On Stephen Hawking and the Rise of the Geek

This morning, I woke to the news that Stephen Hawking had died. These days, celebrity deaths are nothing new. We are in a post-cult of personality age, when a surge of media options and advanced marketing abilities created a mass of celebrity. As time has gone by, those people have aged, and it is only natural that they have begun to pass. I note the ones that mattered to me, though over time, those tributes have been reduced to social media one-liners. Maybe I have become desensitized to the death of my influences in the face of their sheer quantity. Today, Hawking felt a bit different.

I’m not a man of science or numbers. The last physics class I took was Physics for the Non-Scientist.  In enrolled in Math for Decision-Makers just to get that pesky college math course out of the way. I work with words, sentence structures, aesthetics, and rhetoric. I like science for the stories it tells. I like math once a year to do my taxes. I’ve never even read A Brief History of Time. Yet, I know Stephen Hawking, and as a father, I am thankful for scientists life him.

Growing up, I didn’t want to be a smart kid. It felt un-cool to me in some ways, and I have to admit sandbagging my way through school. I under-achieved my way though high school and most of college. Only when I made a switch to English did I actually start applying myself to the work. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t regret all of those years I lost, because I was afraid to be seen as a geek. Not that it mattered. I’m pretty sure everyone saw through it.

Since then, fueled by the prevalence of intellectual men like Stephen Hawking (and probably the internet), geek culture has flourished. I don’t know if we will ever be “cool,” but we are legion. We have conventions and game nights and have invaded modern pop culture. We’ve discovered the throwaway ending moral lesson of Revenge of the Nerds is true. We all have a bit of geek in us, if we are truly honest about it.

So why is this important to me. Why did I feel the need to write a blog post about a man whose books I have never read, whose theories I only know through second-hand sources, who I know almost solely from television, when some of my personal artistic heroes got only a tweet?

It’s because I am a father. At ten years-old, my son intuitively understands things about math that I will probably never know. It makes sense to him. His brain works on some different wavelength, and quite frankly, his IQ tests intimidated me a bit. I never want him to feel that he has to hide that part of him out of the fear of being seen as uncool.

Don’t get me wrong. Elementary school is still a jungle, and I know it. My son gets picked on, sometimes. Some of classmates don’t understand him, and I don’t think he understands them. But he has found friends like him. They have “Nerd Night,” chess club, gifted projects, and academic competitions. They get to go to a plethora of conventions, comic book stores, and game nights. They have each other, and they get to see others like them in popular culture. That’s a pretty big deal.

I think Stephen Hawking was a big part of that. Academia has a tendency to alienate itself. Literary criticism is as guilty as anyone. We create terminology and use it in a way that makes our research pretty much inaccessible to those who don’t have the codex of passphrases needed to decipher it. Want proof? Pass your buddy some Jacques Derrida and see what he can make of it. Hawking took astro-physics, of all things, and made it accessible. He made it cool, and he has been followed by the likes of Neil deGrasse Tyson and others who have made the information age a bit more informational. They have had a profound influence upon the rise of geek culture, so to speak.

I hope my son will always feel free to be proud of his intellect. If he does, I hope he some day understand that Stephen Hawking was a part of that.

RIP Dr. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018)

Magic, Pokemon, and other Family Gatherings

It may come as some shock, given how big of geek I am, that I hadn’t played Magic the Gathering until just recently. Sara thought that it would be a good thing to do together, rather than our normal pastime of sitting next to each other and reading. So, I sat down with her one day and played a game using cards she bought twenty years ago. Shortly after that, I found myself at Wal-Mart investing in the 2015 core set, so that I would have cards of my own. This has progressed in to my owning the Planeswalker video game, more cards, and my own “Blood Crypt” playmat to protect my black/white deck from…something. I’m not sure what the mat does, but it looks cool.

This led to playing Pokemon with my seven year-old son. Looking for a game that we could play with him, we picked up the Pokemon XY training deck. Honestly, he picked it up quicker than we did, but once again, it was good to have time away from computers, televisions, books, toys, and other distractions to just spend together. I also got to experience some of the competitive character traits that he obviously did not get from me. That kid has problems losing…and winning for that matter. But now I know.

