Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Ripples in the Pond

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The real problem that comes with waking up too early is not the tiredness that comes at the end of the day, but the distractedness that starts at the beginning and never stops.  I get my work done, but after that my brain seems to just float over the landscape without being able to settle on anything.

And that’s too bad, because things keep occuring to me that might be interesting to investigate.

One of them is why Dante waited all the way to the Paradiso to do what most of us would have done from the first second we stepped out of the mortal realm–that is, to ask all those questions (how long ago did Adam live?  how long did he live?  what language did he speak?) that human beings really want the answers to, almost more than we want the answers to things like the meaning of life or the nature of eternal hapiness.

Somebody once called fiction “the higher gossip,” and I think people are always doing that, looking for the little details of other people’s lives.

Another of them is the annoying quality of so many spectators–and jurors–in criminal cases, who are convinced that the wife of the perpetrator MUST have known what he was doing or that the defendant was obvious guilty because she “showed no emotion” when the verdict was read.

Am I really the only person who shuts down on surface emotions when I’m under certain kinds of stress?  And do all these people really think that they’d “just know” if their spouse was out killing girls in the park or robbing banks in the neighborhood (that’s a real case)? 

I don’t know, maybe these people think that the average perp spends his off hours telling his wife and family all about his hobbies–but it seems ridiculous to me.  The bank robbery case seems particularly ridiculous, because in that case you had a stockbroker, a nice middle class guy with a nice middle class family, father a police officer, always been on the straight and narrow. Why WOULD his wife assume he was out robbing banks when he wasn’t at home? 

The last thing that gets to me is the Texas Board of Education, but not for the reasons you think.

In case you haven’t heard, the Texas Board of Education recently passed new statewide standards for social studies courses, that including sweeping changes in what i taught.  They wanted Reagan portrayed as a good guy and the free enterprise system portrayed as a good thing, among other things, and they caused a firestorm that lasted a week in the news.

Okay, it was several weeks ago, but still.  People had fits on national television.  The Board pushed a lot of political hot buttons–requiring students to “compare and contrast” the language of the Establishment Clause with court rulings on separation of church and state (I think the Free Exercise clause would have been more to the point), insisting that social studies and history classes should stress the “Judeo-Christian foundations” of the US Founding, and you know, the usual stuff.

But what gets to me is not that they did it, or even that I don’t agree with a lot of it.

What gets to me is–why did it take them so long?

For the past twenty years, I’ve been listening to conservatives complain that education is skewed to the left, that their children are being taught everything from Marxism to hate-America-first in public schools–why haven’t they done anything about it before now?

Hell, why haven’t they done anything about teacher education and the teacher unions? 

You have states across this country where the governor’s office and the state legislature are in Republican control. You have municipalities that are under Republican control.

Why haven’t any of thse entities taken this on before now?  If they don’t like what’s being taught in their public schools, why don’t they change it? 

There’s nothing written in stone that says they have to buy textbooks whose content they don’t like.  There’s nothing written in stone saying they have to buy textbooks from traditional textbook publishers.  There’s a TON of material out there, from traditional book publishing sources (think The Patriots History of the United States) to computer software that would probably be much more to their liking.  Why don’t they install those?

The backbeat of the Republican movement at least since the 1960s is that the leftward tilt they see in such institutions is being installed and enforced by a small elit and that the vast majority of voters are on their side about this stuff.

Well, if so–why HAS it taken them so long, and why is it just Texas that’ doing it?

No, I DON’T approve of most of the new Texas standards.

But it does seem to me that if you’ve got a grievance and a way to resolve it and you don’t, maybe all you really want to do is bitch.

I really am completely addled here.  I’m going to go–I don’t know what I’m going to go do.

I can’t seem to think that far ahead.

Written by janeh

June 21st, 2010 at 6:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses to 'Ripples in the Pond'

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  1. I would never have wanted to ask Adam any of those things. What it was like in Eden, sure. How long ago it was and what language he spoke? Wouldn’t have occured to me if you hadn’t mentioned it. But then, I sometimes miss/avoid gossip to the point at which I unintentionally neglect or offend people because I didn’t hear (or it didn’t register) something important that requires the expression of sympathy or a gift of some kind.

    People are often far worse than they think they are at judging what’s going on inside someone’s head or heart, never mind what they’re doing when out of sight. And they ESPECIALLY can’t tell what people are feeling when they are in public during something traumatic. Some people who fall apart very dramatically in private are reserved in public, either because that’s important to them for some reason or because their family has got them doped up to the gills for fear that they’ll break down in public and cause even more gossip and nasty speculation. Every now and then I read of a family somewhere that reacts to some appalling tragedy privately. No public breakdowns. No interviews (or worse, series of rival interviews!) with the media. Nothing. That’s far more to my taste and personality style than the reverse, but it’s the public tears and collapses that most people seem to expect and to consider appropriate today.

    I don’t know why the Republicans don’t change what’s taught in school. I suppose they could, in the US. Theortically, the local school system is run by people in education. It’s all funded by the government, of course, but I don’t think they’ve ever bothered looking at what books are in use, although there are some private groups who agitate periodically about the lack of history education etc. The only remotely political thing I can remember was from the grass-roots, when the residents of a town took exception to the (in their view) rather too environmentalist-oriented view of an issue that affected them directly. I don’t think the politicians knew what was in the books until the parents started complaining. It’s much the same thing with sex education, which has recently resurfaced as an issue in Ontario, although politicians tend to be more interested in sex in schools rather than political history in schools.

