Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Education of Michelle Rhee – A PBS Frontline Documentary

How Mass Media News Shapes Our Thinking Mass media news casting has quietly shaped the American culture since its inception. Once assumed to be non-biased reporting of events that effected every American, incidents such as the Watergate scandal and the war in Vietnam taught citizens and their future generations to first ask: Who benefits from the news being reported? The Education of Michelle Rhee, presented by PBS Frontline is one such piece of documentary news that forces us to ask ourselves this very question. The lack of student ability to thrive in a technological age. The failure of the system to encourage graduation, which contributes to the individual’s lack of employability and increased crime rate throughout the Nation concerns every parent in every working class. There seems to be no better place to exemplify this problem than within our Nation’s capital. Hearing the public’s outcry, one man vies to be Mayor on the campaign promise that he will shake the very foundation of the educational system in his city if he is elected. Upon his inauguration, he hires “change agent”, Michelle Rhee as the new Chancellor for the D.C. public schools. Ms. Rhee is given ultimate power to fire any individual in the administration that is not working in tandem with her to make these changes happen. At first, she appears to have the complete backing of every parent in the city – storming into dysfunctional schools and issuing pink slips to any staff member that isn’t performing up to standard. But later, as her ideology for change focuses on local school closings, her support system falters. “It’s fine”, she professes, because she didn’t accept the job to win any popularity races. Had this been the truth, we would have never been introduced to the propaganda that portrays this individual as a “martyr”, and her fifteen minutes of fame would have been long utilized and forgotten. Working with children takes a special caliber of individuals. Those who have patience and understand the development of children as well as have an understanding of the family dynamic and how it effects a child’s ability to excel are essential to every functional school system. Teachers and support staff must endure continual education and remain flexible to meet the changing needs of the students they serve. Although, Ms. Rhee professes that she views these individuals as “human capital”, she does little to reinforce these ideas when she allows news media crews to film her terminating school principals in an effort to, “weed out” individuals who are not performing to her standards – despite their years of service or their tenure. These are long standing assets that should be retrained and redirected with the ideology that their experience and dedication matter to the entire educational structure. Rather than working with her human capital, Ms. Rhee instead chose to freely execute her absolute power. Those who remained were forced to live up to her unrealistic statistical goals. Schools that performed up to these standards were generously rewarded. Those who did not live up to expectations were swiftly relieved of duty, forcing individuals in fear of their job security to allegedly alter test scores in an effort to show improvement. The Chancellor failed in her abilities to be a great leader, choosing instead, to manage her responsibility to change through coercion and terrorism. When allegations of cheating were brought to surface as a means of meeting her demands, Ms. Rhee admitted to the “possibility”, but stood firm on the idea that overall, the test scores were confirming her success in accomplishing her goals. Once her reign as Chancellor ended with the election of a new mayor, despite the fact that test scores plummeted to more realistic figures after her departure, and any of her supporters met their untimely political demise, her shortcomings were excused and deemed acceptable because: 1. She is a minority. (“Yes, I am Korean”). 2. She is a woman. 3. She had never been in politics. 4. She’d never done the job she’d been hired to perform. 5. She had the full support of the city’s mayor who is willing to risk “everything” in order to keep his campaign promises – and he was “running at 100%”. PBS Frontline tries to appear unbiased with the interview of a “whistleblower” as well as several officials assigned to the investigation of alleged cheating. Even the union executive responsible for protecting the rights and interests of the faculty was interviewed in an attempt to appear neutral, but the fact remains that the only person who came out of this event in history “smelling like a rose”, was Michelle Rhee. The question American citizens have to ask themselves when they view a piece like this is: “Who benefits from the media coverage?” Supporters of Ms. Rhee either lost their political footing or eventually discovered that giving the Chancellor absolute power over the entire school district meant surrendering their voice of reason in the political realm where all the vital decisions regarding education were made. To this day, Ms. Rhee continues on her pilgrimage of fixing the educational system working as an Educational Activist and vying for the position of Education Secretary in the Trump Administration . Although there may have once been a moment in time when the news being reported was absolutely factual, the truth of the matter is that those who report that news can easily season these events according to their own tastes by the way they report the event, their mannerisms or even the inflection in their voice. Historically, reporters were asked to highlight and/or omit facts and events because reporting them would not be in our country’s best interest. It is easy enough to suggest that a privately funded station such as PBS would be eager to place any financial contributing individual or organization into a brighter light as means of maintaining the ability to reach a greater audience. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the viewer to utilize their own logic and experience in order to determine what is substantial in the material they are presented.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Foundations of Morality

