A simple intervention enduringly reduces anti-Muslim sentiment

Collective blame is when an entire group of people are blamed for the action of one individual belonging to that group. Currently, this is often the case with Muslims. This article describes a simple, 1-minute intervention that drastically reduced European participants’ collective blame of Muslims for terrorist attacks. Basically, the process involved participants reading over instances of European terrorists and noting to what extent they felt responsible themselves before reading stories of Muslim terrorists. The most encouraging aspect of this simple intervention is that the results held quite well even one year out.

Though it is sad that there is a need for this intervention, it is encouraging that it is so simple. I feel like this is even something that could be useful in the classroom. Even in situations where it is not exactly collective blame that is at play, it never hurts to build empathy!

Local Peacebuilding

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The Monterey Peninsula is providing an example of what local peacebuilding can look like. A recently formed Monterey Peninsula group, “Jews Christians Muslims United (JCM United)” opened “Abraham’s tent” on November 21, 2019, working together across faith groups (with Congregation Beth Israel, the Islamic Society of Monterey County, and various churches) to serve those in need, serving meals every Thursday. Click here to sign up to participate.

Your Corpse’s Environmental Impact

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This entertainingly morbid video from the series “Ask a Mortician” by Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, focuses on the highly problematic environmental–as well as financial–impact of the funeral industry. Doughty explains the severe environmental issues involved in traditional American burials and cremations. She then goes into two eco-friendly alternatives: aquamation/water cremation and natural burials. Though this is not a standard topic for language classes, or indeed any casual conversation, I think it could be a very productive one to look into, as it mixes the issues of environmentalism and cultural practices/taboos.

In general this video is entertainingly light, despite the dark topic. It presents important information about this often-avoided topic in a palatable manner. However, much of the humor could be difficult for learners to understand, and misunderstood humor on this topic could be horrifying to students. However, I would recommend using two short clips from this video in language classes: from ~2:20-5:00 (why modern burials are problematic), and 7:00-9:30 (why fire cremations are problematic). To augment this video, I would suggest one of the many articles about alternatives to traditional burial/cremation, such as this one, which describes seven alternatives.

The Oatmeal: You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you

Though this comic from The Oatmeal does not specifically relate to any social justice issues, it does provide an accessible explanation of our mental processes that we should all be aware of when discussing hot-button issues (or implementing critical pedagogy). Specifically, it describes the backfire effect, which is a neurological fear-response which can end up strengthening our strongly-held beliefs when we are confronted with opposing facts. If we are more aware of our brains’ knee-jerk reactions, we can try to put these sentiments aside and be better listeners when we’re uncomfortable with what we’re hearing.

Though this comic introduces the concept of the backfire effect in a clear and entertaining way, this resource would only be appropriate for classroom use in certain circumstances. Obviously, the profanity in the comic would not be appropriate in some contexts. The main issue, however, is that this comic is clearly geared toward an American audience, so many of the facts that are supposed to make the reader feel uncomfortable may mean nothing to students. Nevertheless, I think this could be a good starting place. One exercise which would help students understand the uncomfortable feeling the author is trying to provoke, and which would also work as a kind of formative assessment, might be for students to generate topics from their own contexts that would be similarly uncomfortable as those from an American context, and explore the core beliefs that these might be violating. Obviously, this exercise would have to be done delicately, so as to allow students (and teacher!) to sit with the feeling of discomfort but not be overwhelmed by it or create an unsafe classroom atmosphere. However, I think the experience would be valuable in a critical pedagogy-centered classroom.

Assigned Male–Educational and affirming

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I was introduced to Assigned Male through the Facebook posts of a non-binary friend. Though this is a webcomic, it’s not focused on humor, but rather sharing the daily struggles of trans people from an inside perspective. This comic both educates to those outside the trans community, and provides emotional support for those in the community by emphasizing that their struggles are real and valid.

I think this resource could be useful to language teachers because the comics are short, use accessible language, and are of course illustrated, yet they still address some very complex issues and provide perspectives that are not usually heard in cis-dominated conversations. In addition, I think it is helpful to language teachers that the aim of this comic is not to be humorous, as humor is often very difficult to translate. Instead these comics raise questions about the way society currently functions.

