Saturday, April 4, 2015

Resurrection Cupcakes.

Okay, yeah, I'm not sure it works, either.

But whenever I looked for Easter cupcakes on the Internet, all I got were eggs and chicks and green-tinted icing.

And that's not what I mean by Easter.  And I thought that maybe the whole celebrating-the-resurrection-with-cutesy-cupcakes thing was probably a bad idea.  But I kept trying.

I tried googling "resurrection symbols," which turned up a lot of hits for the Resurrection Eggs thing, which involves putting symbols of both the Passion and the Resurrection in plastic eggs, with, I guess, the idea that they actually could then be Easter eggs.

And I liked that idea, and a lot of the symbols seemed like things even I could turn into cupcake decorations.

But then I thought that cupcakes with torture devices on them were, you know, not quite it, either.  I didn't really want crucifixion cupcakes.  I wanted Easter cupcakes.

So I went back to the actual resurrection stories, and came up with a handful of symbols I thought would work:

An empty tomb, because, duh.
Coins or a money bag, for the bribe for the soldiers (Matthew).
An angel, also duh.  (In Mark, he's a young man, but in the other three, one or two angels show up.)
Strips of linen (Luke & John) and a folded headcloth (John).
Broken bread (Luke).
Fish (Luke, and, in a different way, John).
Dove (Holy Spirit, John).
Hand with nail mark (John).

I was actually planning to try them all.  But 1) tummy bug, 2) nearing the end of the semester, and 3) my general sculpting inadequacy.

So this was the best I could do:

I've no doubt some of you could take this and make it truly Pinterest-worthy.

If you could get all eight of the ones I came up with, you could probably make a scripture activity of it--find the story the cupcake applies to, or hide a little scripture verse on the bottom of the cupcake or something.

But the [our last name] boys, who can't even manage matching socks, will not mind, I think, my rudimentary success.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Vampires and Vaccinations

Eula Biss's On Immunity is an interesting book, and one not easily categorized.

Part medical journalism, part cultural theory, part literary criticism, part memoir, it reflects on the historical, socio-economic, and moral forces that shape the conversation around vaccination and public health.

Though the author is clearly and straightforwardly pro-vaccination (and pro-required-vaccinations), she does not caricature or castigate those with whom she disagrees.  She tries to explain, if not entirely without critique then at least without rancor, what sense anti-vaccination movements might be trying to make.

She accounts for fears that are more subtle (and less easy to disprove) than the fear of autism (which is the only anti-vax fear that gets much play time in public discourse).  Most of these fears seem more morally pernicious than the autism-fear.  While the autism-fear springs from a garden variety distrust of government, energized by an apparently spurious "scientific" finding, these more subtle fears seem to spring from some combination of racial, gender, socioeconomic, and xenophobic impulses.

They're fears that find interestingly medical expression in, for example, Bram Stoker's Dracula.  (I'm sure there are other sci-fi and literary works that might also be worthwhile comparisons, but Dracula nicely captures the spirit of the moment.  Vampire stories are so trendy, even when they're over a hundred years old.)

Her interweaving of different discourses (cultural theory, literary criticism, moral philosophy, etc.) is relatively skillful, but I felt at times as if she were dabbling in all of them and allowing none of them sufficient time to say something truly powerful.

I was intrigued by most of the different threads she was trying to weave together, though.  I'm not sure I felt terribly enlightened about vaccinations or about society in general, but I was left really, really wanting to read Dracula.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What I'm watching.

I was looking for a video clip that would help my students understand the concept of the social construction of identity, and I chanced across this Colbert Report clip featuring Toni Morrison.

What a beautiful and gentle conversation.

I love how he is so awed by her presence that he can't even slip into his brash persona until about halfway through.

I love how gently she offers insights that could have been shouted accusingly--she invites us into a better world rather than castigating us for not being there already.

I love how her soft, lyrical, powerful voice calls forth an answering delicacy in his.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Body Sculpture

One should never think too terribly hard about motivational sayings, posters, or images, but a striking comparison presented itself to me today, and I could not avoid having thoughts.

(I do try, sometimes, to avoid thoughts. Especially the inconvenient ones.)

A few months ago, a few different friends of mine shared the following:

I do not know the source of the image: who created it, for what purpose, or who owns the copyright.  (If the originator somehow finds this post and speaks up, I'd love to be able to give proper attribution.)

My friends who shared it had different intentions in doing so and different interpretations of the image.  One found it inspirational; another was horrified by it; still another (a "friend" only in the Facebook sense, and not for very long after he shared this) took the opportunity to make fat-people jokes.

Words in the url on which I found the image offer their own ambiguous interpretation: funny-stone-fat-woman-carving-herself.  I know not how to interpret either the words "funny" or "fat."  Even "carving" is giving me more trouble than it should.

I was and am uneasy with the image, although (or perhaps because?) it does seem to represent faithfully a longing that many women have (to re-sculpt their bodies) or an idea many women have of themselves (of a fit, beautiful, self-disciplined, happy woman hidden somewhere inside them).