Today I'm annoyed. Just annoyed. Don't ask me why, I couldn't tell you. No. That's a lie. It's a lie I keep telling myself to excuse the senseless crap around me that tries to drive me insane. It's the lie I keep trying to repeat to myself so that I can believe it. Because if I will myself to believe in that lie, I would have no reason to feel this annoyed. And these feelings aren't accomplishing anything in the world I live in. Why am I annoyed? Little things really. Small miniscule thoughts that really seem in sequential to the bigger picture of life. Some days the topic changes with passing thought, but they accumulate like the small basket of laundry sitting at the foot of your bed. What starts out as a pair of dirty socks, multiplies to an entire wardrobe in the blink of an eye. And it annoys me - it really does. Perhaps what triggered these feelings was a random commercial I spied on a DVR'd episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents - I love the classics. Once there was a time, so very long ago it seems, when I couldn't force myself to sit through any programming that didn't include the entire color spectrum. These days, I have a bit more patience for them. Not because I've conditioned myself to tolerate watching a story that only included shades of grey, but because condemning a story plot simply for the medium in which it was filmed was only robbing myself of the glimpse into thoughts of the past. I'm just nosy like that - but I digress. This year is an election year. Not the sort of election that would bring everyone to the polls in droves of yellow school buses, but one that holds the balance of local government in its ballots. It's also that time when all the mudslinging comes out that nauseates me like riding a ship on breaking waters. Why anyone would put their trust in any official that would stoop to such undignified levels for a vote is beyond me. Personally, I'd rather someone take office that has since graduated from the ranks of 6th grade recess behavior. But apparently, I stand in the minority with this thinking. I'm fairly certain of this fact, because it's these very behaviors that are running in office at this time - and I didn't vote for them. These same officials have thrown a bill on the ballot asking for funds to rebuild schools already in place. The last election, they vied for funds to remodel these same schools and just began construction a year before elections - smells fishy, right? The marketing campaign around this bill is that our children deserve to have a modern environment in which they can optimally learn in. Uhhhh.....what? Listen, I know it's been a few decades since I walked the halls of my high school A1ma Mater, but I got a memory like an elephant and the ass to match one too. It's one of the very same schools that over the years, the city has taken to remodel and improve for safety reasons - not that I agree with this excuse, since I lived through that education, but I'm not opposed to a few new curtains and a fresh bed of roses on the front lawn, so who am I to fuss over the idea? Thousands of tax dollars have been filtered into rebuilding this school - I consider it rebuilding because I could walk in there today and barely recognize any landmarks that would indicate it was once the same school I spent my teen years counting the seconds like a convict on death row - as I'm sure thousands of kids before and after me did as well. Anyway, back to this commercial - they've remodeled, but apparently, it's just not good enough. The only way we are going to be able to provide an optimal learning environment for our children is if we completely rebuild new schools for them. Certainly, if we are the loving and caring parents we profess to be, we'll open up our pocket books and make this goal a reality. Otherwise, we force them to live a life in stupidity where they will forever chase behind other children of their generation who were given the privilege of learning in a school optimally designed for this purpose. Exactly who writes this crap anyway? Cause apparently, I'm in the wrong job market and I imagine I could have come up with some sort of bull manure that sounds better than this. Seriously, are the walls about to cave in? Is there asbestos in the ceiling or lead paint on the walls someone can't sandblast off? These are the only ideas in my mind that would constitute a need to completely demolish