Don’t Make Me Uncomfortable: High School Chemistry Edition

Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post Blogs has run this very…special…op-ed from someone named David Bernstein who is pissed as heck that his son has been told he needs to learn chemistry, and he’s not going to take it anymore.

I was recently informed by a school official at my son’s high school that the state of Maryland mandates that every student take chemistry in order to graduate. [It turns out that it is not, in fact, mandated by the state but that is what I was told anyway.]

With us so far? Someone told his son he had to take Chemistry, so Mr. Bernstein went and Googled for info about curriculum standardization, but didn’t Google far enough to find out that actually, Maryland schools’ science requirements do NOT mandate Chemistry instruction.

With the mistaken assumption fraying at his nerves, Mr. Bernstein’s case against mandatory Chemistry instruction includes such gems as this:

Now I don’t begrudge chemistry, which has brought forth many of the great inventions of our time, from the pain killer I took an hour ago to the diet soda I’m sipping on now (I’m actually sipping on Scotch. In fact, my very own mother, who if I am lucky will never lay eyes on this article, is a chemist, and believes that chemistry is the most noble of human pursuits and doesn’t understand how I, a former philosophy major, was able to eke out a living.

and this:

But my son is not going to be a scientist. The very thought of it makes me laugh. Your son should take five classes in chemistry so he can be a scientist and make America more competitive.


But my son is not being exposed to chemistry, he’s spending a year of his life studying chemistry every day, which translates into a year of misery for him and our entire family, and paying for tutors who just get him through the course. It doesn’t take a chemist to know that my son is not going to be a chemist. He’s 15, not 7. It’s really that obvious. You took chemistry (I’m not talking to you scientist). What do you remember from that year? Nada, I bet. Next time a school official preens about the importance of chemistry, I’m going to ask him or her how many elements there are in the periodic table. Hint: you can find the answer on Google.

Just off the top of my head, I notice that David Bernstein does not show very high expectations for his son. I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and if I’d found an op-ed in the WaPo with either of my parents talking about, for example, my struggles with Pre-Calculus this way, I would’ve been pissed off. I was a much nicer person at 15 than I am at 32, but seeing my mom talk about how her daughter was never going to be a mathematician would have raised my hackles.

Furthermore, I am not a chemist or a scientist in any way, but I do remember some things that I learned in Chemistry that don’t come through so easily in Google. I remember how to dilute an acid or base with water (hint: you measure out the water first!). I remember balancing equations. I remember performing titration. I also remember that my Chemistry teacher was an asshole who clearly held teenagers in disdain and was not fond of teaching, but amazingly enough, I still learned stuff from him because he didn’t treat me like I was never going to be good at science so there was no reason to bother.

An experimental physicist recently told me that at this phase in chemistry instruction “it’s all about memorization anyway.” There will be no other phases in chemistry instruction for my son. He will forget everything he “learned” a week after the class is over. I can’t remember a thing, and I was a pretty good chemistry student.

Dude, do you ENJOY talking about how your teenage son is so intellectually limited?

This one here is possibly a useful point, but the unexamined class privilege on display is really quite amazing:

Now you’re getting desperate. You’re really going to make my son spend a whole year in a subject he will never use so that he can prepare to suffer at a boring job some day? I don’t know what you do for a living but I love what I do and rarely engage in work I don’t enjoy. If we’re going to pressure him, let’s do it in subjects where he can grow and put to use some day.

*nervous titter* Mr. Bernstein, as a member of a younger generation, I can assure you: unless you have the power to pull tremendous strings for your son, he will NOT have such a good time of it in the job market. Just because YOU got a Philosophy degree and still managed to make a living—at something you enjoy, no less!—doesn’t mean your kids will be so lucky. In fact, I can basically guarantee that your kids will be significantly less fortunate than you are. Not because they’re less intelligent, industrious or adaptable than you are, but because the American job market is in such a state relative to the educational attainment of the new generation that young people have to fight to the death just to get a spot at “entry level.” It was bad enough for my age group, and for the people who are just finishing college now, it is considerably worse. Your sons WILL have to accept work that they don’t enjoy, and they will have to do it well and with a good attitude, or they will not be able to make a living. Between now and the time he starts applying for jobs, your chemistry-hating older son will need to learn the life skills to follow instructions, act as part of a team and get the job done. He isn’t going to learn that if he takes nothing but electives.

