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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Wendy's morning classroom

I’m an early riser. Didn’t used to be, but there’s something peaceful and serene about the morning that sets my day right. The addition of Riley into our household has also required an early riser to handle the morning constitution. So after launching e-mail, I head downstairs with my puppy and outside for the paper and, well, you know.

With coffee in hand and Riley content, I head back to my desk to begin my morning reading habits, what I've come to view as my morning classroom. First up, the New York Times online. I receive the day’s headlines in e-mail and I’ve become so accustomed to reading in that fashion that to have the physical paper in front of me would likely be disorienting.

I check out the top stories and usually read the international and national stories I’m following. There will be the occasional business story that peaks my interest, such as the news yesterday that magazine advertising for September is up (which means that freelance assignments will be needed to fill additional pages and dollars will be more readily available to pay for said assignments—Woo Hoo!).

Usually skip over the sports section. Not that I don’t enjoy sports, but I just don’t look to the Times for sports coverage. Many of the most fascinating stories, ones you’ll never see in The Plain Dealer are found in science pages of the Times.

It’s been running a series of articles on the so-called debate between evolution and intelligent design. I say so-called because as one commentator wrote today:

Accepting the fact of evolution does not necessarily mean discarding a personal faith in God. But accepting intelligent design means discarding science. Much has been made of a 2004 poll showing that some 45 percent of Americans believe that the Earth - and humans with it - was created as described in the book of Genesis, and within the past 10,000 years. This isn't a triumph of faith. It's a failure of education. (Bold is mine.)

From the scientific perspective, there is no debate. But even the illusion of a debate is a sorry victory for antievolutionists, a public relations victory based, as so many have been in recent years, on ignorance and obfuscation.

Intelligent design is not something that can either be prove or disproved. It doesn’t fall into the realm of “science.” It is altogether a whole other animal. And that’s perfectly fine.

(Intelligent design) misses both the grace and the moral depth of knowing that humans have only the same stake, the same right, in the Earth as every other creature that has ever lived here.

Today’s article discusses the mix between faith and science among scientists. Dr. Francis S. Collins, who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute, is writing a book on the subject and is quoted extensively throughout the article. Though many of the nation’s top scientists talk about how the Genome project proves evolution over and over, there are some who also believe in something greater, something that doesn’t have to do with science. This statement by Collins really grabbed me. It echoes Albert Einstein:

"You will never understand what it means to be a human being through naturalistic observation," he said. "You won't understand why you are here and what the meaning is. Science has no power to address these questions - and are they not the most important questions we ask ourselves?"

Aside from skimming the PD and perusing the usual blogs and newsfeeds, my other morning reading ritual is the Washington Post. It’s my homepage when I launch Firefox. Again, I know just where to find my favorite sections, commentators, etc. online. But while we were on vacation I had the pleasure of picking up a print copy from time to time — a very different reading experience indeed.

This Sunday’s Post Magazine cover story was riveting. Titled “With God as Their Witness” by former magazine staffer and current director of newsroom training, Peter Perl, it was a personal account of his visit to the Middle East along with a group of Protestant seminarians and a handful of other lay and religious about how people of different faiths co-exist in this small geographic region. It raises some interesting questions about interfaith dialogue, about understanding and the challenges to feeling included.

It’s a lengthy piece, but worth the read. Of course I instantly sent it to Jill since I knew we would have a great conversation about it — and we have. Last year I received an invitation (I think by the Presbyterians) to visit Jordan (billed as "The Other Holy Land"). Though I obviously didn't partake of the junket, I did spend some time talking with the organizer and visiting the Web site. In the pit of my stomach was this overwhelming longing to see for myself, to find explanations and sources for my belief. I do hope to one day visit the Middle East — call it a longing, pilgrimage or spiritual quest.

I have no idea if that will ever happen, but I’ve also learned not to consider any trip out of the question.

What are your thoughts on this piece? I’d like to hear from you.

From science to God to history
I know this piece by Gene Weingarten was written tongue-in-cheek, but it raises the more serious question of how we can engage young people in learning American history. He writes:

America's schools are in crisis, particularly in the teaching of history. At a recent Senate hearing, it was disclosed that more than half of our high school seniors have less than a "basic" knowledge of our nation's past. This is particularly alarming because -- if my memory of high school serves me -- "basic" knowledge was what was taught in those classes composed of the kids who beat you up at lunchtime.

