Tag Archives: teaching

The Meaning of Life

17 Jan

I was approached, today, by a long-time friend of mine who simply asked me what is the meaning of life?

As an agnostic atheist, the meaning of life is not clear as it may be to others. I’ve met gnostic atheists who say there is no meaning to life other than the biological need to reproduce. Many theists (read: religious folk) say that the only reason for our perpetual existence is serving a higher being.

And because it is unclear, it is something I’ve spent much of my time pondering.

I’m also a scientist, and as such, I can tell you that humans are animals, and are thus subject to many of the same principles all animals are subjected to. These being the essence of survival: intake (food, water), excrete, and reproduce. Reproduction is the essence of all animal life, which is why, although our planet is vastly overpopulated and we are basically killing our own kind, humans continue to have offspring. That, in a nutshell, could be the meaning of life. Humans just happen to have developed opposable thumbs and a conscious, or we wouldn’t be thinking about why we exist.

That’s how I’ve come to my conclusion about the meaning of life.

The meaning of life is about the human connection. We’ve already supported that with our brief discussion of reproduction, but it’s more than that, too. It’s about gaining knowledge and sharing knowledge. It’s about being kind and sharing ourselves with others. If I can inspire one person, whether it is to be kinder to others, or to learn something knew, then I’ve made a difference. If I can teach someone something, I’ve made a difference. Even if my smile at a stranger in a grocery store can brighten their day, I’ve made a difference.

Why else do humans spend so much of their time with others, exchanging stories and asking advice? It’s all about spreading the wealth of knowledge, and making our journey in this life about the journey, not the destination. I think that is what many of us get caught up in, is the destination. You know…living life through God so that we have a beautiful afterlife with rainbows and butterflies and unicorns (because what’s heaven without unicorns!??). But that isn’t good enough. We are here now, and we need to make the best of it.

From my point of view, if you live this life trying to teach, help, and be kind to others then whatever your belief, you win. How can a Christian God send someone who has lived their life virtuously, but was Buddhist, or Jewish, or Atheist, to anywhere other than this heaven place? That doesn’t sound like a being that is amazing, and forgiving, and wonderful. That sounds like a judgmental, power-hungry dictator.

Living life to it’s fullest. Gaining knowledge and wisdom. Giving knowledge and wisdom. Connecting to each other. Showing kindness to all. Sharing stories and giving advice. That’s what life is about. Growing as an individual, to grow as a culture.

And sex. Lots and lots of sex. It is our biological prerogative, after all.

What do you think is the meaning of life?

Who Needs Critical Thinking Anyway?

20 Jul


Apparently, critical thinking isn’t something that Texans or Republicans value as important. To them, parental authority and belief systems are more important than free-thinking and outcome-based knowledge. The Texas Republican GOP has officially added this to their 2012 platform. The document states “Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.”

This is absolutely ridiculous. Outcome-based knowledge is so important in life, and if you don’t learn things like this early, its even harder to learn them later in life. Critical thinking skills are also extremely valuable and don’t ever stop being valuable. Think about how many times job descriptions are looking for someone with critical thinking skills.

That’s not to mention that children should have the ability to think freely. I agree that parents should help shape their child to be the best they can be, but beliefs should always be questioned and revised, never fixed. If beliefs are fixed, nothing can be improved nor progress. Maybe progressive thinking is the basis for what the Texas Republicans are actually against.

Do you think critical thinking and outcome-based education are important?

Teachers Are People Too, Right?

12 Apr

Teachers. Such great terrible interesting things.  You can’t help but hate them and love them simultaneously (I’m also a scholar, so…I enjoy learning and often those who teach me).  Considering that I’ve been in school for 17 straight years, I’ve had a vast number of teachers.  I’ve also had to deal with the rockiness of not having stable teachers. My high school was often a stop for teachers desperately needing jobs, or for teachers fresh out of college. This gave rise to some really awesome teachers…and some not so great teachers.

I’ve also done very bad things to teachers. I probably shouldn’t have, but my reasons are my own (along with being shared with many other people, of course).  Personally, I think the best teachers are those that are easy to relate to. You know what I mean…those teachers that make you laugh, talk to you about life, and still get you to do homework and pay attention? The bad ones are those who think they have to be strict in order to keep…well…order.