Here’s what I think happened: David Bernstein didn’t enjoy learning Chemistry as a teenager, while his mother the chemist pressured him to do better and was disappointed that her son showed so little interest in the natural sciences. David is bitter because his mother wasn’t proud of him, and he wants to spare his son the agony of being told the world does not revolve around his interests. Now his son is struggling at Chemistry, and rather than tell him he’s smart enough, and that his hard work will be worth it in the long run, David Bernstein tells his older son that he will never be a scientist. Chemistry and other demanding, highly technical subjects are for other people’s kids to learn.

Don’t Make Us Uncomfortable: Dutch face-covering edition

Oh, yawn.

Via Jezebel,

One government official said that the law was designed to make everything more Dutch. “People should be able to look at each other’s faces and recognize each other when they meet,” he said.

Kind of makes you wonder how blind people ever manage to get through life.

I still think this “I must see your face” reasoning is pulled out of the ass to rationalize an act borne of mental discomfort. If the Dutch government is worried about men dressing in women’s coverings and carrying guns under their veils, then they should come out and say the law is about security. If they’re having issues with veiled women refusing to remove their coverings in places like courthouses, where facial identification is necessary, then they should freaking well write the law accordingly. If there’s an argument to be made about security, that makes a lot more sense than blithering about how we all have the right to see each other’s faces. No, we don’t. No one’s rights would be violated if I were to walk around Arlington with a burlap sack on my head. I’d look ridiculous, but it would be no skin off anyone else’s nose.


Puah Institute, what is that I don’t even.

You may have heard about the medical conference in Israel that’s banning women from speaking at the event? Specifically, the gynecology-focused conference where women aren’t allowed to speak on stage?

The annual Innovations in Gynecology and Halacha conference of the Puah Institute for Medicine and Halacha is scheduled for Wednesday. Some 1,000 men and women are expected to attend the conference, which is geared to the Modern Orthodox and haredi Orthodox communities. Male and female participants are separated by dividers in the conference hall.

The conference has been held for the last 12 years, but this marks the first time that the absence of female speakers has become an issue. Women do not serve as speakers, according to the organization, in order to insure the participation of the haredi Orthodox, who are generally wary of medical advancements in fertility treatments.

Their rationale is this:

1. Haredi don’t like to see women speak to male audiences.

2. Haredi are ambivalent about fertility treatments.

3. The Puah Institute wants Haredi doctors to attend this conference and learn about advancements in fertility treatments, therefore,

4. Women must be strictly separated from men at the Gynecology & Halacha Conference.

Notice that no one is trying to keep women from seeing men speak on stage. It’s fine for female doctors to sit in the audience while men make presentations. It’s the question of male doctors watching presentations by female doctors on stage that’s a problem.

Am I missing something here? If letting women show themselves in public is such a problem for Haredi men, then…maybe, Haredi men should not be gynecologists? Think about this for a second: if it’s “immodest” for a man to see a woman speaking on stage about medical advancements, then how is it the least bit acceptable for a man to put his hands on the private parts of a woman whom he may have just met that day?

It occurs to me that if Haredi men followed through on their “modesty” requirements and just left gynecology to female doctors, this conference wouldn’t be an issue.

(Yes, I know: when they talk about “modesty,” they’re really talking about keeping women in the kitchen, which means female doctors are only tolerated because of secular pressures.)

