Category Archives: Steven Pinker

The Pencil Today:


“I’d like to say I was smart enough to finish six grades in five years, but I think perhaps the teacher was just glad to get rid of me.” — Alan Shepard


Let’s talk teachers today.

A report on WFIU local news this morning mentioned the Richland-Bean Blossom School Corporation program to replace text books with iPads. The RBBSC is buying a thousand of the devices for use by students over the next three years.

Now, this seems to be a fairly good idea. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the kids’ backs. It’s good because kids are growing up in a world wherein books are goofy things that old people waste their time with while iPads are what every cool person has.

This Used To Be Yellowwood State Forest

So far, so good.

The report, though, mentioned that teachers now will be just a click away. Should a kid need to know, for instance, how many pages the essay on the Civil War that’s due tomorrow morning has to be, all she has to do is email the teacher and she’ll have her answer within moments.

Sounds good, no?


It stinks for the teachers.

No matter how dedicated a teacher is, no matter how much she loves her job and her students (although god knows why), she needs some time away from them all.

Mother Teresa Would Belt These Kids

And, trust me, the minute kids realize the teacher is a touch of the send button away, they’ll be harassing the poor soul from morning until night.

See, this thing reeks of the current workplace zeitgeist that holds that as an employee of the corporation, you are now owned lock, stock and barrel by it. Every desk jockey in this holy land is now tethered to American Widgets, Inc. 24 hours a day via SmartPhone and Droid and all the rest.

You Are Ours

Anyone who isn’t at the constant beck and call of management and coworkers is not getting ahead. Not only that, those recalcitrant fools risk being axed forthwith.

When pagers became widespread in the 70s and cell phones started coming on the scene in the 90s, advertisements for them often featured the likes of heart surgeons extolling the virtues of whatever device was being peddled. The idea was, If it weren’t for this cell phone, my patient would have died horribly and with great suffering.

Now the pager and cell phone peddlers knew they couldn’t survive solely by marketing their toys to heart surgeons but they were banking on the rest of us watching their commercials and thinking, Man, I want to be super-cool and indispensable just like that doctor.

Next thing you knew, office supply salespeople and fast food restaurant managers were wearing pagers and, later, cell phones in clip cases on their belts.

This Person Never Wants To Have Sex Again

The sane among us considered them geeks but as the years slipped by, more and more of us became geeks. And by extension, fewer of us remained sane.

Now, of course, anybody who doesn’t have a cell phone with texting and Internet capabilities is, for all intents and purposes, a nut.

Call me a nut.

I subscribe to the Louis CK philosophy of gadgets: Just because a technology has been invented doesn’t mean you have to use it.

But the sacred corporation has embraced these technologies with all the fervor of born agains. There’s no better way to keep tabs on your wage slaves. You like your $65,000 a year gig? You’ll give yourself over to us like a high school dropout in love for the first time.

Nobody asked me, but if the Richland-Bean Blossom School Corporation wanted my vote, I’d say leave the poor teachers alone for a few hours a day, wouldja?




Now let’s look at the other side of the teachers’ coin.

This pic has been circulating in the Facebook universe lately:

In case you’re having a hard time reading the note, it begins: “I am a teacher. You are able to read, write, do arithmetic and much more because of people like me.”

It’s part of that whole I-Am-the-99% thing wherein the downtrodden of this holy land speak plainly and plaintively about how greed capitalism is crushing them. And generally I agree with every word they write.

But this one bugged me.

Yes, I’m all for teachers. And yes, the right wing, god-fearing, anti-intellectual gang that runs things these days would like nothing better than to break teachers unions, slash funding for schools to the bone, and mandate that the story of Noah be taught in science class.

Alright Children, Time For Your Biology Lesson

I buy the argument that a society that doesn’t value education — as ours largely does not — is marching toward its well-deserved grave.

Still, the hubris in the above screed rankles.

We humans take to reading and writing innately. The argument has been made, most notably by renowned linguist Steven Pinker, that the capability to produce and reproduce language is hard-wired in us, much like the ability to spin a web is written into the genetic code of the spider.

I’ll give you a bit of anecdotal evidence. I was sick throughout most of my kindergarten year. I had some weird low-grade fever deal that kept me home from school most days.

Anyway, I taught myself to read as I sat home. I flipped through the World Book Encyclopedia constantly, especially the parts that had to do with World War II, airplanes, trains, and maps. I’d see the little squiggles beneath the photos and ask my mother what they meant. She’d be grating breadcrumbs or making spaghetti sauce and she’d reply, “That says ‘tank’,” or “Illinois.”

Aw, Cool!

And I’d repeat the word or words. Mainly, though, I gleaned words and sentences through repetition, seeing them again and again in different places. I started to understand what “the” meant, or “men,” or, for that matter, “World Book Encyclopedia.”