Family time seems like a hard thing to capture these days. Everyone is always in a hurry, off to one commitment or another: jobs, clubs, events, and a never-ending series of other things that bide for our time. Has it really gotten so bad that one of my son’s tiger scout requirements is to have a single dinner with his family and talk about his day? Apparently. Family time, which I took for granted as a kid, has become another event to schedule, another participation ribbon or completion certificate in a constant stream of checked to-do lists.

I have never been a card game or board game person. I played video games a lot. I had sponsors in Counter-Strike. But I was never a social gamer. Now,as a member of a geek family, I can appreciate what I have been missing. Whether it is Magic, Pokemon, or even watching my son make a Dungeons and Dragons character, I finally see what social gaming is about. It’s fishing, camping, bicycle rides, picnics, and all of those things that you do for the sake of the experience rather than the outcome. It doesn’t matter who wins the game. It’s a way to be together in a world that so often pulls people apart. Whether we draw well or not, we all win.

Boogie Traps and Wooshie Cushions

“He fell in the boogie trap!”

My recently-turned seven year-old has a fascination for buildings and structures. He plays with Legos almost constantly. His castle building stage led to a series of elaborate booby traps that has yet to run its course after two years.

Children are adorable, and due to a combination of adorableness and confusion with certain consonants, booby traps became boogie traps.

You try to do the right things as a parent. You try to correct their mistakes, their behaviors, and their insistence that things are what they clearly aren’t. You want them to learn the correct things. Yet, it is just so damn cute when they mess up.

As my son turned seven, I was faced with a sort of mathematical panic. Seven is halfway to fourteen and driving, a third of the way to twenty-one and drinking, a fourth of the way from his graduation with a doctorate in space paleontology (I dismissed this as a mistake until the Mars rover started collecting samples). A fifth of the way to my age, when he may sit with his own child debating whether or not to correct his consonants.

His life moves so quickly. He seems to grow six inches on the weeks that I don’t have custody on him, and he learns new things every day. Thus, my panic. Soon, there won’t be any more getting up with his blankie and his stuffed polar bear to watch cartoons. There won’t be any more snuggling on the couch. I will descend from Mount Olympus and the Zeus-like heroic status of being a little boy’s father to simply being a respectable mortal. Daddy will slowly dissolve in to Dad.

I’m not ready to give those things up, even as I know they must be surrendered as he becomes more independent of me. I’ve watched him move from baby to toddler to little boy, and I can see the rest of the phases piling up around the corner, waiting to storm in. It won’t be long, now.

I was thinking about all of these things on his birthday, after the party, when we went to his elementary’s back-to-school carnival. He won a whoopee cushion in the ring toss, blew it up, and sat it on a near-by chair. He jumped up and sat on it, releasing its mock-flatulence and laughing.

“It’s a wooshie cushion!”

Maybe it won’t be so soon, after all.

Test-Takers Don’t Change the World

NOTE: I am not a resident of Florida. But while these results do not affect me, nor my child, personally, I believe they are symptomatic of  an issue that does.

Recently, the State of Florida noted a significant drop in student test results for their writing basic skills test. The drop was contributed to a communications failure with teachers, and the passing grade was subsequently lowered so that more children passed.

Apparently, the percentage of passers dropped from 81 percent to just 27 percent because teachers did not know how the test would be scored. Thus, becoming the basis for the rant you are about to read.

For years, teachers have been encouraged to teach to the test. Standardized testing has taken the power of teaching from the educator and put it in the hands of the test writers. Teachers have been told that if the students pass the test, they keep their jobs. If the students fail, they are fired.

As a result, we are a nation of test-takers. We learn what we need to know to pass the test, and then promptly forget it in favor of the next testing subject. Our government seems to believe that education is based on pieces of paper, not knowledge. Students are passed through school, some who don’t even know how to read, because it would stunt their social development to hold them back.

The diploma was never meant to be the goal. The test was never meant to be the objective. The diploma, the degree, and the certificate are not pieces of paid for paper, but a symbol of the knowledge you obtained over the course of your education. The test was supposed to symbolize the things you learned, it wasn’t supposed to be the only thing you learned.

Our education system in the United States is a mess, and it is only getting worse. The FCAT reflects the problem. The concern, it would appear, is less about the fact that their students can’t write, and is more about some failure on the part of the test designers because they didn’t tell teachers exactly what they would be grading. They blame the low scores on a new focus on grammar, punctuation, word choice, and relevance.

