To Tell the Christmas Truth

Look, I’m not saying I’m perfect. Some days my daughter gets organic vegetables for lunch after we’ve built block towers and learned a bit more about letters and numbers, and some days she gets a hot dog after watching cartoons. I get it. Here’s an example of what I don’t get:

Doing it wrong
Because we have to focus on what’s important

I’m going to ignore the discussion on the ethics of introducing Santa to children. Every parent has to make that decision. I’m also going to ignore the Elf on the Shelf. What I have a hard time ignoring is a child asking their parent to be honest and the parent not only choosing to lie, but further promising negative punishment for not believing the lie. This is inherently wrong to me, but at least 37 people disagree. None of the comments reflect my opinion, either, though the original poster added this:

ONE YEAR MORE!
Because we know Christmas is all about enjoyment for the parents

I honestly feel bad for kids in this situation. They have to ask the people who have been providing literally every basic need as well as love, guidance, and support to them since they’ve existed if this one thing they’ve been telling them for years isn’t true. They’re asking for resolution to the conflict between fact their peers have discovered and the fiction they’ve been presented with from the people who gave them the fiction. And what I really want to decry here isn’t the cultural story we tell to our children. It’s the digging in. It’s the “You’d better believe it” mentality, knowing full well it isn’t true, solely to further the enjoyment of the parent, not of the child. It’s one of the most selfish things I can imagine a parent doing on Christmas.

 

Thanks for reading.

Here Comes Science

So, before my daughter was born, I bought 3 children’s CDs put out by They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABCs, Here Come the 123s, Here Comes Science. The first two are enjoyable and make for entertaining educational listening. The last one is the most enjoyable to me, but I’ll admit a good bit of bias.

Here Comes Science has the task of describing the methods and results of thousands of years of human exploration and discovery in an entertaining way. I think they handle this very well. The opening words to the album really frames where they’re coming from:

Science is real
From the Big Bang to DNA.
Science is real
From evolution to the Milky Way.
I like the stories about angels, unicorns and elves.
Now I like those stories as much as anybody else.
But when I’m seeking knowledge
either simple or abstract the facts are with science.

“Put It to the Test” further reinforces the point of the process:

If somebody says they figured it out
And they’re leaving any room for doubt
Come up with a test Yeah, you need a test

Are you sure that that thing is true?
Or did someone just tell it to you?
Come up with a test

(Test it out) Find a way to show what would happen
If you were incorrect (Test it out)
A fact is just a fantasy
Unless it can be checked

I like that reinforcement to go study and learn about those things. It also seems to echo LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow: “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Most of the rest of the album is focused on those facts that have been discovered. Photosynthesis, How cells work, atomic elements, etc..

If I had a complaint about the album, it would be the ordering. It’s a bit… haphazard, but not always. For example, I’d put the physical processes (The Elements, Solid, Liquid, Gas, What is a Shooting Star?, How Many Planets?, Why Does the Sun Shine?, Why Does the Sun Really Shine?, and Roy G. Biv) before the songs about biology (Cells, Photosynthesis, The Bloodmobile, My Brother the Ape, I Am a Paleontologist) with Human-centric stuff at the end (Computer Assisted Design, Electric Car, The Ballad Of Davy Crockett (In Outer Space)).

That being said, I thought it was funny that Track 8 was “How Many Planets?”. “Why Does the Sun Really Shine?” referenced “Why Does the Sun Shine?” (through a lyric of “Forget that song, they got it wrong. That thesis has been rendered invalid,” which reinforces, to me, that the result of exploration and testing sometimes produces results that conflict with our current understanding, and we have to refine those understandings to better fit reality. Plus it means we get to keep a really fun song.

It’s a good kids’ album and I’d recommend it to any parent that wants to try to kindle excitement about the study of reality in their own kids.

Thanks for reading.

I made a thing!

