Listen To This

So…my kids come home from school and ask about the speech. My eighth grader tells me that her English teacher wanted to show it, “but wasn’t allowed.” She rolled her eyes and confirmed that we are a country that advocates free speech. Right?

We figured that their other teachers might have liked their students to listen to the President, too, but “they would probably lose their jobs.”

Imagine that. Thinking that your teacher could be fired for supporting the idea that kids should work hard, do their best and stay in school. 

We watched the speech, which I had recorded. They thought it was great. We talked about how it was relevant for all kids, no matter their personal situation. They applied the ideas to their own lives.

Thank you, President Obama, for a heartfelt and critical message, even if we did have to stay up late to rewind it.

Hold It Up High

The other day, I saw a commercial on television for a new gizmo from the “i” people. This is what it can do: If a song is playing in the atmosphere around you, and you do not know its name but want to have it as your own, you can hold up your tiny machine into the ether and it will name the tune. Just like that. Raise the thing into the air as if you were a sailor assessing the wind, and poof…title, artist, musical xerox.

I do not understand why people would need or want this capability. I do not understand why people carry these pods, or whatever they are called, in their pockets, to begin with. When your ears are stopped up with metal, you can miss what is happening in front of you. You can trip on the sidewalk or fail to notice a mugger. Mostly, though, I can’t fathom why the technological energy and brainpower would be devoted to such an invention unless, say, it has ramifications elsewhere, you know, like with national security.

Speaking of national security, two seconds after I saw the advertisement with the man holding the song-snatching gadget over his skull, I heard on the news that the chance that the United States would be attacked by weapons of mass destruction some time in the next few years had increased. It will, no doubt, happen while music-loving Americans are pointing their pods to the heavens, like followers of some supreme deity. I am struck by the priorities some people set. Shouldn’t there be some unified effort—among government, educators, law enforcement, ditty duplicators—to keep the significant goals at the top of the list. Get to the moon first. Cure cancer. Keep biological, chemical and nuclear warfare at bay. My father, a surgeon, told me that if a career didn’t lead to saving a life, then it was silly. Arrogant, perhaps, but philosophically sound. If you are not around to dance to the music pulled from the skies, then what’s the point of being able to pull it.

Given the plummeting interest and performance among American school kids in math and science, and college students in fields such as engineering, I think that it would make sense to harness the talent we do have in specific ways that would protect and enhance our existence on Earth. This does not mean channeling Rihanna, as much as I love her. I think it means handing out assignments.  Computer people, you get to disrupt nuclear smuggling rings. Laboratory researchers, you work on technology to reduce the bioweapons threat. Governmental and other agencies, monitor and enforce treaties. Everyone else, be aware, volunteer, use your skills to play a part.

And if we want to groove a little while we’re saving the planet, how about pushing the button on the radio. 

What is Potential, Anyway?

Today, my sixth grader has a science quiz on potential and kinetic energy. It shouldn’t be too difficult, just the basic concepts and definitions, and then, some examples. On the way to school this morning, I reminded her to take a quick look at her notes before class, to remind her brain about what she studied last night. Then, I explained that her brain was, in fact, a nifty representation of the idea.

It is full of stored energy, I told her, and when it takes in information from the world, the energy becomes kinetic, or is set in motion. Crazy ideas flying all over the place. She seemed to like the concept, so I suggested that she include it if she is asked to provide one. Your teacher will think you are clever, I told her, feeling clever. Sometimes, kids don’t take you up on your suggestions, even though they are good ones that come from having been a sixth grader already. Unfortunately, it’s not always enough just to know things. You have to show people that you  know them, particularly teachers. They do not live with you. They do not know that you are always clever, especially after dinner, or when you’re brushing your teeth. They only get to see it sometimes. This is a time.

I hope she uses the brain idea. Actually, I hope she comes up with another thought that is just as smart, but more of her own. That’s the definition of potential.