This is how humans learn.

Teachers have their place as guides through the thicket of rational thought. Ideally, they help us learn to think critically. They steer us toward effective ways to study. At best, they inspire us to keep those childlike senses of wonder and curiosity we’re all born with.

But teachers are human. Some are good at what they do. Some are not. Too many of my teachers were far more interested in teaching my classmates and me the lessons of conformity and obedience.

The only things I learned from them was how to reject those lessons.

I see no reason to believe teachers have changed all that much since I was a school brat.

The Pencil Today:


“The world is getting to be such a dangerous place a man is lucky to get out of it alive.” W.C. Fields


Parents in the year 2011-going-on-2012 are probably the worryingest humans ever to have evolved.

We might blame TV crime dramas and the 24-hour news cycle for that. This holy land’s living room gibbons have seen so many kidnappings, murders, beatings, and rapes that they’ve begun to believe real life is chock-full of such thrills and chills.

TV Life

This despite the fact that crime stats have been steadily decreasing in the last few decades. The evolutionary psychologist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has written a bestseller entitled “The Better Angels of Our Nature” detailing how the human urge to eviscerate or otherwise express his emotions toward his neighbor has profoundly declined in the modern world.

Sure, sure, we have nuclear weapons and religious sects that want to slice our throats if we don’t agree with every single use of the comma in their book of tenets but, by and large, the casual one-on-one violence that characterized daily life as recently as the middle of the 20th Century is pretty much absent today in America.

In 1942, for instance, a man might disagree with the fellow next door over the relative merits of Plymouths versus Chevys. The discourse might become heated to the point that the Plymouth owner would, say, accuse the Chevy aficionado of having carnal knowledge of his mother.

The Chevy guy might at that point punch the Plymouth guy in the nose, causing the poor man to spend the rest of his life resembling a Picasso portrait.

Probably Had A Disagreement With His Neighbor

And that would pretty much be the end of it save for the eagerly repeated recounts of the encounter which would only peter out when the next such slugging occurred.

Today, of course, a citizen displacing his neighbor’s nose from the front of his face to the side would trigger a flood of squad cars, ambulances, and attorneys to descend upon the block in question.

If it happened in Bloomington, the incident might even make the inside pages of the Herald Times.

We are, by and large, a more civilized people.

Anyway, parents today won’t let their kids do much of anything on their own for fear they’ll be forced into sexual slavery. The world, Ma and Pa America believe, is more dangerous than it’s ever been.

So imagine how the parents of Oakland City, Indiana are reacting to the discovery of a meth lab in the janitor’s closet at the town’s high school.

They’re meeting today with the school’s principal and the town’s chief of police to talk the whole thing over. You know — as much as you know the sun will rise in the east tomorrow — there are now dozens of Oakland City parents who are convinced the nation’s high schools are all housing meth labs.

Even though there’s no evidence the janitor wanted in connection with the discovery had peddled his product to the kids. Nor is there evidence his closet was really a lab at all — the police chief says it appears a small amount of meth was made a single time there.

Parents worry. Always have. But never before the way they do now.

Remember “rainbow parties”? Oprah — who else? — had an episode once during which it was revealed teens were throwing get-togethers wherein the girls all put on different shades of lipstick and proceeded to blow all the boys in attendance — the “rainbow” signifying the lipstick spectrum each boy’s junk was adorned with after the party was over.

Next thing you know, every parent in the land was convinced every Friday night party their precious daughters and lucky-dog sons were going to were really fellatio orgies.

Only there never had been any such things as rainbow parties. They were a figment of novelist Paul Ruditis’s imagination (and they never even occurred in his book, “Rainbow Party“!)

Or how about the Florida police chief who revealed to a startled republic that our sons and daughters were now all doing jenkem, a largely mythical hallucinogen made from fermented human sewage. The DEA and the mainstream media jumped on that bandwagon, warning of the dangers of sniffing hot shit.

Fox News (Who Else?) Reports On The Jenkem Epidemic

And parents ate it up, natch. Until the jenkem rage was discovered to be a hoax.

Maybe today’s parents need the adrenaline high of worry and fear. Maybe it’s a replacement for the high they used to get from the substances they did before they became parents.

Or, as I alluded to earlier, maybe it’s simply the blurred line between fiction and reality that corporate media has created.

Whatever, every kid seems to have helicopter parents now. And I thought my generation had a lot of parental baggage to shed on the analyst’s couch. The poor kids of today are going to be gulping anti-depressants like M&Ms over the next few decades.

Man, I’m glad I never became a parent.


Especially when I or The Loved One might be viewed in the following light by the husband or wife of our thankfully non-existent kid:

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