Religion and the Simpsons

“Please, do not offer my god a peanut.”
(Apu to Homer, after Homer offers a peanut to a statue of Ganesh.) —

Religion is a topic my buddy Ryan loves to discuss, even when I am exhausted and devoid of argumentative spunk. He especially likes to expose inane postulates; for example, he told me about a moral paradox he noticed about his Southern Baptist roots. In the Southern Baptist culture it is a sin to cheat on your wife, or sneak a brewskie on a Sunday before church, but none of these sinners would ever publicly deny God's existence. "In other words," said to me, sitting on my deck chair nursing a glass of OJ, "you can fuck your wife's best friend but you can't be an atheist."
Religion follows its own fuzzy logic. "Do not offer my god a peanut" ok? What about, don't eat for one hour before holy communion? Or, if a man spills his semen on the bed during sex he has to atone for the loss of his potential babies? Homer may have offended Apu by giving Ganesh a peanut, but in the world of religion, it is not that difficult to make a faux pas.
A couple of Mormons paid a visit to my apartment yesterday; I offered them a coffee and I noticed the smaller dude glanced apprehensively at the other one; after a second pause, they both said, "Well, that's another thing about us -- we don't drink coffee." "Ahhh," I said, "What about a gin and tonic?" and laughed but they didn't laugh with me. I honestly did want to see if they were interested in sharing with me other details of their faith, but I had a dental appointment so I had to shoo them off; and they were so adorable! I should not have offered that peanut, I said to myself.
Religion is ingrained in our nubile minds from the moment we enter into language. We are submerged in religion, with its weird taboos, and semantic boundaries; it is next to impossible to break water and gulp air, to turn back and look at how religion affects us unaffected. It is only a rare occasion when religion is seen outside of context, can we begin to notice its arbitrary and illogical nature. We seldom think of our own faith tradition as flawed, even when we intellectually forsake it.
In Amitav Gosh's book In an Antique Land, a memoir about his own anthropological study, living with a group of rural Egyptians; he a Hindu; they, Muslim. In a funny exchange, Ghosh attempts to explain why Hindus revere the cow and the belief of reincarnation. Set up in the village to examine and write about the people for his dissertation, Ghosh ironically is questioned by his host group on his own beliefs in a humorous reversal of roles. The experience gives him (and the reader) a rare opportunity to see his own faith upbringing from the viewpoint of an outsider who is allowed to express their unsolicited opinion unfiltered by secondary commentary.
I can remember as a teenager feeling undeniably that I would go to hell if I entertained a homosexual thought. I never thought that maybe -- just maybe -- it was all balderdash. Well, I did. Of course. But, I could not shake the anxiety that I would be punished. It probably took a few years to untangle a belief that gays were impure and their actions merited them punishment. Even though intellectually I knew that when a pastor condemned gay behavior, they were wrong, it was yet another thing entirely to unravel my emotional (or psychic) adherence to what I had believed to be truth.
Once the mind grasps a concept as true -- both in the heart and in the head 
 it can be very difficult to unravel the thought process. Even though we say metaphysics is dead -- I believe when it comes to religious thought -- we are a metaphysical society. Truth is substantiated by divine revelation. Just as my friend Ryan could sin and still be forgiven -- the one sin he could not commit was to disagree with the standards of truth set up by the Christian doctrine.
I was teaching the Ramayanna a few weeks ago to my freshman English class. The story is about the hero in a cosmic battle (aided by supernatural monkey hordes). In the story he prays to the god Shiva to bring down destruction on his adversary Ravana. One of my students raises her hand, asks genuinely, "But, why didn't someone tell Rama to pray to God?" I laughed and said, "Well, what if someone came to you and said, 'you know, why don't you pray to Shiva instead of Yahweh? What would you say?"
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When a Classroom Lesson Does Not Go As Planned: Where the Wild Things Are

Notes from my teacher diary on a lesson that went south:
Human nature is funky. Take Max, from the Sendak story: brazen and ferocious, ruler over the beasts. Example: stretch your brain and your brain bleeds. The kids become restless. The Wild Things pervade. I forgot to get the book to read to my students and therefore the entire lesson faltered a bit. I wonder sometimes if words can ever be restored; can a word marry itself with unadulterated passion? Can Max ever reconcile the beast-logic with home?


News Repost: David Pogue on NPR

David Pogue was recently interviewed on NPR.

I never laughed so hard in a long time.
He was testing a new camera that has a projector with a video of a clown intended to entertain children while you take their pictures.

Pogue tests the camera on a beach in Connecticut and suspicious mom's ask him what he is doing (he's wearing a leather jacket and pressing buttons on his camera and he tells the ladies, "I am a reporter from the New York Times," and as if this is enough to assuage their wandering minds, they laugh and say okay and ask if the camera is any good!



I was on the floor in my apartment laughing REALLY hard.