and rebuild. I've struggled my entire life. I can attest, that anything someone wants to stand next to me to designate as a measure of my worth, I earned and worked for. While condemning myself to sound like an old fart who can't stand the wheels of change - I'm happy to have what I have. I don't own a mansion or a yacht, heck, I don't even own a car worth stealing. But I earned what I have and pay for what I still owe because I loathe the idea of having to owe someone my life. I pay a mortgage on a house older than the high school I spent my teen years in. It's not modern. It's not fancy. Take a tour of my house and you'll barely find one new electronic amenity. My house is NOT worth looting. And I like it. I like the comfort of knowing there's absolutely nothing I possess that would entice someone to break in and take from me. The walls are sturdy. I paint them often. The flooring is new. The water heater and furnace are both under 5 years old and were only replaced when the previous units could no longer provide service. I still own the same blasted pea green refrigerator that came with the house when I signed the mortgage. And it works. Keeps the food cold - that's the purpose. It doesn't have a filtered water dispenser, nor one of those sensors that warns you when you forgot to close the door. It just keeps the food cold. Purpose served. When something wears out or breaks at my house, I get it fixed. I don't insist someone tear it down and buy me a new one. I don't use the age of my house as an excuse for my or my children's ignorance. It's not alive. It doesn't think. It serves a purpose; to keep my family and me safe and warm in a world of "debatable" climate warming and to house the amount of crap I've acquired in my existence. It's not the best house in the neighborhood, nor the envy of the neighbors, but it's clean, well-kept, and well loved for the comfort it gives. Purpose served. Houses and buildings and things do not define what lies inside. The success or failure of a family is based on the heart and not what houses it. Much like a marriage, it takes constant tending and work. The answer is not to shriek from responsibility and a bit of hard work, nor to pack a bag and run towards greener pastures. The answer is the commitment that comes within. I am committed to caring for my family in the best way I can. The hope here is that my children will never know the pain of struggle or hunger in their existence. And perhaps in that environment, they can find a way to make the world a better place than it was before them. I have simple goals. None, which revolve around an eye pleasing appearance or sustaining the urge or envy of others. What is important in this house and its simplistic four walls and two bathrooms, is what goes on inside. There is love. There is learning. And it's constant, because that's what I feel is important for growth. Meals are cooked IN THE KITCHEN. Most times - from scratch. Not because I'm vying for a "super mom" award of sorts, but because it enables me to control what goes into nourishing their bodies. Certainly, there are better things I could be doing. God knows I have a large collection of books, movies and crafts that could keep me busy and entertained for endless hours. But there is a priority here - and that priority is growing what is within those four walls. That's what's annoying me. I'm certain of it. If the campaign claim on new schools is due towards optimal learning - it's a farce of mass proportions. It's not the building, it's what's inside. Quit relying on cheap excuses to explain personal shortcomings. If the idea is to seduce a population to live in the area in hopes of revitalizing and revamping a dying economy - think again. Google and statistics will be your demise. You could put on your prettiest dress and several layers of make-up in hopes of convincing the world of your worth. In the end, you're only lying to yourself. The measure of worth comes from within each of us. It's determination is not only what you see as you pass it on the street. If you want to see change in the community, don't begin with such trifle amenities. Begin with what dwells in your own four walls. Take pride in what you have - no matter how small and make it the best you can. That's what really matters in life. Everything else is just a diversion from the truth.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Human Nature

