The God Question

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During my 4th period class today, I got asked one of my least favorite questions by one of my students: “Do you believe in God?”

It’s a science class, and I want us to stay on-topic. Discussing my views on the existence or non-existence of a deity isn’t going to help with that. I sighed, and said what I always say in this situation: “That’s a personal question, and I don’t answer personal questions.”

The students then remembered that I have a Bible on the bookshelf in my classroom, and concluded, on the basis of this single shred of evidence, that I am, indeed, a believer. (The Bible is there as one of many options for my students to read during their designated reading time, just before lunch.)

Since then, I’ve been to Amazon, and ordered an English translation of the Qur’an, which I will place on that same bookshelf — probably right next to the Bible. I wonder what my students will make of that? 

Reading: It’s What You Do

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I have observed many families where reading is simply what people do. In one, a favorite family story is of a little girl (a toddler) whose parents and older brother were sitting in the living room, reading. No one told anyone else to read; this was simply something people did. The little girl was so young that she was holding her book upside-down, but she was doing her best.

This family does not consent to be identified by name, but I do have permission to describe the scene above. There are thousands of families like this — in the USA alone. May they increase in number.

When reading is simply what you do, it has a huge impact on who you are.

A Scenario I Would Like to See: Friendly Competition, Between Teachers’ Unions and School Administrators, to Help School Libraries Everywhere

school libraries

During the Cold War, the usual way nations compete (direct warfare) was taken off the table by the invention of the hydrogen bomb. With the alternative being mutually-assured destruction, the two sides, led by the USA and the USSR, had to find other ways to compete. Some of those ways were harmful, such as proxy wars, as happened in Vietnam. Others, however, were helpful, such as the space race. The United States put men on the Moon in order to beat the Soviet Union there, as this iconic 1969 photograph makes evident (source: NASA).

planting the flag

We are all still reaping the benefits of the technological and scientific advances made during this period, and for this purpose. The most obvious example of such a benefit is the computer you are using to read this blog-post, for computer technology had to be advanced dramatically, on both sides, in order to escape the tremendously-challenging gravity-well of the Earth.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if other conflicts in society took beneficial forms, as happened in this historical example?

This could happen in many ways, but the one that gave me the idea for this post is the conflict between teachers’ unions and school districts’ administrators, now taking place in school districts all over the place. I think it would be awesome if this previously-harmful competition changed, to take a helpful form: book drives, to help school libraries.

Please do not misunderstand, though: I’m not talking about taxpayer money, nor union dues. My idea need not, and should not, affect the budget of any school district, nor union budget. All that need happen is for individual people — teachers and administrators  — to go home, look at their own bookshelves, and help students directly, by donating some of their already-paid-for books to school libraries.

While I make no claim to represent any organization, I am a teacher, and a member of the NEA (the National Education Association) in the United States, as well as my state and local NEA affiliates. In an effort to start this new, helpful way to compete, I will give books to the school library where I teach, next week, which is the second week of the new school year. That’s a lot easier than, well, putting men on the Moon. 

This is something we can all do. All of us in the education profession, after all, already agree that we want students reading . . . and this is something we can easily do, to work together towards that goal. School libraries need hardcover books which are student-friendly, meaning that they appeal to a young audience, on a wide variety of subjects. Both fiction and non-fiction books are helpful.

Lastly, in the hope that this idea catches on, I will simply point out one fact: helping turn this idea into a reality is as easy as sharing a link to this blog-post. 

A Proven Method for Getting Teenagers to Read

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Although I am a teacher, I am not an English teacher — but I also believe that, as a teacher of anything, I have an ethical and professional responsibility to promote literacy.

Many such methods for doing so exist. This is the one I use. The authors I have gotten teens reading most often, with this method, are Richard Feynman, Robert Heinlein, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jung Chang, Flannery O’Connor, and Stephen Hawking. If a teenager in a science class, a subject I do teach, completes his work from me, with a high level of accuracy, and in an unusually short time, I keep books by these authors on hand as my set of “emergency back-up teachers.” Turning bored students into engaged and interested students is, I am learning, the key to avoiding teacher-burnout — at least for me.

Next on my list to add to the books I use for this ongoing project: multiple copies of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I haven’t read it since I was in high school myself, and its impact still lingers.

Why I Do Not Write Books

not writing

It’s very simple: errors in writing, of any kind, horrify me. If I wrote a book, and it were published, some would likely slip through, such as the one in the image above. If a book with my name on the cover had been published, and I then discovered an error, I would end up trying to get corrected copies to every buyer of the first edition, eating all profits, and then some. I also just don’t need that type of stress.

Please do not misunderstand: I love books.

Therefore, I do two other things, in lieu of actually writing a book (which has been suggested, to me, more than once). First, I read other peoples’ books. I seek higher-quality books to avoid those irritating typos, for they actually cause me pain when I see them. Even so, some slip through — ouch! — but at least the mistakes aren’t mine. I am almost immune to conventional causes of embarrassment, but this isn’t a conventional cause, and I certainly have no immunity to it.

The other thing I do is to blog, which is, of course, another form of writing. It’s a perfect forum for someone with this writing-quirk — because, when I discover a mistake in my writing, even months or years later, I can edit it away in seconds. This is why, for me, blogging > writing books. However, I am grateful that there are good writers for whom the inequality symbol points in the other direction.

At Least for Me, Blogging > Writing a Book

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I’ve been asked, more than once, if I’ve ever considered writing a book. The answer: writing a book, as compared to maintaining a blog, would drive me crazy. The reason is simple: every book I’ve every read has at least one typo in it — somewhere. If I wrote a book, got it published, and then found writing mistakes in it, I’d be mortified. With a blog, on the other hand, I can edit mistakes away, months, or even years, after making them.

There aren’t many things that embarrass me, but making errors in writing is definitely one of them. If others can see the errors, then having committed the “sin” of writing incorrectly feels like being caught naked in public — eeeeek!

In Anticipation of Sam Harris’s Newest Book

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Sam Harris has already written these five books, all of which I have read. I wasn’t crazy about the first one, but thoroughly enjoyed all the others. They are presented here, in order, by publication-date.

  1. The End of Faith (2004)
  2. Letter to a Christian Nation (2006)
  3. The Moral Landscape:  How Science Can Determine Human Values (2010)
  4. Lying (2011)
  5. Free Will (2012)

This month, he has a new book coming out. It’s called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. I have already pre-ordered it on Amazon, and am looking forward to its arrival. 

Here is a link to a book review of Waking Up which was published in The New York Times, yesterday:  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-between-godliness-and-godlessness.html?_r=1.

This link is to the page on Amazon where you can order Waking Up: http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Up-Spirituality-Without-Religion/dp/1451636016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409584480&sr=8-1&keywords=waking+up+sam+harris.