Sunday, April 15, 2012

oceans, birth control, and evolution (oh my)

Documentaries we watched this week:

Aliens of the Deephttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt0417415/
Directed by James Cameron (the Titanic Guy). This was beautifully filmed and very interesting. I liked that JC kept the deep sea scientists talking about complicated issues in a laid back, easy going and organic conversation throughout the movie. The scientists themselves were incredibly likable and humble, and I loved that they would practically jump up and down inside their cramped submersibles when they were excited about something. They are wonderful examples of passion and education, and the ninth grader didn't seem bored or baffled even once (this is unusual) during the length of the DVD. Highly recommend.

The Education of Shelby Knox http://www.pbs.org/pov/shelbyknox/
Summary from POV: The swift rise in federally funded, abstinence-only sex education under the Bush administration is in the headlines today, sparking an intense national debate about our responsibility to teach teens the facts of life. Those supporting an abstinence-only approach say that teaching anything but abstinence just encourages teens to experiment with sex. Opponents say that withholding information about condom use and birth control will only lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.Into the culture wars steps 15-year-old Shelby Knox of Lubbock, Texas. A self-described "good Southern Baptist girl," Knox herself has pledged abstinence until marriage. When she finds that Lubbock has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in the state, and her county's high schools teach abstinence as the only safe sex, she becomes an unlikely advocate for comprehensive sex education, profoundly changing her political and spiritual views along the way. "I think that God wants you to question," Shelby says, "to do more than just blindly be a follower, because he can't use blind followers. He can use people like me who realize there's more in the world that can be done." Here is a story for our times, where the combustible mix of politics, family and faith aren't as predictable as the red state/blue state divide would suggest.

     This is an interesting and timely documentary. Shelby is a Texas girl with a questioning brain, Christian upbringing and supportive family. After finding out about some shocking teen pregnancy and STD statistics for her town, she wants to know why her high school only teaches abstinence and campaigns for a more in-depth sex ed curriculum.  She is honest about the natural desires and pressures teens have today, and she comes across as heroic. I thought she was a terrific role model for my daughters, and I appreciated this documentary as valuable input in my ongoing discussion with my kids about sex.
     This hasn't really got anything to do with this documentary, but I had the Dixie Chicks song "Lubbock or leave it" in my head during the whole DVD, and I kept thinking what it must have been like for Natalie Maines to grow up there. You're an interesting place, Lubbock, Texas.



     Speaking of interesting places, the last DVD my daughter and I watched this week was called Kansas Vs. Darwin. http://www.kansasvdarwin.com/.  This movie covers a controversy that came to a head before we moved here.  I have had occasion in the short time we've lived in Kansas to hear locals talking about the school board hearings, but I wanted a closer look and was happy to find this at the library. This documentary is the weakest of the three we watched this week. The directing is somewhat uneven, and the sound is rough. I could hardly hear some of the dialogue because music was being played so loudly over some of the interviews. The pacing was a problem for me, it seemed like the directors made a point over and over when it could have been made once or twice.  I just looked at the official website and it says the movie is only 82 minutes. Hard to believe, frankly, this movie seemed loooong. So. The movie itself is a little rough. 
     The subject matter is another story. Three school board subcommittee members wanted the Theory of Evolution to stop being taught as fact and Intelligent Design to be signed off as legitimate curriculum. Cue the madness. The teachers and scientists for Evolution were so angry they refused to show up to the hearing, but lucky for them an excellent attorney took their case (good thing SOMEONE showed up to argue their side). 
     The entire event could stand as exhibit A for why separation of church and state is an excellent idea. I get the religious argument, if only because I grew up hearing various versions of Intelligent Design touted as Truth, Period.  However. Feeling strongly about something has never, ever made it true. Wanting something to be true doesn't make it true, otherwise I would be a triathlete who bottles her own award winning tomato sauce and owns a local book/tea/yarn shop. It sounds lovely, and oh how I want it, but it isn't actually true. Feelings don't equal facts. This is what the argument boils down to, in my opinion. Group A feels very, very strongly that something is true, Group B says, nope, you can't prove that, and if you can't prove it, you shouldn't teach it. Rock and a hard place. 
     I wish I could say I loved this documentary, or that it moved or shocked or enlightened me, but I would only recommend it if you are a student of this specific controversy, or maybe if you have no idea what the fuss is all about, this could be a starting place. Evolution vs. Intelligent Design is an incredibly important argument and I think it deserves a better documentary than this one. 