I had a band teacher once, whom everyone disliked. Partially because he was trained as a choir teacher, and partially because he was a prude, stuck up, anal SOB (can you say, bad teacher?). My bandmates and I were in middle school at the time, and we did any number of things to try to make him quit. Well, he did. But not after crying several times in frustration.

One of my (many) chemistry professors at my university was also a terrible teacher.  He didn’t do his job very well, and it resulted in the average on one of our exams being a 60. He refused to curve it.  Instead, when asked by a student about a curve, he replied “if you failed your test, then you’re the failure. Not me.” What??? I don’t even think thats close to acceptable.  When it came time for teacher evaluations, he played the pity card. He asked us to say what we thought of him, not as a teacher, but as a person. “An alright guy” was shown as an option, along with a picture of him with his children. Who can put something different after seeing that?

All of this brings me to my point: teachers say that they don’t care what their students think of them, but on some level, they have to. Right? Maybe they don’t, but they are human just like the rest of us. They have the same desires, interests, attractions, repulsions, and feelings that everyone else does, yet they still put this wall. Maybe its because they are afraid what happened to my band teacher will happen to them. Maybe students won’t accept their authority. But like I’ve said, I think those easy-to-relate teachers are the best. Its all quite a curiosity to me

I also think that the picture above, regardless of how it makes you feel, has some level of accuracy.  We all think certain things are attractive, and its not as though we can consciously control what we find attractive, so it comes to reason that teachers not only care what students think (sometimes) but they also find themselves subject to the most primal of feelings.  You also know that there has to be kids that they only deal with because its their job.  And all the things they wish they could say, but can’t? This video sums up what I would want to say if I was a teacher.

Teachers are pretty awesome, and I’m glad for their existence (at least most of them). But you know there is stuff they hold back. And I invite all, especially teachers, to let me know what you think.

Do teachers care what their students think about them? Do you think its different between younger teachers and older ones? Have you ever done something terrible to a teacher (or had something done to you, as a teacher)? Teachers: we know there is a person in there with feelings and emotion, so whats the deal?

How Do I Deal With Condescending Professors?

11 Apr

I enjoy writing about teachers, because I find their lives outside of their jobs fascinating. Some of the best people I’ve met in my life have been teachers of mine, and so there is a soft spot in my heart for teachers as people. Yesterday, however, I had one of the worst experiences with a teacher that I’ve ever had.

Right now I’m taking Molecular and General Genetics as a senior at my university. This is the second time I’ve taken the class; the first time I took it, it was partially my own fault for not applying myself as much as I should have, partially life’s fault for throwing so much stress at me outside of school, and partially the teachers fault (how am I supposed to learn if I can’t even understand what you’re saying because your accent is too thick)? Try, try again. This semester, I was lucky enough to get a new teacher, because usually the course is only taught by one set of teachers. Everything was going alright. I got a B on my first test, which is well in the direction of not failing again. The second exam, however, was a blood bath. I failed. Well, like many other students before me, I emailed my professor to see if there was a possible way to make up my points. Here it is (only edited to exclude my actual point values and names):

Dr. H,

I’m emailing you because I’m concerned about the last exam we took. I got
xx out of xxx and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. I didn’t get
that poor of a score last time I took this class, so it doesn’t make
sense that I did worse. As you can see, I received a B on the first exam.
Regardless, I did poorly, and I was hoping it would be possible to get
some of those points back. I was thinking that I could redo all the
questions I got wrong on the exam in order to receive half of the points
I lost.  Let me know what you think. I really can’t afford to take this class a third
time, and I’m concerned about my grade. Thanks for your consideration and
have a wonderful afternoon.


Hi, Michelle,

I am having a wonderful evening as a result of your e-mail. I think that one of your friends has discovered your password and is sending joke messages from your account. But if you are serious about this proposal, please give > me permission to forward it to the department head and the university president to get their opinions.


It may or may not seem like all that much to you, but I was deeply hurt by the manner in which she responded. Not only did she take my very earnest proposal as a joke, but she continued to be demeaning, acting as if I might think that I’m so special to get special permission from the department head and university president (both of whom are not needed to make decisions of this nature).  It upset me a great deal – to the point of tears. I don’t think that anything I said warranted such a rude response, as a single statement of her teaching policy would suffice, and the manner in which she acted is inappropriate for her position as a teacher.

What should I do about her response? Should I handle it between us or should I bring in a third party? Should I just let it go? Have you ever been in a situation like this?