So, I have annoying tree-like things growing in my back yard. I think they’re the saplings of the trees they grow near. Every year, I have to cut these things down. Well, this year I get an idea after cutting them down. First, I cut it to the length I want.

image

Next, I stripped it, shaped it, and sanded it down as smooth as I could.

image

Finally, I stained it. Here’s the final product.

image

I know it’s not amazing, but it felt good forming something that already existed into something I wanted. (It’s supposed to be a wand, if you can’t tell). I hope it inspires you to follow any creative urges you have as well.

Thanks for reading

Meta

I meta joke once. It wasn’t funny.

As true with most of my personal guidelines, you don’t have to agree with me here. They’re mine, and I occasionally fail to follow them.

There’s a video going around showing the President saluting the Marines as he debarks from Marine One with a beverage in the hand he’s saluting with. Some people (G1) are saying that this reinforces their pre-existing idea that the President does not care about America and/or the military. Some others (G2) are saying that the first group has misplaced priorities and note that previous presidents haven’t always saluted, or saluted well. I’m not here to take sides.

I’m here to talk about our behavior, specifically talking about people talking about behavior and people talking about people talking about people’s behavior. I’ve made a general rule for myself: I try not to talk about the behavior of public figures that isn’t explicitly illegal or grossly immoral when they’re not doing whatever it is that makes them public figures. They’re entitled to their own lives and opinions. They’re fallible, and it’s only a recent development that we can document every failure, minor or major, that they commit. Any expectation that they should never be less than perfectly professional all the time is ridiculous.

The “Latte Salute” is the most recent example of why. It’s not important. Hours have been spent trying to make something meaningful out of it. Hours have been spent trying to say that meaning isn’t there. All of this time spent over something that took less than 2 seconds to happen and that no one involved took notice of at the time. The worst part is that it won’t change anything in a meaningful way. The people arguing about it aren’t going to persuade each other, and the people listening most likely had a favorite side that they stuck with. The President MIGHT be more diligent about it in the future, but G1 only cared that he made a misstep and G2 only cared that G1 was complaining. That lack of any potential productive change is what should discourage me from contributing, although sometimes it fails, and I end up talking about people talking about people talking about someone, incredibly far removed from the initial context, but just as angry as though I was the first one there. I don’t think that’s healthy.

Here’s a challenge for you:

If you’re in G1, explain what you think is going to change (other than making a lot of people as angry as you, maybe at you) by talking about it. What reasonable change can you or someone that you know make in order to make this better?

We need to be the change we wish to see in the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

If you’re in G2, explain what you think is going to change (other than making a lot of people as angry as you, maybe at you) by talking about G1’s behavior. If you think they’re a lost cause and don’t believe you can change their behavior, consider how you might make them more willing to listen in the future.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

No matter which group you’re in, consider how you think the other group will be answering, and think about them when the inevitable next super-contentious topic comes up.

Be reasonable, and thanks for reading.

When I Grew Up…

I’m going to start with a caveat: I get it. I understand where the people I’m describing are coming from. Nostalgia is a powerful driver, as is fear of the unknown. I also get that learning new stuff is much more difficult than it was when you were in school. I don’t believe those are sufficient reasons on their own to resist change. To the meat of it.

Yesterday, I discussed a different method for teaching multiplication, and I noticed a theme in the comments for the original post that sounded familiar, but from a different context. It was reminiscent of one of the arguments someone gave in an argument about spanking: “That’s the way it was done when I grew up, and I turned out just fine.”

I know I’m seeing this argument (and taking part in discussions where it comes up) because I am a parent. I’m going to keep hearing it. Parents are (very understandably) using their own upbringing as models for how their kids should experience childhood. There’s nothing wrong with using it as a baseline. I think any parent who stops with just that, though, is doing their child a disservice. It ignores the 20-30 years of development that’s occurred between you being in school and them being in school. It ignores the idea that you’re probably the most biased person about your childhood. Most confusingly, it doesn’t even try to give your child better than you had, and that’s probably what’s made the discussions so frustrating to me.