Dear teen girls,
this is not a good look for you:
period.


     In other news, I'm addicted to a zombie trilogy. This is quite unusual, because I'm not into this monster genre at all. The zombie movement has pretty much left me cold (except for the Walking Dead...oh no, does this mean I'm into zombies? Please Lord don't let it be true), but these books are SO GOOD. The world building in these books is so skillful and the author has such a light, careful hand with plotting that a world post zombie rising seems totally plausible. Mira Grant's detailed explanation for the zombie virus is believable, as are minutia of daily living in this particular apocalyptic world.
     The main characters are a brother and sister team of self employed news reporters who run a blog called After The End Times. Bloggers are the new war correspondents because the big name news corporations handled the initial Zombie Rising so badly, treating videos of the first zombies like a joke. The blogging community, on the other hand, not only reported the first outbreaks correctly, they also advised their readers on the most effective methods of killing a zombie (from their combined encyclopedic knowledge learned from watching countless horror movies) and started a list called The Wall of all the people who died in the Rising.
     The zombie action isn't revolting, unlike every other zombie book/tv show/movie/etc.; the focus is on the fighting and the plot rather than body parts dropping off and tired, overdone gore. Mira Grant goes out of her way to make the point that the real monsters are the secondary characters: politicians and other various authorities. Shaun and Georgia (she goes by George; the names are a hat tip to George Romero and Shaun of the Dead) have a measure of sympathy for the zombies; the zombies are the end stage manifestation of a deadly virus, horrifying but not inexplicable.
      Shaun and Georgia are a likable blend of youthful optimism and professional smarts. They are devoted to each other and to the pursuit of truth. The dialogue is true to life (I can absolutely understand siblings telling each other to eff off as code for "I love you" and a sister telling her brother that she will kill him if a zombie gets him), and they are business partners as well as close-knit family. Their strengths and weaknesses are perfectly balanced, they literally and emotionally have the other's back. These are characters I care about; when they are in danger (which is almost always) I catch myself holding my breath. You know you are reading a good book when you can't put the book down, but it's so good that you try to read slower so it lasts longer.
      Book one (FEED) is from Georgia's POV, book two (DEADLINE) is Shaun's, and it will be interesting to see what Mira Grant does for book three (BLACKOUT).  At the risk of hyperbole, I CANNOT WAIT for book three...I want it now. I should be thinking about May in terms of my daughter's senior graduation, or my family reunion, but all I can think is "What happens next?! I want to know NOW."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Websites I liked this week:


http://leasthelpful.com/

Least helpful reviews on the net (mostly Amazon).
 Favorite reviews so far (people who missed the forest for the trees and accidentally burned them all down).

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These next sites want to help stamp out reviews like those above:

The National Repository of Online Courses. http://www.montereyinstitute.org/nroc/nrocdemos.html It's a free (my favorite word) site with online courses. My ninth grader is working on the Civics course this week, and it's terrific. Well organized, well written, easily understandable so the student can work alone, and the student sets the pace. There are a ton of really excellent educational lectures and courses, for high school and beyond, but most of them are not free.

I am thinking of subscribing to this one :http://educator.com/ , also for the ninth grader. It's only thirty five dollars a month, and the courses look pretty good. Thirty five bucks is pretty damn reasonable, especially in light of some online schools which are hundreds of dollars by the time you've worked through the course load.

This next site http://www.powa.org/ is dedicated only to writing, and my daughter and I have only just started to explore the site, but so far it looks very practical, helpful, and well organized. It's an interesting concept. I am having a really difficult time trying to teach my ninth grader how to develop writing skills beyond the basic essay, and I am hoping this site can help us.

One more site with various web listings that claim to be free (I haven't spent much time looking through the individual courses yet);
http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/online_hs.htm#english.

Two websites that I hear advertised on NPR all the time but I'd never bothered looking up till this week:
http://www.edutopia.org/ (funded by George Lucas) and http://www.learner.org/index.html (the Annenberg Foundation). These aren't school classes so much as resources for educators. The resources seem to be free, the classes for credit are not.

One last site that I used this week with the ninth grader: http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/9-12/index.html. I love this site. I love that NASA is trying really hard to combat all this Doomsday nonsense, I love that they are spending time and money to educate people, especially young people, and I love the list of websites under 9-12 grade learning.