This morning I happened to have caught a posting made by one of my facebook friends:

‎"My morality is rooted in my own desire to be altruistic along with my genetic predisposition towards compassion and empathy. Why would any intelligent person allow someone else, let along a mystical being in the sky, dictate to them how they ought to act? - Trish Novelli

My initial reaction was to simply nod and agree to respect his opinion, but after a while, the idea began to grate on my nerves. "My morality is rooted in my own desire to be altruistic along with my genetic predisposition towards compassion and empathy"....I suppose that would be an awesome thought to the few that actually allow these factors to negotiate their behavior. What remains are the many that don't listen to their moral fibers or are genetically predispositioned towards compassion and empathy. Perhaps the idea of a "mystical being" in the sky is what the many need in order to keep their darker self in check. Our society, however, has shunned the idea of answering to a higher power and left our conscious without a guide to help us do the right thing.

At one point in the night, I was so inspired to reply to his posting, that I had gone so far as to click out a few keys of sarcastic diatribe as a means of belittling his views of the world, but I guess you can say that I allowed that "mystical being in the sky" to remind me that I had enough emotions on my dinner plate, that the last thing I needed at the time was to get into a religious argument with someone who cares very little about my opinion on the matter.

Recently, my adopted mom finally decided to contact me. After years of "hiding" with her daughter, away from the world, by the hand of her daughter's tyrant of a husband, she was now living with her oldest son in the mountains of West Virginia. I was relieved to hear from her, as I had all but given up hope of ever hearing from her again and had spent a great deal of time mourning over the idea of the loss. The joy was quickly extinguished when I learned that her daughter had committed suicide and I was left reeling from the news.

Nicky was a beautiful girl with flaxen blond hair, who I remember as being happy and friendly to all she met. I just couldn't fathom this treasured soul thrown in the depths of despair so deeply as to find no other alternative of relieving the pain, then by her own hand. It left me quickly remembering the darkest moments in my life when I felt that death was the most logical way of stopping the pain. Then again, my childhood wasn't as filled with the love of family like hers. This was why I spent so much time at her home and adopted her family as my own - even to this day.

I don't speak about my darkest moments very often. Sometimes, the stories are just too difficult to relive through the tales. Sometimes you just have to close the door on an empty room that is no longer useful in your life, but this piece of news blew that door right open.

My biggest fear was being alone in a world bigger than my narrow mind could imagine. I've always been quiet and somewhat shy around new people - a bad combination for trying to met the right people to enrich your life. My days became an endless string of moments filled with working in order to survive. There was absolutely no joy in the idea of another tomorrow and no inspiration to motivate myself for anything more. The light of my world came with the birth of my oldest daughter.

I suppose we all need one bright light in our lives in order to face another day. For some, that light may be a rewarding job or a new car. For me, that light was having someone by my side that loved me unconditionally.

I don't know what that bright light was for Nicky and I've spent some time chastising myself for not trying harder to be there to help her find it. Then again, I think we all blame ourselves when things go wrong and brood about the would 'of's and could 'of's that plaque us in the dark of night. I have no unacceptable excuses for my lack of attention to her pain. Certainly, I could assure myself that I've been so wrapped up with work, family and school that I didn't find the time to write a letter or the balls to risk picking up the phone to call her and upsetting her tyrant husband. After all, petty excuses like these were enough to appease a judge into dismissing me from duty due to hardship, but they don't seem to be enough to seduce a fitful sleep.

Without that "mystic power in they sky", what will stop us from turning a blind eye to the sadness of others - either through fear, obligation or empathy? How will society keep their behavior in check if there is no one left to answer to? No eternal punishment that lies in wait for our damned souls and no hope of a bright light that promises reward for a good deed?

Those answers are found by simply watching the 10 o'clock news.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Food for Thought - Riddle me this

If one is lucky enough in his academic lifetime, he is able to learn from a gifted teacher who is able to inspire and affect his mind for the rest of his life. I have the distinguished honor of boasting to several individuals that have left their indelible mark in my memory, but perhaps the one teacher that still walks in my thoughts when I’m asked to define a verb or an adjective is Joe Drennan, my 8th grade English teacher.

Every Friday, Mr. Drennan would send his students home with a “Food for Thought” worksheet. Each worksheet would remind the student of visual cues he taught as a means of remembering the definition of common parts of a sentence, such as nouns, verbs and prepositions. If the student returned with a complete Food for Thought worksheet, he was issued extra credit – an incentive right up my alley, but the catch was that the worksheet had to be complete. On every worksheet there contained a riddle that required a solution. Try as I may, I rarely was able to complete a worksheet without the help of a fellow student who was gifted in the riddle department. Sadly, I’ve never possessed the natural fluidity of thought and words required to solve these puzzles. What I didn’t realize until I began to study the “art of riddling” is what a Tolkien fan Mr. Drennan really was. Never claiming to be the sharpest crayon in the box, I had not made the connection to those rare moments when I knew the answer to a riddle posed was because they were riddles I’d heard from readings of The Hobbit.