Reflection: Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, by Margaret Wertheim

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Wertheim, M. (1995). Pythagoras’ trousers: God, physics, and the gender wars. London, UK: W.W. Norton & Company

Pythagoras’ Trousers: God, Physics, and the Gender Wars, by Margaret Wertheim, outlines the history of women in physics, showing how its origins in and long relationship with religion in the Western World have intentionally and unintentionally kept women out of this field more than any other scientific field. Wertheim shows how Pythagoras introduced a mythical relationship with numbers to the West and connected numbers to a Greek dualistic worldview where masculinity, goodness, and transcendence were juxtaposed with femininity, evil, and tangibility. Wertheim then follows this dualistic view through European history, showing how it has driven the study of physics as a transcendental religious pursuit both incidentally and deliberately closed to female participation. Highlighting the contributions of the lucky few women whose male relatives provided them access to scientific knowledge, Wertheim shows the struggles these women faced, their access being precluded not just by social and educational constraints, but also by religious barricades. In describing the eventual split between physics and the church, Wertheim shows how the religiosity that remained in the field of physics in fact made it even more difficult for women to enter this field, despite gains in other sciences. In her last chapter, Wertheim demonstrates that physics still lags far behind the other sciences in female representation, admonishing the field to change not just surface practices, but also deep-set beliefs in order to allow women, at last, into the field. She argues that this diversity and change of mindset will also reorient the field of physics to solving real-world problems rather than theorizing about the mathematical meaning of the universe.

This book is certainly too long to be used for most classes. However, I think it does lend itself well to taking excepts. In particular, I think students would be able to understand Wertheim’s argument with just the first and last chapters, and two to three anecdotes from the rest of the book. Though the book was written almost 25 years ago, many of the points are unfortunately still quite applicable. The last chapter in particular raises many questions about the purpose of science, the role it plays in society, and it’s relationship with religion which I think would make excellent class discussion or writing topics. However, one major problem with this book is that it is very Western-centric. I understand why it is, as much of modern physics culture is shaped by European history. Nevertheless, want to pair this book with another text investigating the development of physics or the sciences in non-European cultures. If I could not find such a text, I would still consider using this text and assigning students to research the culture and history of physics outside of Europe.

While most of this book explores the history of physics, the last chapter delves into questions about the current culture of physics, and changes that could be made to this culture to improve both women’s participation in physics and the field in general. As this chapter is more speculative, it provides excellent topics for discussion. For one, Wertheim claims that shifting the culture of physics away from a transcendent pursuit of mystical truths to a culture of problem-solving would benefit society in general, as well as opening the doors to those who do not identify with a mystical love of abstract math. Though Wertheim builds a powerful argument that the low numbers of women in physics are due to its long history of being connecting to religion, it would be worthwhile for students to investigate these claims and other possible influences. As mentioned before, it is also important to investigate other cultural contexts, and the lack of other perspectives in Wertheim’s book provides an opportunity for students to investigate these contexts themselves. If the whole book were being used in a class, more discussion options also present themselves. One theme that regularly presents itself in the stories of women who did manage to practice science was that the men in their lives used their privileged positions of maleness and, in most cases, wealth to provided these women with their opportunities (though this help was often not without strings attached, as the men frequently took credit for the women’s work, or drew the line when these women had gone too far even for these men’s comfort). This theme lends itself to the discussion of how to be a good ally and use one’s privilege for good. Finally, it is interesting that the author has a thinly disguised, strongly negative view of Galileo, and I think the way she discusses him could be interesting for students both as an unusual perspective, and also as an example of showing one’s opinion in writing without explicitly stating it.

Obviously, this text addresses gender inequality, but it does so by examining the complex interaction between gender stereotypes, gender socialization, and the hidden curriculum. Throughout history, women were prevented from accessing certain opportunities to learn, which fed into the stereotype that women were incapable of learning, which in turn closed more doors to women. In instances where women did manage to make a scientific name for themselves, they often had to make a choice between their [frequently unpaid] scientific career or marriage, with much social pressure toward the latter. More recently, it has been shown that males noticeably outperform females in math by age 17, though the sexes perform equally at age nine. Wertheim suggests this discrepancy is due not to innate ability, but to gender socialization: girls are implicitly taught that it is unfeminine to be good at math and science. Arguing that much of our gender roles today come from the ancient Greek dualistic view of male/female, good/evil, transcendence/tangibility, Wertheim shows how girls are taught to focus on the physical order of themselves and things around them, while boys are free to explore their ideas. In her final chapter, Wertheim suggests that the ways women have been socialized into their gender roles may at least prove helpful in changing the culture of physics, to improve the field and allow for more equitable access.

A slab of despair in your pocket

Here‘s some depressing information about those little gadgets we all love to carry around and obsessively check. A few years ago, when my old phone had to be replaced (not because it didn’t work anymore–it still had a lot of life left in it!–but because a four-year-old phone was “so old” they’d stopped making software for it), I really wanted to find a slavery-free phone. Sadly, I only found one option at that time, which was incompatible with American sim cards (Fairphone; definitely a company that’s on my watch list for when I’ve well and truly worn my current phone into the ground). Since that wasn’t an option, I instead tried to find the greenest smartphone I could, finding little more success in that area. Though these issues have come a little ways in that time, we’re still way behind where we should be, especially considering how integral smartphones are becoming.

Some data, amid all the truthiness

I stumbled on this article summarizing key findings about US immigration. While a lot of the statistics seemed intuitive, some surprised me, especially the percentage of Americans (62%) who say immigrants strengthen the country. I think it’s important to have facts when we’re discussing issues of such importance and tension.