As a parent, I understand concern, but the concern shouldn’t be for the test your child is taking. Your concern should be that their schools are not teaching them to write. If a child knows how to formulate an argument and communicate it in the written word, it doesn’t matter if you know what they are looking for ahead of time. They will pass because they have the skill, not because they practiced to take the test.

Education is not a sport. There is no practice. The training is the objective, not the game at the end of the week. These children are being failed, not by tests, but by people who didn’t take the time to teach them to really learn. They are being failed by the people who decided tests were more important than the sort of academic skills that can last a lifetime.

You do not lower standards so that more students pass, you bring the students up to the standard. Teach children, not for the test, but for the education, and it won’t matter if they don’t know what is going to be on the test ahead of time.  Teach them to learn or condemn them to a life of ignorance.

Test-takers don’t change the world.

A Mother’s Magic

“The sweetest sounds to mortals given

Are heard in Mother, Home, and Heaven.”

–          William Goldsmith Brown

When you were a baby, resting snug inside your mother’s womb, you felt what she felt. She rubbed her stomach to show her love, and you felt it. You felt her excitement, her happiness, and sometimes her sadness.

Then, you were born and the tables turned. Since your birth, your mother has felt all of the things you have felt, not out of sense of duty, but out of love. When you fell, she fell. When you laughed, she laughed. When you were proud, you made her proud. Your successes in life have been felt by your mother, your failures, hers, as well.

That is the beautiful magic held in the relationship between mother and child. You come in to the world physically connected, but it is a connection that never truly disappears. With each other you are stronger, without each other, somewhat lost.

It is a relationship full of constant irony. Nine months of discomfort and worry, leading to a day of intense pain and gore, forever remembered as one of the best days of her life. Not for any of the experience of that day was, but for what it brought her.

A mother is many things. She is your comfort when you need comfort, your drive when you need driven. She simultaneously shows you how she will always be proud, but still you would give anything not to disappoint her.

A child comes in to the world and his word for love is mother. In many ways, that never changes. She is provider, caregiver, leader, and friend. The world would be darker without her.

If Jesus was born of God to die for sin, it was Mary who guided him as a child. The bible loses track of him between ages 12 and 30, but his mother was no doubt there, as she was at the beginning, as she was at the end

I give that example, not out of religious necessity, but out of its message about mothers. She was there when he had gifts lavished upon him at birth. She was still there when he was beaten and left to die. She was there not because he was the son of God, but because he was the son of Mary.

This Sunday, women all over America will have their day. They will be appreciated and honored. They are the silent heroes, who ask for so little, but give so much. For a lifetime of love and support, all they truly desire is your happiness.

That is a difficult thing to give sometimes. So much of life, especially these days, seems rushed and out of control. Remember, on Mother’s Day, to give her your smile and your thanks.

Thank you to all of the mothers I have known, especially my own. Enjoy your day as a reward for all the patience you have shown all of us during the other 364 days. Thank you for all you do, have done, and will do.

Papa Pressure

“There are three stages of a man’s life:  He believes in Santa Claus, he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus.” – Author Unknown

When I was a child, I believed there was nothing that my father could not fix.  G.I. Joes, Hot Wheels, and all other items of importance were delivered into his hands, to be fixed on a grease and dirt-specked workbench during breaks or after work at the car dealership where he fixed cars.

There was not a problem large enough to overwhelm him, an enemy to great to defeat him.  My father, like all fathers, I imagine, was a bit of a hero, running down the small-town street in the middle of the night, answering the call of the siren mounted atop the volunteer fire station, a corrugated metal en-cased building where fathers and heroes gathered.

My father seemed to know things, about everything.  There were few subjects on which he didn’t have an opinion.  He knew everyone, and would regularly quiz me on who lived in all of the houses along the route of our school drive.  Not only did I need to know who lived there currently, but who lived there before, and why exactly the field that always flooded was called “duck pond corner.”  (Note: It had once been a pond, but was filled in and farmed, flooding each year regardless, inhabited by ducks that never received the note they were no longer welcome.)

Now, I am the father, and I see that same questioning in my son.  If a toy breaks, he believes I can fix it.  I am not a master technician, nor am I a handyman by any means.  I would have an easier time constructing a sonnet than a V8 engine.  Yet, I find myself gluing, screwing, and nailing as if I know what I am doing, fearful to admit to my son that I am any less than the hero he believes me to be.