Riddles by definition are statements or questions posed that require depth of thought and the ability to look beyond what is seen in order to provide solution. Enigmas are types of riddles expressed metaphorically, where a word or a phrase is used to express an analogy. Allegorical language is a type of riddle that requires careful thinking in order to solve. Riddles can come in many forms – from poetic to the more contemporary riddles in which the answers become part of a humorous punch line (for example: “What’s brown and sounds like a bell?” – DUNG), or part of a play on words (“Why is six afraid of seven?” – because seven, eight, nine…<7 ate 9>). Riddles have deep roots in the history of man, most abundant in the history of Anglo-Saxon literature and their strong Christianity beliefs where riddles were designed to provide wisdom through wit. This fact explains why Tolkien was astute in the riddle game.

A young Tolkien and his brother became wards of the Catholic Church after their mother succumbed to type II diabetes. Schooled in Anglo-Saxon wisdom, Tolkien, who had once toyed with the notion of becoming a Priest, was encouraged to develop his English and writing skills. This talent enabled him to graduate from the Exeter College of Oxford with “first class honors” in English and Literature – a degree he later utilized in teaching as Professor of English Literature at the Oxford University. Known for his love of language, he was sought to serve his country as a linguistics expert during World War II. Records to his exact service detail are vague; some historians assume that his position was so significant that his fame would have endangered war efforts and therefore, remained classified. Others content that his illness attracted from his service during World War I kept him from serving his country during World War II and the idea of him serving as a linguistic expert was nothing more than war propaganda. Either way, it is certain that the idea of going head to head with this gifted riddle Gollum probably sent chills in the hearts of the Axis Power.

Tolkien was a doting father who shared his love of words with his children through holiday mythopeaic adventures of Father Christmas. Each year he would add mythagos creatures who would help deliver the message of Christmas to the imaginations of his growing offspring. Upon his death, he made his son Christopher the executive of his literary works. Christopher later shared some of Tolkien’s unpublished Anglo-Saxon riddles and works with the world in a collection titled, The Silmarillion.

The riddles left behind by Tolkien are rich in thought and texture and offer readers a small glimpse into the Christianity faith through courage and wisdom. Much like the many Food for Thought worksheets I once turned into Mr. Drennan after a long weekend of debate – the riddles remain unsolved even today:

In marble of milk-white are
My walls wonderfully wrought;
A delicate garment is hung within,
Just like silk; since in the middle
Desire is filled, water glass-clear;
There glistens gold-laden in still streams
the shiniest apple. No one has entered
my fortress fast; nevertheless will burst
thirsty thieves in my splendid hall,
if that treasure reave – say what I’m

Pride, Money and Foolishness - A view of the world through the eyes of Ray Bradbury

“I want the world to be better because I was here”
- Will Smith

I first stumbled onto the works of Ray Bradbury in 1986 when I spied an episode of
The Ray Bradbury Theater on late night television. Much of the stories were laced with elements of horror, much like I had become accustomed to through re-runs of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I eagerly found myself studying the VCR manual in order to tape each episode, but unfortunately, lost track of his work when the series ended in 1992. Today I’m wise enough to ensure the love affair with this wise soul never ends though the addition of his series to my video collection - complements of eBay. That’s about as utopian as it gets for me these days.

The term “utopia” was first introduced by Thomas More through his novel as a place considered home to the perfect society. In terms of the science fiction genre, it refers to the benefits our technological advances will one day bestow upon us – a perfect world we hope will exist for our future generations. Ray Bradbury’s work, however, points towards dystopia and continually warns us that becoming too dependent on technology will destroy us if we proceed without caution. In his piece, The Murderer, Bradbury plants a single seed of sedition:

“We thought a lot of a good thing would be great, but it’s not. We’ve come dependent. We’re prisoners of our own progress.”