I couldn't put my finger on exactly why the image made me uneasy, though, until I tripped across this one, today:

I think the inspirational quote on the man's image works for either image.  Both of them are proclaiming the malleability of the body, and the fitness (pardon the pun) of the project of self-renovation.

But there's the rub, no?

The man is not engaged in a project of self-renovation.  He is in the midst of self-creation.  He takes unformed, undifferentiated matter and makes it into himself.  He is a little god in that sense, performing in his own little way the same work that God does in forming man out of the mud of the earth.

It is a pure and gratuitous act of self-creation: he is powerful and he is free.  He is Man.  He is a god, a son of the Most High.

Not so the woman.

She starts trapped in her own body.  The "real" her is thin and beautiful and fit, but this ugly, evil monstrosity (called her body) is imprisoning her.

She must cut that body away to find the real her inside.   She must punish it for its sins so that her real self--the thin, beautiful, fit, happy her--can break free.

He is free to pursue his project of self-making.  She must--must--succeed at it in order be free.

There is no sharing in the creative work of God here.  She is not Eve, mother of the living, blessed with the capacity to make and feed little humans with her very body.  She is not even Christ, freely giving her body to be sacrificed for others.

She is just whittling away at herself, carving her own embodied life into a more controlled--and controllable--form.

How will she know whether that form is free?  Might she not find that that form, too, must be whittled away?

I'm a fan of caring for one's health through exercise and dietReally.  But self-hatred disguised as self-care . . . not so much.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sweet Little Moral Crusaders

“From 15 to 18 is an age at which one is very sensitive to the sins of others, as I know from recollections of myself. At that age you don’t look for what is hidden. It is a sign of maturity not to be scandalized and to try to find explanations in charity.”
(Flannery O'Connor)

As an ethics professor, I have long taken my students' capacity to be outraged as a good thing.

That is to say, I have mistaken my students' capacity to be outraged as a good thing, in far too many ways.

If they are outraged at an injustice that I present to them, I take it to mean that they care about justice.
I take it to mean that they are paying attention in class.
I take it to mean that I am a good teacher, for eliciting such responses.
I take it to mean that they are maturing as ethical beings.

This isn't true.

Or at least it may not be true.

Moral crusaderism is a stage, just as Flannery O'Connor says it is.  (She's not the only one.  Sociologists and developmental psychologists agree with her, although I doubt she'd need to know that to feel confident in her own observation.)

It's a mature stage for a child, but an immature one for an adult.  It's not a great stage for a child to be in for very long, especially if it happens to occur at the same stage as the All Authority Is Arbitrary and Evil and RUINING MY LIFE stage.  (Alas for parents of teenagers, this happens with some regularity.)

And it's sort of a bad sign when twenty- to twenty-four-year-olds are still in it.  Freshmen? Sure.  They're still children, really.  Grad students?  Um, no.  We are okay with it only because we still expect twenty-four-year-olds to be children.

Pragmatically speaking, encouraging students' moral outrage could be a short-term plus; they're more interested in class, class is more lively, they give better evaluations, it makes you look good, you have more fun doing your job.

I'm less and less convinced that it's a good practice, though, even in the short term.  Short term problems: you confirm their pre-existing prejudices, feed their habit of judgmentalism, and strengthen their addiction to the feeling of justifiable anger.  All that snippiness may just turn itself around and set its sights on you.

But it could potentially be a long-term disaster.  They cannot reach genuine moral maturity if they're encouraged (by their ethics professor, no less!) to substitute mere outrage for the pursuit of justice.  Outrage (especially of the click-to-share-and-raise-awareness variety) is a satisfying emotion, but does little actually to satisfy the demands of justice.

Far better for their moral maturity for us to prefer the slow, thankless, unfun task of getting them to do hard things--hard, boring, daily, unseen and unrewarded things.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reading This Week

Interesting proposals afoot in the world of elementary and secondary education: Cuomo's Plans for School ReformLots of reasons to be concerned, especially if you're a teacher.  Or a student.

Here's the thing, though.

Until we solve the poverty problem, we are never going to solve the the education problem.  Never.

Yes, incompetent teachers are a problem and should be fired.
Yes, school districts that fail to educate their students are a problem and should be reformed, whether they like it or not.
Yes, wasteful educational programs should be curtailed and eliminated in order to spend money educating students helpfully.  (Note to politicians: services for gifted or disabled learners, the arts, and the humanities do not fall under the "wasteful educational programs" rubric.  Nor do programs that involve class sizes smaller than 40, students having textbooks, and buildings that are not in imminent danger of collapsing.)

But teacher incompetence, failing school districts, and wasteful educational spending pale in comparison to the problems generated by the wealth gap in this country.

They also pale in comparison to the rank injustice of property-tax-funded school districts.

Solve the poverty problem.  Do that first.  Then worry about firing teachers and cutting programs.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from the [our last name]s, the [my parents' and brother's last name]s, and the [my sister's last name]s!