He goes on to say that “basic” Civil War history is knowing that Abe Lincoln won. So his idea is to change the boring nature of our nation’s history and changing it to make it more exciting.

I’m a history geek (was a history minor in college) so much so that I even have a copy of Herodotus, the father of history, on my bookshelves. I tell my boys that the best part about history is that it’s real. It’s like reading a great work of fiction, about an amazing battle, only this one actually happened, and these people actually lived.

History is much more than memorizing dates, coloring in maps or charting timelines — it is our story, with all the action, plot, drama, narrative, setting and characters that any writer could dream up and some that no one could imagine.

A nod to Joel
There is no question that I am addicted to Joel Achenbach’s blog — Achenblog. But he also writes a great column in the Post’s Sunday magazine. For anyone who maintains a blog, his latest Rough Draft column, “The Tail that Wags the Blog,” is a real hoot. I certainly don’t have the commentariat he does, but I agree that the blog is hungry and needs to be fed.

My alma mater rises to the top again
This is such a tired story. OU ranks as the nation’s second-biggest party school, according to the annual ratings in the Princeton Review. Of course it found its way on the front page of today's PD, fortunately below the fold.

Puh-leeze. I can see how that was the case in the 1980s. I mean, the drinking age was 18 and then 19 (for those of us grandfathered in), the town hosted two HUGE parties — Halloween and Springfest. But truth be told, Halloween was never that great for students. It was the weekend that all your friends from other schools (and their friend, and their friends, and so on) camped at your place, trashed your room or house, trashed the campus, trashed Uptown Athens and left you to clean up the mess. The novelty wore off of Halloween weekend after freshman year.

Springfest later became a dry event.

But here’s the funny thing. I was a campus tour guide throughout my four years at OU. I’d give prospective freshmen and their parents a tour of the campus and talk about all the wonderful educational opportunities available at OU. At some point in every tour, usually near the library, which was at the beginning of the tour, I’d be asked (mostly by a parent, occasionally by a serious student) if it was true about OU being a party school.

My stock answer, approved in advance by the admissions office, was that every school is party school. It's simply part of the college experience and it's up to individual students to make good choices. But now, 20 years later, I would add that I would send my kids there in a heartbeat. It's a great school.

Here's another news item about OU that didn't make the front page.


Jill said...

You mean I'm not enough of a commentariat for you? Poo. Love Achenbach's last line.

Jill said...

BTW, for some still unknown reason, we're receiving the NYT daily and Sundays (we only pay for Sundays) and I saw the Darwin debate article. But I'm troubled by its presentation: the above the fold headline implied that the reporter was going to provide evidence that more people think God and science mix. But when I read it, it was a compilation of quotes from folks at the conference and references to 1997 and 1999 reports about the topic.

I was very dissatisfied and frankly thought they'd exploited the interest in the topic by having an attention grabbing headline with content that didn't meet the expectations the headline built up. I went to the computer to print out the piece and then send a letter to the editor.

Guess what? Not only wasn't the article on the front page of the website but it's headline was different and sent an entirely different message: it sent the message that the content reflected: there's confusion, there's a stir, there's debate and the sound of the debate is rising.

Maybe it's just because I've been following this debate closely for almost four years now, but what gives?

yellojkt said...

I have never seen a truer and funnier thing than the Achenblog article. It is the beast that eats all your spare time.

Wendy Hoke said...

Yeah, that Joel. He's quite a character. I get sucked into the Achenblog and just can't seem to tear myself away from the comments. And, though I love you dearly Jill, his commentariat is in the vicinity of 200 per post. Some are nearly as entertaining as the blog posts. Anyway, I'd love to join Joel on his back porch some night and just shoot the breeze. You just never know where the conversation will go.

As far as headlines on stories goes ... that's disappointing especially coming from the Times. I've found the problem of titles in the books I review about religion to be particularly baffling. Rarely do the titles or subtitles have anything to do with the subject matter. In most cases they are obtuse.