Our desire for more leisure time and less working hours propels our innovative thinking. Today’s homemakers have washing machines and vacuums that assist in keeping the house tidy. In the kitchen, convection and microwave ovens ensure that the family has a hot meal in a fraction of the time it took our great grandmothers. These inventions have even followed us into the nursery where they ensure our colicky babies are vibrated and rocked to music that persuades them to tranquility. Bradbury understood a parent’s need to give children the best the world has to offer, but he was also wise enough to caution us to the dangers of being born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth. This lesson is apparent in my favorite Bradbury sci-fi gadget tale, The Veldt, where parents George and Lydia discover they have been replaced by a mechanical nursery made to appease their children’s intellect. The problem with this all too efficient nursemaid is that it hasn’t taught the children any morality. By the time they decide to “tarnish the silver” they realize the room has other plans for their future - complements of two growing children’s’ imaginations:

“And suddenly, they realized why the two screams sounded so familiar.”

Moving forward and growing through technology may be essential to our economy if you believe in the Neoclassical Growth Theory, but Bradbury’s sci-fi fantasy, The Sound of Thunder, reminds us of how delicate the balance of evolution is in terms of our existence and how meddling with that balance through time travel can alter who we are today:

“Eventually it all boils down to this: fifty-nine million years later, a caveman, one of a dozen on the entire world, goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food. But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region…so the caveman starves...destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life…so be careful. Stay on the Path. Never step off!”

Even if we manage to stay on this path of accelerated technological discoveries and manage to harness its great power, will it better our morality and ensure our survival? Bradbury’s sci-fi cosmic disaster story, There Will Come Soft Rains addresses this very concern. If we manage to secure our own extinction, who will guarantee that the power is always on for our mechanical devices that once clothed and fed and rocked us to sleep?

“The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing, attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.”

For as much as we fear technology, what we should fear more is our own stupidity. The repercussions of our irresponsibility are what nightmares are made of. This reason explains why I’ve never thought of Bradbury’s work as science fiction - it’s not the aliens I fear, it’s the capacity man has to destroy himself through his insatiable avarice that keeps me up at night. Thankfully we have the ability to learn and change through the experiences and stories we share with one another around the campfire.

Someone once told me that a good writer can entertain you by telling a story, but great writers can change your life though the power of words. There are few writers that have this ability - Ray Bradbury is one of them. Bradbury has helped mold the world as we know it for more than seven generations with tales filled with “one half exhilaration and one half terror.”

Through his work we are given the chance to watch the world change in a lifetime. If the entire purpose of our existence is to leave the world a better place, then Ray Bradbury has succeeded where others have failed. What a wonderful way to live forever.

Writing for Reason - To thine own self be true

This above all: To thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

(Polonius – Hamlet Act I, scene 3)

I recently had the privilege of attending a writing workshop with Tim Cahill and Molly Sides in hopes of gaining some inspiration and improvement of my writing skills. It was one of the best investments I’ve made because some of my most difficult moments in writing occur when I haven’t a clue about the subject I’m writing about. That’s the time you’ll find me surfing the web for more information or hanging out in the library hoping to educate myself on the subject, at least well enough to be able to spew out something that sounds partially intelligent. Mr. Cahill had a solution for my dilemma that seemed so basic and simple that I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it myself – write about what you know and make it mean something to you.

Suddenly I began to notice that many of the greatest writers to date have done just that. Even many of my beloved Stephen King’s most successful works come from a Maine setting and are narrated through the eyes of a man who was usually a father and a husband. Hemmingway was said to have written in bibliographical fashion, utilizing personal experiences as a home base for his tales. Rudyard Kipling did the very same thing and spared no feelings in his reasoning.

In Kipling’s speech Literature, he subtly takes on some of the criticisms given his work. Surprisingly, he encourages and even expects this should all come with the job of writing as a profession, but reminds his audience that in this adventure – he is still just a man prone to the same mistakes in reason as a bad lawyer, surgeon or cook. The magic, he professes, comes from the words and the ability of the reader to have an open mind willing to accept them. An idea such as this puts the responsibility for the success of a story on both the reader and the writer as should be the case in any relationship endeavor.