Body Language in the High School Classroom and What It Can Tell You About Your Students

The funniest thing about being a teacher is learning the body language of your students and discerning the meaning of their sometimes ineffable facial expressions.
Kids vibing in the classroom.
The Typical Layout of a Classroom Allows for Plenty of Observation into Human Behavior     
      When teaching a lesson, classroom teachers face the class so they see everything their kids are doing during a lesson (even though kids do not sometimes register this fact). On the flip side, kids are typically looking at their teachers all day which explains why kids are often flawless in their uncanny ability to imitate their teachers. Trust me. They can. I've seen it happen.
Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash
Kids Signal How They Are Feeling Through Body Language
      Here are some common messages your high school students are sending while you are delivering quality education in your classroom. N.B. I am not a clinical psychologist and I have not professionally studied human behavior — so take my observations with a grain of salt (or, leave your comments below detailing what you have observed).

  • If a kid has his head down and does not look up for a considerable amount of time, most likely he or she is texting.
  • If a high school student has a pen or pencil in their mouth and they're chewing it with wild abandon it probably means their mind is on something entirely different from whatever you're teaching.
  • If they are twirling their hair: the same thing. But they are probably thinking about someone (not you).
  • Head on the desk: not enough sleep at night. Disengagement.
  • Fidgeters: these kids need to be more active during your lesson. Make them write on the board or do some kind of kinetic task to get that excess energy expended. 
  • Smiling: they are listening. 
  • Staring off into space: something else is more important. Or, they have something on their mind.
  • Blank stare. Does not respond when called. They are listening to music or something. This is a perennial problem in the age of smart devices.  
Nipping Negative Behaviors in the Bud Before They Bloom
      Kids bring into your classroom whatever has happened to them during the course of the day. I did not teach him, but I knew a kindergarten-age child whose father would bring him to school and the kid would cry miserably when dropped off and was unpredictable and incorrigible for the rest of the day. But when the mother dropped him off, the child was well-behaved and acted appropriately for his age. The teacher, who was savvy, told the father not to enter the building for drop-off, and the teacher would meet the child at the entrance to the school when it was the father's turn to bring his kid to school. This school had breakfast available, so the teacher would make sure the student had breakfast and was able to check-in with his feelings — which typically made his day better. The point of the story is that kids bring with them their emotional baggage into the classroom. Most students are not as extreme in their behaviors as the kid I just described, but if as a teacher you stand at the threshold of your classroom as kids enter and take their seats you can pretty much do a "temperature check" of emotions and catch kids who might appear off or "not themselves". It works! One of my high school students would get into arguments with one of his classmates and their frustration with each other would often trickle into my class. But I wanted to get some teaching done and not have to worry about their squabbles. So, I made it a point to always observe these two when they entered my class and very quickly nipped it in the bud if they came in "hot". I would say, "one of you needs a moment. Take a minute by yourself and walk around outside for three minutes and come back".
Making Group Expressions Fun in the Classroom 
       My favorite is group expression: group laughter. I love it when the class acts as a group and the students respond spontaneously to the material and join in expressively. Take a few moments and tell a story. We were talking about embarrassing elementary school experiences: one kid told us how his teacher braided his moppish hair and I spoke about how I pulled down on my second-grade teacher's cardigan at a Halloween Haunted house. I was so scared. When we came out through the other end I had made her sweater into a dress.
       Don't make your lessons boring. Think — would I want to do this? Now. Granted. It is not your job to be the Pixar entertainment center for your students. Academic work can be taxing and kids need to learn self-discipline. We all have experienced tasks that feel tedious — like inputting grades in the grade book or taking attendance. The problem with being a teacher today: it is hard to make every lesson exhilarating. Sometimes, the lesson is boring. How do I make articles interesting? (especially at 7:40 in the AM). And: students are highly critical of their teachers. But, we demand a lot from them, so it goes both ways. Geez, if the opprobrium of the grade would disappear! Anyway: best moment this year: sculptures. Worst moment: being blamed for losing a notebook. Jesus, do I look like a housekeeper? Let's get back to nouns, verbs, and sh&(.


Journal & Rant: Consigned

In this rant, I complain about the world wide web.
"I've become hard and frantic and cruel."
I am consigned, as my mother tells me, annoyed, to forever transcribe the mendacious events of a life through the world wide web. I am afraid the web is nothing more than a pseudo-clandestine joyride for the false pleasures of an ego (with the perilous feeling Big Brother is watching). I finally figured out posting shit on the Internet: simply write shit with as many popular tags as possible: Miley Cyrus; Where the Wild Things Are; Tim Burton; sex; fleshlights. That should summon a crowd. By the way: I despise fishbowls.
This is a version of me: selves divided like equal slices of crumble cake. I am teacher: "a version of me." I am friend: "a version of me" In each I am never myself: friend, confidante, fucker. I am a version without status to a true self: I shed off that Romantic notion as a Hindi sheds bad karma. Tender lips? A version. An alternative. A choice. Another display.


Aphorism Inspired by "Nightschool in Seventh Avenue Lodging House (Children's Aid Society)"

The more life sucks the more I abandon profundity.
image credit: ca. 1900, Jacob A. Riis, Museum of the City of New York