His clear blue four year-old eyes moistening with years, his pouting lips down and thrust out, his little voice saying, “Daddy, it broke!”  These are my Popeye spinach.  I am what I am and that’s all that I am, except when he needs me to be more.  At that point, I become Superman.  His disappointment is kryptonite, and I will crawl through Hell not to feel its weakening green rays.

As my son has gotten a bit older, he has shown interest in new things.  Like my father, I have something to say about them all.  Thanks to Google and books, am even learning something about them myself.

He sits on my lap and we rock, reading about dinosaurs, robots, trains, or whatever else he is interested in that day.  I think of the pressure of being a father, to always have to know what is best, to always have the answer, to always be able to fix toys and kiss boo boos.  I think of my father, and how he did the same.  I wonder if my son will someday be the one feeling papa pressure.

I hope so.  For all its trials and tribulations, I would hate for him to miss out on it.  Because when you fix it, know it, or make it better, you get a smile.  That little smile fixes me.

The Christmas Corps: A journal from the front lines.

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” – Napoleon Bonaparte 

Welcome to the Christmas Corps.  Some of you volunteered for this mission, some were drafted by fate or dumb luck.  But here we are, joined by our solitary missions to bring Christmas to our loved ones.  There was stress, there may have been tears.  After all, you are given only a month to do what a jolly fat man can only pull off with a crack team of elves and a herd of reindeer in a year.  But on the morning of December 25th, you, the true Yuletide heroes, reaped the glories of the Jingle Bells battle.  You were mercantile marines, shopping soldiers and you performed bravely.

Being a father, I have found Christmas to be a sometimes complicated, sometimes demanding duty.  I started early this year, picking up toys out of clearance end caps in October, breaking the normal industry standard of no shopping before Black Friday, yet somehow, still found myself shopping in the waning days before I would eat all the cookies and blame in on a fat man in a red suit.

In the preparatory week prior to Christmas, I struggled with ribbon and paper, trying to figure out how to wrap packages that had no apparent adherence to any geometrical figure I ever learned in my public school education.  Maybe they teach you what shape a Happy Napper dragon is to packaged in during private school, but in my world, I slap a bow on it and set it under the tree.

I wondered to myself how I would explain to the emergency room doctor that I managed to severe my index finger with a pair of kitchen shears, the only cutting instrument I could find, and wondered it once again as I attempted to cut Snoopy wrapping paper with a rusty pocket knife.  Instead, I threw caution to the wind, avoiding sharp blades and tetanus by suffering a cut from a cardboard box.

After the cursing calmed, I found myself shocked by the amount of blood that can come from a finger and wondered if anyone had ever had a paper cut that required stitches.  I forgo the indignity of switching the wrapping paper that I had just bled on and tape it up.  That particular Lego set has plastic wrapping, screw it.

As a former art major, I was shocked and dismayed to find that the hands that could sculpt a face out of clay couldn’t figure out how to wrap a pirate hat with Transformer paper and make it look like anything but a festively paper mached pirate hat.

The morning of the grand opening, so to speak, I am excited by the light in my son’s eyes as he begins tearing paper from packages revealing the childhood treasures contained within.  I am certain I am the best father in the history of fathers, right up until he gives me the Hot Wheels semi-truck and wants it opened.  I send him off to tear apart more of my hours of literal blood and sweat, while I search for a screwdriver.

Pandora’s box is not as secure as a Hot Wheels semi.  I try to make sense of the diagrams telling me I need to break tab A, then turn the screw left while the pile of toys to be opened grows beside me.  I eventually defeat the security measures taken by the Matel Corporation and then move on to the next gift.

I’m not sure when a Construction Management degree became necessary to follow the blueprint instructions for putting a Pirates of the Caribbean play set together, but I quickly realized my English-based education has left me unprepared for following the instructional drawings.  I fell back on winging it, shoving pieces together that seem to match until I made something that closely resembles what I saw in the picture on the box.

In my brilliance, I had decided what my four year-old really needed was Lego blocks.   We could build things together.  He could learn creativity and the joy of making something yourself.  It would be awesome.  It turns out, the downside of Legos is that my son would like me to build everything the right way first.  There I sat with a grand total of nearly three thousand pieces of Legos from seven different sets, spending hour upon hour building, knowing that as soon as they are finished, he will tear them apart and mix the pieces together inside his Lego box.  But still, I do it with a smile.