Words have no value if they fall on deaf ears. No matter how eloquently they are written or spoken they will always fail at their task if one refuses to indulge in the opinions of others around them. Kipling was astute enough to wisely suggest this to the audience in his lecture. Most definitely it is the right of every individual to formulate and carry around their own set of opinions and beliefs that they acquire from their journey in life, but narrow-mindedness quickly kills any further potential of growth within the individual every time. The solution to this disease is basic – just listen. There are no rules stipulating that you must accept what the author is telling you if you hear or read them. The true joy of life comes when we are able to connect as humans capable of graciously accepting these gifts of communication, even if we don’t fancy the colors they come in. The rapture occurs when we make that mental connection with another that inspires us for a lifetime. Kipling was able to accomplish this goal in his relationship with Sir Henry Rider Haggard and it’s inherently apparent to anyone who reads their work.

Kipling and Haggard shared a commonality in not only opinions, but in a passionate love affair with words. Both understood that words possess the power of change if written in a way that seduces the reader and leaves his soul hungry for more. Kipling managed to utilize “on the line thinking” when writing about England’s grip on third world countries in his adventures, leaving audiences wondering where his loyalties fell. By indulging in neutral statements, Kipling was able to minimally draw attention to matters at hand without severely infecting the opinions of others – a gigantic first step in disarming ignorance.

Haggard was ever the more mindful of this communication tool that he viewed as a potential weapon. In his work About Fiction, he cautions the audience that his profession provides one with the ability to influence a young generation with ideas that can stay with them through the “days of their lives”, even without their prior consent or knowledge. It is therefore Haggard’s suggestion that an author’s work – whether good or bad, contain an idea of morality. When comparing the lifestyles and literature of his time to modern work, you must concur that his idea holds considerable merit.

The attraction to the work of these great authors stems from their ability to utilize what they know to entertain and inspire an audience. Each is able to consummate words and escapades in a way that ignites empathy and open-mindedness while providing mental food for thought to the reader. My objective is accomplishing this task through determination, effort and growth. I realize this ability comes from within, but it doesn’t hurt to have great role models guiding the way.

Mind in Motion - In search of God and Soul

The human psyche has always held a childlike fascination for me. From the earliest moments of my memory I began to question why. It seems I’ve always wanted to know why people do the things they do – why does my mother constantly obsess about cleanliness? Why does my father have “itchy feet”? Why do my daughters (or for that matter, my sisters and I) vary so vastly despite our similar genetic make-up? Questions like these plaque me as often today as they did as a child and I still find myself searching for answers. This was the primary reason why I wanted to study the subject over the summer – so I could focus all my academic attention on finding these answers. Answers to human behaviors are what I expected to discover through this course, what I wasn’t prepared for was the study of where the behaviors stem. For some reason I was under the impression that those questions were best answered in the realm of Philosophy and a whole different entity from Psychology. What I’ve discovered is that the two sciences often dance around one another in search of answers.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to do some hard soul searching about not just human psyche, but about myself, my beliefs and my own mortality in this one given reading assignment, and I found it to be an overwhelming demon I wasn’t prepared to address. The assignment was easy enough for the average college student - choose an article from the teacher’s list on human behavior, write a report about it and what you’ve learned in the class thus far. For an overachieving, anal retentive student such as me, it became a challenge that my mind wasn’t prepared to accept; the idea that there is no human soul, no God, and no underlying reason for my existence. That we are nothing more than a series of firing neurons inhabiting the planet and not much different than any other living creature that exists on the earth was a hard pill to swallow. Not only did I read one article, I read everyone I could get my paws on without paying for and some additional astonishing texts on the subjects as well. Each piece of information left me grappling for more answers to my reason of existence than I had before.