To be clear, I’m not discussing honest, thought-out critiques and complaints about these methods. I’m not advocating accepting change just for change’s sake. New learning methodologies should be scrutinized, but with better points than “That’s not what we did.” If you don’t believe sufficient research exists to support the newer way, say that. Just try to remember that these discussions are about getting to the truth, not about winning.

Thanks for reading.

Math!

So, I learned how some schools in my area are teaching multiplication today, as shown below:

Math!
One plus one, plus two, plus one…

I thought it was cool! It clearly shows breaking out the 10’s from the 1’s. It explicitly places the 0’s after the 10’s place. It lends itself SO easily to the FOIL method that’s used in algebra: (a + b)*(c + d) = a*c + a*d + b*c + b*d in the form of (30 + 7)*(20 + 8) = 600 + 240 + 140 + 56. The method I learned did this as well (as noted by the numbers that are added up), but it’s not made obvious. It’s got a similar form to Punnett Squares, K-Maps, and pretty much every other truth table.

I’m not touting this as the best way to multiply. There are lots of ways to get the answer, the most obvious of which is to design a device that will compute it for you so you can focus more on the meaning of the values. I’m also not advocating change for change’s sake. As a parent, it’s already difficult enough to keep up with daily life. The thought of adding in the requirement to unlearn and re-learn skills to help my kid learn sounds more than a little irritating.

What I really want to say is that I found this method very approachable, even though some parents found it intimidating. (In fact, the discussion around the example I saw was asking why kids couldn’t be taught the way they were taught. I found this ironic, given my memory of the original poster lamenting how difficult math was when we were in school.) I’m not trying to put them down, though. I recognize that my degree and my career field have made strong demands on daily use of math which probably colors my perception of it. I’m also not a kid any more. The riddle of that level of math has been solved for me, and it’s a lot easier to find something once you know what you’re looking for, which is probably why I think this method is cool. It’ll make finding stuff in the future easier for them.

Thanks for reading.

Reductio ad Hitlerum

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” — Spock

Reductio ad Hitlerum is a bit of dog Latin for “argument to Hitler.” It’s when you compare the arguments or the person arguing to Hitler or the Nazis, specifically with the intent of calling them evil. I’m sure most people reading this have done it at some point. I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss why you shouldn’t.

Being a living human being, Hitler did a lot of stuff in common with everyone. He ate. He drank. He breathed. He went to the bathroom. I have no reason to suspect he didn’t have sex. He spoke publicly. He went to school. He went to church. He sang in his church’s choir. He volunteered to serve in the military. He grew facial hair. Using the data point of “Hitler did it!” doesn’t, on its own, make it evil. Unless you’re comparing levels of racism and the magnitude of atrocities (for reference, your preferred political party losing power was not an atrocity, the Rwandan Genocide was), your comparison to the Nazis and Hitler is probably (and most likely deliberately) wildly hyperbolic and not contributing to rational conversation.

“Thomas, why are you bringing all this up? Surely you haven’t recently observed such rhetoric.” Oh, hypothetical reader, if only I hadn’t. I wish I had the creativity to make long, elaborate points about truly meaningful topics, rather than just reactions to the bad behavior I observe in social media. Unfortunately for both of us, I do not. Observe, exhibit A:

The needs of the many

Ignoring the political target here, it seems that the creators are somehow conflating altruism with Nazism, which is probably the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard honestly posited. I have no idea what the message of “We should take care of people” has to do with murdering a minority ethnic group, nor why I should denounce someone proclaiming Utilitarian views. What it leads me to do is classify the behavior of the person who shared it in at least one of several ways: 1) They don’t know how to identify bad arguments 2) They are susceptible to bad arguments 3) They don’t care what argument is being made, so long as it reinforces their viewpoints, and we all know how I feel about that.

What I’m really trying to say, through all of this, is that you shouldn’t do it and you should absolutely call people out when they do this. Guilt by association is a logical fallacy. Calling it out makes people think harder about their arguments, and that’s a good goal.

Thanks for reading.