It was already bed time.  Light turned to night and bed time was fast approaching.  I looked at the pile of packaging.  I felt sorry for the guys on the sanitation crew this week.  I was somewhat annoyed how large the pile of trash was compared to the pile of toys.  What a waste.  It was enough to make Green Peace cry.  It would be a hell of a mess to clean up.

I sat back on the couch and watched my son.  He wore the Jack Sparrow hat, and searched for buried treasure with a Happy Napper dragon and a plush Yoda.  The Lego Hero Factory characters scaled the side of Queen Anne’s Revenge, and battled a robot from Mars for control.  My son’s little voice was hoarse from an entire day of excitement, always talking, always full of love for everything.

There was a light in his eyes, pure and radiant that had stayed sparking since the first gift was opened.

I rejoiced in this year’s victory.  The Christmas mission had been completed, and was a resounding success.  It could not have been more worth it.

Never let education get in the way of your kid’s learning.

The only thing interfering with my learning is my education. – Albert Einstein.

There is a fundamental different between teaching and learning that we seem to be missing in our society.  We have become statistic-driven.  Our children, both yours and mine, are statistics in the war of education.  Unfortunately, true learning has never been about education.  While education is meant to facilitate it, more than ever it is interfering with it.

Education should be about learning.  But it isn’t.  We have become a country that cares more about teaching than learning.  Tests are no longer an educational tool, but a means to gauge teacher performance.  The problem is that teacher performance, true educational performance, cannot be measured by testing a bunch of kids.

When I look back on the teachers I had in my life and those whom I valued most, it comes down to a simple trait, easily observable.  Those teachers who learned the most from, where the ones that taught me to learn, rather than just teaching me facts.

Facts are relatively pointless when it comes down to it.  I know that the sky is blue because that is what they tell me.  But, more interesting that that is the fact that the sky is blue because of the way the air molecules scatter light from the sun.  I know my shapes, yet more interesting is the way that certain shapes combined are more universally aesthetic than others.  Facts, while testable, are fairly useless.

Yet, as a result of the way our system is structured, we encourage teachers to teach to pass the tests, when our teachers should be teaching our children to love to learn.

Regurgitation of facts will get a student their diploma, maybe even a degree or two, but true love of learning lasts a person for their entire life.  Love of learning is what gets you up in the morning.  It gets you on the internet researching things you see on television.  It makes you want to learn to play harmonica, speak Italian, read books, and a million other things.

We have endangered that love on learning for the next generation because we have placed to hard an emphasis on teaching.  Rather than learning to learn, students have been taught how to know what the teacher wants to hear.

Unfortunately, what made or country great was not desire to tell people what they wanted to hear, but to go further.  We are a country built on the backs of pioneers who wanted to know more and wanted to do more.  They pushed their knowledge to the limits, always wondering what they could do next.

Where will that come from from this point on?  I wish I knew.

I have taken great pains with my on son to teach him about thing in which he is interested.  He loves dinosaurs, and so we read a lot of books about dinosaurs, we excavate model dinosaur skeletons, we talk about what different dinosaurs ate and how fossils are found.  It’s important to note that my son is four, so I keep all of this relatively simple.  All dinosaurs with plates on their backs are Stegosauruses, because that is what they are, but they are also “Spike-tails” because that is what they are on Land Before Time.

Recently, he found a book on anatomy that he loves because you take a body apart in layers.  We have spent a lot of time since then going over names of body parts, where they are inside him, and what they do, yet at the same time, we chuckle when he calls the lungs “people backpacks.”

My hope, more than anything else, is that my son will learn to love learning.  I want him to know that when he thinks something is interesting, there is nothing wrong with learning more.  I want him to take the things he loves and explore them, finding out what makes them tick.

Teachers will be telling him what facts to regurgitate for his entire life, but I hope when all of that is done, he still feels the need to go to the internet, go to the library, and more than anything else, never stop learning.

Along with that, will come an added bonus, for me, a fellow lover of knowledge.  I explore all of these interests with him.  His interest in dinosaurs meant I needed to learn more about dinosaurs.  His interest in anatomy means I will learn more about anatomy.  Whether it be astronomy, robots, or trains, I will happily learn along with him.

