!” This has become ritualized. This response is as much an expression of devotion as the call and responses in a Catholic Mass.

Karen Armstrong, in her TED Lecture “Let’s Revive the Golden Rule” below, reminds us that religion at its heart is all about compassion. “Compassion” from the Latin “x” — meaning, “a” — and “y” — meaning, “b” — yielding “to feel together” or more starkly — and I think more meaningfully — “to suffer together.”

If we are not using our religion to strive for compassion, to strive for sympathy with our fellow human beings, we have forgotten a fundamental tenet of what it means to be human.

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Zero Tolerance

There is a place for a Zero Tolerance Policy. A child bringing a gun to school should result in that child being expelled. But that child should also receive counseling to help the child become a healthy and productive adult.

But to criminalize behavior such as food fights in middle schools? That is taking the Zero Tolerance Policy too far. In a Chicago middle school, 25 students between the ages of 11 and 15 were arrested for participating in a food fight.

Not suspended. Arrested. Put in handcuffs, put in a police wagon, and forced to sit in jail for up to eight hours.

The New York Times editorial cited above says that some places have extended the Zero Tolerance Policy to include swearing or talking back to adults. Imagine: children sent to the juvenile justice system for swearing. How afraid have we become of our own children that we’re ready to arrest them for participating in childish behavior? What is a child going to learn for being arrested for swearing? Not that swearing is wrong, but that the system is corrupt.

I am thankful to see that some school districts are coming to their senses. The school system of Clayton County, Georgia, has developed a three-strike system. Although I doubt the wisdom of a three-strike system, it is certainly better than a one-strike system. But allowing the juvenile justice system to focus on high-risk children who need attention and counseling is a drastic improvement.

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Biased by Design

John Spencer came up with an interesting experiment. He developed authoritative content and fictional content. He presented the content to two different classes in two different versions.

To the first class he presented the fictional content in slick, professional web design. Then he presented the authoritative content in ugly, amateurish design.

To the second class he presented the authoritative content in the professional web design. Then he presented the fictional content in the amateurish design.

He then asked the students which information was true and which was false. Which do you think they chose? Do you think it varied between classes? Read his blog post to to learn what he found out.

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Sleep Your Way to Happiness

After the last two Weekly Reviews, where I said in both introductions that I’ve not been sleeping well, I saw this post on The Happiness Project Blog. Although the Ms. Rubin talks a lot about the virtues of sleep, I was heartened to read that she doesn’t like to sleep either:

“It’s strange that turning off the light is so hard. You’d think, ‘What could take less effort than going to sleep?’ and yet I find that it sometimes takes a lot of effort to put myself to bed, even when I’m actually feeling sleepy. It’s just so much fun to stay up — or sometimes I feel too tired to take out my contacts.”
–Gretchen Rubin

As long as I don’t miss work, I can keep burning the candle at both ends, right? Right?

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