My Dad always worked. He worked at his job at Howard. Worked when he got home. Worked on weekends and birthdays. Reveled blasphemous in the Lord's Season. When I think of him, work is the first image in my mind. I see him unloading boxes of books. Mashing saddle-stiched staplers. Frying fish. Mixing cornbread from scratch. Whacking kids; Quashing our young brief rebellions.
We were enrolled into his life. And though he would surely deny it, we worked. Hauling books. Counting inventory. Packing and shipping. Hustling our wares at Art-Scape. Pitching the press at African Liberation Day. Remanded to Ayi Kwei Armah. Dommed to Ishmael Reed. Dad would sit in an easy-chair, with reading glasses low, and lecture from Up From Slavery. He had been a late 60s radical. But at his heart he was a puritan conservative dispensing a strange gospel rooted in the acquiring of knowledge, the inevitibaility of violence, and everywhere, the work.
He had labored from the start. Sweeping floors. Delivering groceries. Grasping at whatever his chid-hands could handle. His money went to his mother saddled with three kids, alcoholism. Down on relief. He devoured books even then. He would cut class for libraries and museums. He would walk downtown, running his hand along large buildings, feeling the unrelenting textures, dreaming of something, somewhere, larger than the poverty and despair of Old Philly.
How he came to love French, I do not know. I have asked him, but he can't remember. He's always loved movies, so perhaps a few spare words from the moving pictures. At all events, the salient fact is this--one season he saved his change and sent off for series of records that promised, by sheer listening and repetition, to imbue him with this beautiful language of waves and undulation. He remembers laying on his bed playing the record over and over, repeating the words, summoning France through incantations of greeting and conjugation.
He was, like me, like nearly every Coates boy, a poor student. It is a curse with us. A thing embedded deep in the strands and nucluei. Someday a great scientist shall stick us in a big machine. Electrodes will crown our heads. On a large screen, a teacher puts chalk to blackboard. The scientist grows wide-eyed. Data spits across the scene showing our neurons not so much firing, as stretching back to yawn.
Left alone, my Dad played that record like it was music. Because it was music. This word Bonsoir is its own magic. It is beautiful coming off your tongue. Your mouth make it's own happy ending. Your lips draw in for a kiss. And this magic is regardless of literal meaning. It is held in the very form.
Dad never made it to fluency. But I've thought about him throughout my own experience. And I've thought about ancestry, itself. To be black is to be able to reach back and touch people whose lives were, by law, foreclosed of certain possibility. No one cared about your intelligence, or curiosity. You were assigned to a certain lane, and there you stayed less you tempt all the violence the state brought to bear.
I understood education as a means of warding off death. You went to school to not go to prison. To not get shot. To not be, as my mother called them, an "If I had my gun" nigger standing on the corner. This is a product of the actual environment. In so many neighborhoods education must be about saving lives. But if you are ranger, this is slavery. Wonder took my father to French. And wonder to my father Nam. And wonder took my father to the Panthers. And wonder took him to my mother. And wonder carries me now to you. To see wonder daily reduced to plastic is another kind of death.
I write to you early this Tuesday morning, Brel in the background, from a street that is far from the streets, as a boy, I once knew. Those of us who are rangers have seen so much more than our fathers. But they walk with us. I imagine my father in the evening, sprawled across his bed, a child again. Record on. Lights off. Music forking down through darkness. Striking green imagination. Catching fire.
*The artist is Jean Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. The piece is Boy With A Top. More info here.
What went wrong with the conversion ministry, according to Alan Chambers, who once led its largest organization
In 2001, Alan Chambers was hired as the president of the world’s largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International. That same year, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report that stated, “there is no valid evidence showing that sexual orientation can be changed.”
Like most conservative Christian leaders at the time, Chambers considered the countercultural nature of his work a point of pride. During the latter part of the 20th century, Exodus and similar conservative groups promoted the idea that gay people could—and should try to—become straight. Ex-gay leaders traveled to churches and appeared on television news programs citing a litany of examples of happily married “former homosexuals” to demonstrate that sexual orientation is a choice and that change is possible.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
The country has seen periods of turmoil before. But this time may be different.
I am usually an optimist when it comes to Turkey’s future. Indeed, I wrote a whole book about The Rise of Turkey. But these days, I’m worried. The country faces a toxic combination of political polarization, government instability, economic slowdown, and threats of violence—from both inside and outside Turkey—that could soon add up to a catastrophe. The likelihood of that outcomeis increasing amid Russia’s bombing raids in Syria in support of its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which threaten to debilitate the moderate rebels and boost the extremists in Syria’s civil war, while leaving Turkey to deal with two unruly neighbors: Assad and ISIS.