The old saying went that if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day, but if you teach him to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime.  Our schools have gotten comfortable with giving our children nuggets of information, shoving factoids down their throats, then declaring them satisfied.  Don’t allow it.  Teach them to love learning, and give them a lifetime of knowledge.

P.S.  In an update from the NaNoWriMo front, the first draft of my novel was finished on the 16th.  Way ahead of schedule.  I am spending the rest of the month going back through and developing the setting a bit better.  I found it was like driving a hundred miles an hour through the countryside.  I got where I was going, but I never really got to stop and admire the scenery.  I look forward to the rest of the month and the rest of the first pass through, so I can see where it was I went without having to worry about getting there.

Until next time, keep reading, keep writing, and for the sake of humanity, keep learning.


Our Lost Humanity

NOTE: I normally blog about writing and how it relates to life. However, I was so disgusted by what happened at Penn State this week that I could not help but blog my feelings. After all, in many ways that is what writing is about. In writing, we take life and distill it through words, expressing human nature. But, sometimes, our nature as humans is more important than the art that reflects it. This is one of those times.

There are things more important than our passions. Sometimes, we need to stand back and realize that. There are things, values, more important than any writing or book. There are morals more important than any film or art. There are justices more important than any sport.

People tend to forget that. They get wrapped up in the things they’ve used to define themselves, at the cost of universal humanity. We are writers, readers, athletes, liberals conservatives, artists, scientists…and as such, we forget that we are primarily human.

This week, a bunch of people at Penn State were reminded of the responsibility that we share as humans. It is our duty to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. These people are the young, the old, the infirmed, the otherwise unable to self-protect.

Children, especially, are in our charge. Why? Because we, as adults, take so much authority over them. We command them as teachers, as coaches, as parents, as leaders. Our children are told from an early age that they must listen and obey adults. We send them to other adults, whom we entrust with their safety.

Violations of that trust must be met immediately, and with severity. Those who stand by and allow it are as guilty as those who committed the atrocities in the first place.

People may disagree with me, but in my experience, there is no rehabilitating a pedophile. You cannot tell them to stop and expect it to happen. You most certainly cannot look the other way.

Last night, a bunch of students rioted because a beloved football coach got fired. I am ashamed of them, supposedly educated adults who were unwilling to hold a man accountable for acts that happened under his watch, simply because he won football games.

Football is not important in the grand scheme. Compared to the safety of our children, nothing is important. My son had been born for about a half a second before I realized that I would die for him. My greatest daily wish is for a single smile, a hug, an “I love you, Daddy.” I would defend him with my life, without hesitation.

But, I know my duty is much more than just the protection of my child. If I witness the abuse of another child, I must take action. This is what the athletic and academic administration of Penn State forgot. Pedophilia is not an internal employment matter. It is a public matter of justice. You do not call your boss when a co-worker is molesting children. You call the police. This is your duty, not just because some of you fall under the role of mandatory reporter, but because you ALL fall under the role of human being.

If you haven’t read the grand jury presentment, I urge you to. I warn you, it is a very hard thing to read through, but it is important. It is important to understand what it represents. It represents the destruction of nine young people who grew up to be most likely damaged adults.

Sexual abuse changes children for their entire lives. For most, there is no moving on. There is no getting over it. The abuse will haunt them for all time.

Victims of sexual abuse are victims of power abuse. It isn’t about sex, it is about power and control. Imagine, having lost all power and control over your own life, to have it all ripped away.

Regaining that control is a hard thing. Some people never manage it.

That is the real crime of sexual abuse, the destruction of humanity, of the victims, of the offenders, and of the witnesses. Joe Paterno and Penn State’s administration lost their humanity when they chose not to call the police.

They took away his keys and told him not to bring kids to the locker room anymore, essentially “don’t do it here.” That disgusts me. Out of sight is not out of mind, not for this. There is no forgiveness.

Every person who knew anything about it should be fired. Any who can be prosecuted for failure to report need prosecuted, and all of those who were victimized need to come forward and make sure that the man who stole their innocence stays in prison for the rest of his life. It is a chance for them to regain some control, the control he took from them.

There are things more important than football. It’s a shame so many people forgot that this week. I pray that none of them forget it again. I pray for the survivors who will have to relive the abuse they experienced, and I feel sorry that they have to watch while so many support a man who failed to support children when they needed him the most.

