Sunday, January 29, 2017


I did not know what happened. Over a decade ago, I became afraid and angry.  As a college professor, I was not able to understand why teaching was so difficult.  It was the subject matter, it was the students, it was the university... On a regular basis, I lecture on at least three subjects that I am afraid to teach—evolution, climate change, and earth history. I used to think, “I am in Texas, it’s partially context.”  There was something much bigger going on that I could not see.  I thought it was the religious right, and perhaps to some degree it was. But, trained in anthropology, I could not rest with that conclusion because any group is diverse within.  It could not be all members of the religious right, or even just people on the right (religion aside). It must have been preparation; students were not prepared for what I wanted them to do. Many of them had poor study habits, many of them could not take notes; their critical thinking skills seemed weak.  But that was not universally true either, and even if it had been, what difference would it make? I was still going to teach. So what was wrong? I was.

It was ten or so years ago in August; I was facing another semester of teaching Archaeological Science. My frustrations stared back when I looked in the mirror. I would cringe at thinking about who might be staring back at me within a crowd of 125 students. I had not done well in my student evaluations the prior semester, being labeled arrogant and pushy by some.  Those negative comments stood out. I was angry; I was sick and tired of not being taken seriously.  Indeed, I felt discouraged but also spiteful.  I was a relatively new PhD, and I wanted to teach and be responded too. I was lucky, however, because something shifted that morning when I looked in the mirror.  I decided to soften my approach; I thought, “why not make it about them?”  I did.  It was an amazing semester because I took the time to slow down, to listen, and to teach from a place of respect and compassion. I simply decided that students deserved a real conversation with me. I remember a young evangelical man thanking me at the end of the semester.  He made it very clear that he did not agree with all of the content, but he appreciated the respect.  His name was Peter; my son’s name is Peter.

Over the years, however, my fear in the front of the classroom persisted. Was it my job to reach the conservatives in the classroom about climate science, evolution, or another topic?  Again, not knowing how many of them were there, I got lucky when I decided, “no, it is not my job.”  It’s just subject matter, and I teach it as accurately as I know it. I left belief up to the student. I could not find another way through the teaching process; I could not challenge them to learn unless I gave up the requirement that they hold my world view.  Teaching was not a recruiting process. Almost accidently, this became the most compassionate practice of my teaching.  They do not have to be like me.

So, we face social strife in the USA today. It’s painful. Fear dominates discourse. Is it the Evangelicals, the Millennials, the Baby Boomers, the Conservatives, the Liberals, others?  Definitely.  But it is also me. What is the path forward? Soften and listen. That person who is not like me will shrink away in fear if I insist that they share my views.  They may shrink away anyway.  But each moment is an opportunity; maybe they will lean in if I listen. I have something to learn. Perhaps you and I will share a common moment and an exchange of kindness will be the butterfly that flaps its wings. Maybe expertise is just a myth and we are all in it together. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Pink the Primaries

Suffrage is simply not enough; women have to run for office.  What we saw once again on January 21, 2017 is that women are powerful. Women mobilized that day in a manner that embraced diversity and encouraged dialogue. Salient points were made peacefully.  So, paint the primaries in this country pink.  Indeed, we know the model works because that’s how the Tea Party came to hold so much sway in Congress.  What they have taught is that the system can be changed from the bottom up and that it does not take very many congress people to make an impact.  Their model works for promoting a political agenda.

A Pink Party would have much broader appeal, however, because pink is a universal color. It does not matter if women are conservative or liberal, part of a green, blue, or red political wave. What unifies women is pink (like it or not). It is not just women’s reproductive tissues (vaginas, to be precise) that are pink, but inside every woman, man, and child is pink tissue. Even Yoda’s innards were pink (weren’t they?). Pink is human, no matter one’s hair color, skin color, or gender identity. Like it or not, if you wear a pussyhat, in some way you represent us all.  So put your pussyhat on the ballot, and make a real difference.  If women get on the ballot because they claim the color pink, then challengers have to face the pink movement. 

Tap into that movement; take Saturday’s march to the ballot. Take your fundamental and diverse abilities into politics.  Men can be pink too, but there are already a lot of us in politics.  Here are some slogans:

Pink the Primaries
Paint the Primaries Pink
The Pink Party
Put Pussyhats on the Ballot
Pink is the new red, white, and blue
50 shades of pink
DC, the 51st shade of pink?
Knitting is hack-proof

I am sure you can think of many others, and though it is fun to do so, the matters at hand are serious. Comic relief helps, but only a diverse, new political front will succeed.

Acknowledgements: I wrote this for my sister who is a PhD level researcher for the EPA.  She can’t say much right now, but she can probably get away with “look at what my crazy-ass brother did.” I love you, Sis.  And, it is my Dad who pointed out to me that things won’t change unless new Americans get on primary ballots.  Smart guy; pink all the way.

Credits: If you like these ideas, claim them as your own and spread them around. If you don’t, ignore them, and have a nice day.