Of course, Turkey has gone through periods of political and economic crisis before. During the 1970s, the country’s economy collapsed, and the instability led to fighting among right- and left-wing militant groups and security forces that killed thousands of people. Then, in the 1990s, Turkey was pummeled by triple-digit inflation and a full-blown Kurdish insurgency that killed tens of thousands. Turkey survived both those decades. The historian in me says that Turkey will be able to withstand the coming shock this time as well.
National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015.
National Geographic Magazine has opened its annual photo contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 16, 2015. The Grand Prize Winner will receive $10,000 and a trip to National Geographic headquarters to participate in its annual photography seminar. The kind folks at National Geographic were once again kind enough to let me choose among the contest entries so far for display here. Captions written by the individual photographers.
Many high-school graduates must choose between two bad options: a four-year program for which they’re not academically or emotionally prepared, or job-specific training that might put a ceiling on their careers.
Two years ago, my nephew was set to graduate from Maryland’s Towson University with a degree in political science. After six long years, both he and his parents were ready to breathe a sigh of relief—he had made it to the finish line. He had never been excited about school, and his parents had worried about his lack of enthusiasm, wishing he could be engaged in something that ignited his curiosity and provided him more of a motivation to focus, something more hands-on and practical. But they also knew that without a bachelor’s degree, my nephew’s ability to move into a rewarding career, earn a middle-class salary, and enjoy some economic security would be very limited. And they worried that if he didn’t complete that degree before he turned 25, he likely never would (a reasonable concern, given national statistics on college completion). Determined to launch him into adulthood with the strongest possible foundation they could, they persuaded him to go to college and crossed their fingers.
Here’s what happens if astronomers make contact with a civilization on another planet.
The false alarm happened in 1997.
The Green Bank Radio Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, was picking up some unusual signals—and Seth Shostak, then the head of the Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research in Mountain View, Caifornia, was convinced that they had come from intelligent life somewhere in the universe.
“It looked like it might be the real deal,” Shostak recalled. Within a few hours, he had a call from The New York Times.
But within a day, it became clear that the source of excitement was actually a European satellite. To make matters worse, a second telescope in Georgia, which would have told the scientists about the true nature of the signal, wasn’t working.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
“Vaccine hesitancy” is a delicate way of phrasing a serious public-health problem. The World Health Organization defines it as “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.”
There’s a tendency to treat these vaccine-hesitant people as a monolith, the “anti-vaxers” who are putting everyone at risk. But people who don’t vaccinate aren’t just a homogenous mob of parents who fear toxins and want their kids to be exposed to chicken pox “the natural way.” There are a variety of reasons why people decide not to vaccinate, and a new paper by researchers at Rutgers University and Germany’s University of Erfurt and RWTH Aachen University, published in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, breaks down the psychology of four different types of non-vaccinators, in the hopes of finding effective strategies to change their minds.
News organizations spread false information about a U.S. airstrike that hit an Afghan hospital, as a result of untruths that came from unnamed government sources.
On Saturday, an American airstrike hit a Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Twelve staff members and 10 patients were killed. Three of the patients were children. NPR reported that some of the victims “burned to death as they lay in their beds.” Tens of thousands of Afghans lost their city’s only free trauma hospital, which will likely lead to even more deaths.
Why did this happen?
As Médecins Sans Frontières demanded answers the U.S. government spread false information.
“Their description of the attack keeps changing—from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government,” the nonprofit said Monday in a statement. “The reality is the U.S. dropped those bombs. The U.S. hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The U.S. military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack.”
The Red Planet once had an ocean and a magnetic field. A new mission is setting out to discover what happened to them.
The question of whether there is life on Mars is woven into a much larger thatch of mysteries. Among them: What happened to the ancient ocean that once covered a quarter of the planet’s surface? And, relatedly, what made Mars’s magnetosphere fade away? Why did a planet that may have looked something like Earth turn into a dry red husk?
“We see magnetized rocks on the Mars surface,” said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the InSight mission to Mars, which is set to launch in March. “And so we know Mars had a magnetic field at one time, but it doesn't today. We would like to know the history—when that magnetic field started, when it may have shut down.”
There are a few leading theories about what decimated the planet’s magnetism. One of them is that huge asteroids bombarded Mars until its magnetic field turned off. That storm of asteroids may have included one enormous rock in particular, even bigger than the one believed to have wiped out Earth’s dinosaurs. Another theory explores the possibility that Mars’s ancient magnetic field only ever covered one of its hemispheres, an idea that would also explain how the planet’s magnetism weakened over time. “The presence of a magnetic field is key to understanding the history of Mars’s atmosphere, which of course is key to habitability on Mars’s surface,” Banerdt told me.