Joe Paterno may have been a good football coach, but he failed as a man. That cannot be forgiven. No more than the victims can will themselves to forget.

Fahrenheit 2011

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame – Oscar Wilde

September is Banned Book Month.

I have to confess that I never realized just how important it was while I was in high school.  I was lucky enough to attend a school where The Scarlet Letter was assigned reading along with Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies.  My English teacher lent me a copy of Catch-22 and suggested I read it for a book report.  I remember reading these books and never thinking twice about it.

I wrote a paper on censorship and never caught that many of the books on the banned list could be found in my high school library.  Looking back, I appreciated it.  When I was studying to be a high school English teacher, I emailed my former instructor and told him exactly how much I appreciated it.  It took courage for him to teach a curriculum that he knew may come under attack.

That courage is lacking many places.  I don’t fault the teachers.  Especially in this economy, it is a dangerous thing to stand up when the rest of your world is telling you to sit down.  Teachers have been fired for daring to teach certain books.  Generally, the argument is based on racial slurs, sex, or violence.  Oddly enough, high school students have been exposed to all of these things, even without the masterpieces that they were denied the pleasure of reading.  In spite of school districts’ best efforts, all of these things are still a part of high school life.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953.  He imagined a world that must have seemed ridiculous at the time.  It was a world where firemen burned books, people spent all their time with their mind-numbing “families” and rebels committed entire books to memory.  Montag was the unlikely hero, a man who suddenly realized what he had been missing.

As years have passed, I’ve become more and more frightened by Bradbury’s prophetic work.

Not long ago, the 3D television was released.  Now, with the right equipment, we can be surrounded by television worlds of our choosing.  Unfortunately, more and more of that television has been reduced to mind-numbing reality shows featuring dancing with D-list celebrities and people who call themselves The Situation.

In Bradbury’s world, the book burning starts with the simple tearing out of pages that each group found offensive.  Recently, a university professor decided to neuter Mark Twain’s classic on racial tension in order to make it more accessible to students and less offensive to school boards.

Then, there is this quote:  With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar.

We, in fact, now live in a world where the arts are axed due to budget concerns, but every school has a football team.  State universities are cutting majors, while their affiliated athletic departments are thriving businesses, generating millions.  Academics has become the after-thought, the athletics the main attraction.

Recently, I was told there might be a move to remove literature from high schools.

I wonder what book I should start memorizing.

Fiction may be subjective, in many ways.  It may not be as test friendly as math or science, but it is just as important.  Fiction allows us to look critically at a subject from a new perspective.  It allows us to examine the darkest and brightest  aspects of our humanity through a different lens.  Fiction is about possibilities.  There was a time in this society when we were driven by possibilities.  We imagined where we could go next, and what it might mean to us.  I shudder to think of where we will end up without that.

Animals are content to live their lives based on survival.  Being human has always been more than that.  Since primitive man first drew on a wall or banged a drum, we have known there is more to this world than simple existence.  Math and science are survival tools.  The arts give us a reason to survive.

Literature lets us see the world as it was, through the perspective of a writer who lived it, rather than a scholar who judges it from a distance.  Literature lets us see how the world could be, good and bad.  A world without literature is a world without stories, without heroes.  A world without heroes has nothing left for which to strive.

Do I believe every student of every age should be able to read every book?  Of course not.  But, I guarantee you, our children see more offensive material in movies, music, and their real lives than you are going to find in any of the books on the banned list.  We aren’t trying to protect our children, we are trying to protect ourselves from the embarrassment of having to actually talk to our children.  Rather than discuss important things, we would rather pretend they didn’t exist.  Our children are not stupid.  They deserve better than that.  A generation who grows up without controversy is a generation ill-prepared for life.  Real life is never afraid to offend us.

If you have a high school kid who likes to read, I encourage you to expose him to some of the books on the banned list.  Read them yourself.  Discuss them.  Love them.  Share them.  Do it, before it is too late.

Jules Verne saw a world where men walked on the moon.  It happened.  William Gibson imagined a world were information flowed worldwide like water.  It came to pass.  Ray Bradbury saw a world without books ending in war.  Are you going to be able to outrun the hound?

This is a link to a list of frequently challenged books.  Find one you haven’t read and take it in.  Devour it.  Love it.