    But there are far more people who are willing to complain than are willing to take action and try to change things. It’s easy to complain; it takes a lot of effort and some political skill to get elected to whatever board controls the matter in question and then change it in the desired way.

    It’s like the situation with certain middle-managers in a unionized workplace, who complain bitterly that ‘the union’ won’t let them get rid of bad employees. Anywhere I’ve worked, the real reason the manager can’t get rid of the employee is that the manager won’t document the employee’s failings. Maybe he doesn’t want to deal with conflict, or the nasty job of explaining to Joe that this behaviour isn’t good enough, is going on record, and if repeated, will result in job loss. But managers who understand and are willing to work the system can get rid of people just fine.

    In any situation, it’s usually much easier to simply complain.



    21 Jun 10 at 10:38 am

  2. In one of my other lives (as a publisher of my husband’s series of books on jury education and true crime) I blogged on the public perception of people on trial. For those interested:


    We all think that we can tell when other people are lying just by looking at them. I don’t know why, when all of us have been proven wrong time and again. Did you ever watch that show “Lie to Me”? I can’t decide if it’s doing a disservice to us all or not by showing the micro-expressions that (they say) go along with various emotions. People are more complex than a single facial expression can convey.

    As for Texas and their delay in showing their true colors, I suspect that formerly they were ashamed to let the rest of us see their bigotry and willful ignorance. Now, in the day of “let it all hang out” trash reality TV, there is no shame, apparently. Shame is an outmoded emotion. Hell, let’s just flang our attitude out there, and anyone who doesn’t like it can go to….

    However, I predict this may be the last gasp for Texas large-state influence on textbooks. Digital devices and digital textbooks are coming, soon. That means that publishers no longer have to charge a massive amount for their books, and smaller editions can become economically practical. There is going to be a great flowering of kinds and quality of textbooks, with, hopefully, those of actual value and accuracy rising to the top.

    At least in my dreams. Reality, as always, may have other ideas. There will also be a plethora of utter crap out there.


    21 Jun 10 at 11:50 am

  3. Why should the Texans be ashamed of anything? Presumably they have different names for what you call ‘bigotry and wilful ignorance’, and don’t see any reason to be ashamed for trying to get the schools to teach them.

    Most people who promote a point of view they support aren’t ashamed of either the point of view or the promotion of it. They’d be ashamed not to hold or teach their beliefs. And that’s true whether or not I or anyone else would be ashamed to admit to those same beliefs.

    Whatever they are – I missed that particular US fuss.


    21 Jun 10 at 3:33 pm

  4. So many directions to pursue! As regards History quizzes in the afterlife, I suspect conditions There are so different that most of our current obsessions would be trivial and uninteresting. But there’s only one way to be sure about that, and then I probably couldn’t report back.
    Juries. I suspect there is a very widespread overestimation of our ability to “read” other people, which is why confidence men and politicians do so well. If “shutting down” is more common in some classes or ethnic groups than others, this could add to the difficulty with a jury drawn from another base. (I’ve heard this mentioned in relation to the Lizzie Borden case: that Fall River’s Irish population simply did not grasp how Yankees of that time conveyed displeasure or dealt with family quarrels, and that this shows up in testimony.)

    Texas. I tend to sympathize with some of what was proposed, but I also realize just how futile it is.
    The Texans in their frustration are taking an axe to a problem which requires gene splicing. From a conservative’s perspective, you don’t just need a new textbook–though I’ve seen some incredibly slanted ones, always to the left. What they need is an educational establishment with a different attitude. Without that, textbook and curriculum changes are pushing a string. To change the institutional bias would require ending education certification and raising pay, and even that might not do it. See “Why Intllectuals Love Marx.”

    Come back in five years, and you’ll be able to see exactly how little control winning elections gives you over an entrenched bureaucracy.


    21 Jun 10 at 3:37 pm

  5. I’m off for a week’s holiday playing tourist in Sydney. My plans do NOT include using a computer.

    This is not directly relevant to the present discussion but may be of interest.


    As for Texas, I’ve always thought that one of the strengths of the US is having 50 social laboratories to test out ideas. It will be interesting to see how the Texas experiment works.

    The book “Atheist Delusions” points out that many of our basic ideas such as equality, helping the poor and providing public hospitals had their origins in Christian beliefs. So perhaps one can argue that Christianity provided the foundation of the US.


    21 Jun 10 at 4:58 pm

  6. I hope the book “Atheist Delusions” has more to back that up than you’ve given. Equality is based on Christian beliefs? Really? Helping the poor? Seriously? Judaism existed a long time before Christianity did and helping the poor is something that’s expected. I would guess that there were others “helping the poor” and recognizing the principle of equality even without the need to attribute their actions to religion.


    21 Jun 10 at 10:03 pm

  7. I think you should read ‘Atheist Delusions’, Mary. Christianity was undoubtedly influenced by Judaism, and the author was, in any case, more interested in comparing the beliefs and actions surrounding feeding the poor in the Pagan culture at the time of the early Church with those of the upstart religion, but even Christianity’s Pagan enemies praised Christians’ care for the poor.

    And the Christian radical ideas on equality, although they may have faltered in practice sometimes over the millennia, are astonishing even today, when some people still insist that they don’t apply to the comatose or severely disabled or political prisoners. The modern concept of equality didn’t always exist, and there’s no particular reason to think it would now without Christianity.


    22 Jun 10 at 6:13 am

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