All that said, though, the controversy is totally worth the trouble, owing to this hilarious fauxpology from Puah:

“We are sorry that instead of appreciating the great advances we have merited to see in women’s health in general, and in particular within the religious sector, as a result of our conferences, there are cynical, aggressive elements who try to block us by using the prevailing public ambience,” the organization said on its website. “These elements are riding on the back of the Puah Institute in order to advance their personal agenda.”

Shorter version: “You bitches are just JEALOUS! Waaaaah!”


We now return to our regularly scheduled snark.

I’m all finished talking about Iggy (or at least I’ve posted all the pictures I ever took of him), and there’s another 5 days until the next Sunday afternoon. Unless you want to see me use this blog as therapy and talk about how I was harassed almost daily by some of the neighborhood kids for more than half of my Peace Corps assignment (and you probably don’t want to hear about that), I’ll just have to go back to making fun of ignorant bigots.

For example, there’s this little nugget on Microaggressions, aka The Daily WTF:

“I hear these Spanish and Oriental kids speaking and I think they must speak English because they go to school and have to communicate with their teachers.”

Oh, for Pete’s sake.

First, there’s the matter of vocabulary. Do we still need to say this, in 2012? RUGS are Oriental, people are ASIAN. And when the perpetrator labels kids s/he obviously doesn’t know as “Spanish,” you should assume that most or all of the youngsters in question are not actually from Spain.

More importantly, this is the kind of complaint one only hears from monolingual Anglophones who’ve never visited another country. The issue is not that the Asian and Latin@ kids in question can’t speak English and therefore are not integrating into American society. The issue is that they can sometimes be heard speaking languages other than English.

It must be so, so difficult, to have to live in a country that allows people from non-Anglophone countries to immigrate and doesn’t force them to give up their native tongues altogether. It must be so uncomfortable to hear young people saying things you don’t understand, and demonstrating abilities that you don’t have. (I mean, they speak more than one language. Scary.) It must be so confusing to be reminded that other countries with other languages exist, and that people do not always stay where they were born.

How dare they.


We’re not racist, we just won’t stand for any mixing of the tribes!

Via Rawstory and HuffPo, we get news of Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pike County, KY, where all seemed perfectly fine and ducky until lifelong (and white) church member Stella Harville brought her Zimbabwean fiance, Ticha Chikuni, to sing a song with her at a church service.

What is the result, you may ask? Why, church members voted 9-6 to pass a resolution that their church does not condone interracial marriage!

Sayeth former pastor Melvin Thompson, author of the ridiculous resolution:

“I am not racist. I will tell you that. I am not prejudiced against any race of people, have never in my lifetime spoke evil” about a race, said Thompson, the church’s former pastor who stepped down earlier this year. “That’s what this is being portrayed as, but it is not.”

Melvin Thompson seems to think that if he runs around with the goalposts in hand, we won’t notice they’re missing. He is mistaken.

“Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.”

What is that I don’t even.

“Intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve”?

Perhaps I’m missing something because it’s almost midnight and I haven’t had any coffee since mid-afternoon, but, is there any message here aside from “don’t make us uncomfortable”?

The church congregation is all-white, and I suppose this resolution is their way of letting it be known that they intend to keep it that way? To paraphrase Irshad Manji, they’re not concerned with unity so much as uniformity.

If the church body’s “unity” depends on keeping interracial couples out, then I guess their identity demands that they keep a safe distance away from those people. (But they’re not racist, no, of course not.) If they keep seeing well-adjusted, loving couples like Stella and Ticha, they might end up thinking that the separation between white people and black people (as well as Asians, and Latinos, and Natives, and Middle Eastern folk, and, and, and…) is an accident of history rather than a hard line carved in stone. They wouldn’t like that; they like their hard lines and don’t like to revise their categories and hierarchies.

I suppose that, with their belief in Biblical inerrancy, the Free Will Baptists don’t accept evolution by natural selection. It would probably not put me on their good side if I told Mr. Thompson and his fellow non-racists that all of humanity started out in sub-Saharan Africa. Guess what, Thompson? We are all Africans!