Most relevant to my “rude awakening” was the opening statement made by Nobel Laureate Francis Crick in his book The Astonishing Hypothesis;

“The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

Of course, the cover itself attracts the utmost attention from any “white and nerdy” wanna be such as myself with the words “Nobel Laureate.” Who in their right mind would want to question the opinion of such a highly regarded scholar? Certainly not I, nor anyone else hoping to follow in his footsteps. This alone was an overpowering statement for me.

I grew up Catholic, and although today I can’t promise I fully subscribe to all the beliefs the religion teaches, I can assure you that the basis of the ideas still hold a firm foundation within my psyche – there is a higher power and a higher reason for my being. Suddenly, I’ve been informed by someone I respect that these ideas are nothing more than the dreams of a sleeping animal and its vague attempt to justify its existence. I never thought of God as “the man behind the curtain” - one that watches my every move and judges my every action, but I also never considered him more than a fantasy that stemmed from my neurons. Every emotion, every feeling I have about my beliefs in God can be traced to nothing more than the neurons possibly “tied to a specific place in the brain.” I now find myself caught in the crossroads of understanding and stupidity, wondering if I was better off taking the road well traveled – the one marked “don’t need to know”.

Humans, as a species, tend to be thoughtful creatures, but (assumedly) unlike most animals who simply exist to live, feed, and reproduce, humans actually contain the thought capacity to ask why. Not only do they have the capacity to question these facts, they have the ability to derive theories on why it is. When answers don’t point to logic, human’s turn to higher powers for explanations. Why is the sky blue? Because God wanted it to be blue. These answers are acceptable to children whose narrow vision of the world doesn’t extend beyond their parents comfort, and most adult not caring to explore the idea further. We find ourselves in a quandary for answers when bad things happen to us; why did my dog die? Why did the tornado hit my house? We blame God for these shortcomings and curse him for not protecting us from harm. If God is such a loving, all-powerful being, why did he let these things happen to me? Answers don’t come from hours of quiet prayer or dedicated prayer sessions with your mother of pearl rosary. We convince ourselves that our “higher powers” must have reasons for the tragedies bestowed upon us – perhaps a test of our faith or an opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of an afterlife in heaven. Not only do people subscribe to it, they live their life and die according to it.

Science has a way of answering questions. If one is bold enough to ask why, one must be strong enough to accept the answer and the possibility that it may lead you to a dark corner of the world you’d rather not travel. This is where the dance begins between Psychology and Philosophy. The study of Psychology focuses its interest on human behaviors and the mental process. The questions come from the science of Philosophy. If one begins to wonder why the brain works the way it does, one has to explore its reason for existence. If one begins to wonder why we exist if not for a higher purpose, then we must explore why we think the way we do. Contrary to my previous assumptions, there is little room for splitting hairs in this matter. How do you explain why a person believes in something they’ve never seen or touched? Where do those beliefs originate? These are the questions conceived by the dance.

Technology affords scientist the ability to explore the human brain without destruction of life or invasive surgery. fMRI scans paint the picture of neurons that fire when religious devotes are deep within their trances indicating the possibility that God’s existence lies not within the human soul, but the human mind. Chemical releases between the neurons send signals to those parts of the brain that process emotion and emotional memory explaining away the euphoria these monks experience when they are “close to their higher powers.” Most interesting about the research is that this modern technology failed to find a consistent area in the brain that was stimulated by these practiced faiths; scientist discovered the left prefrontal cortex activation in Buddhists monks during meditation, frontal lobe activity in women while speaking in tongues, and increased activity in the central brain region of nuns recalling communion with God. Is this the proof that God exists only in our minds? Well, the nuns don’t think so, and most people you bump into will profess some sort of religious faith despite this factual information. Why does religion play such a large role in the lives of our society? Should one dare to accept the possibility that God is nothing more than emotional response? If this is a possibility, one must further concur that there is little difference between the reasons of existence of the coyote as compared to the human. Both exist simply because the species was strong enough to survive the evolutionary process of natural selection, rather than to serve a higher purpose. This is a reality that the human superior ego cannot accept.

The thought of retribution becomes a driving factor in morality and religion. Generations of humans have raised their young to believe that good deeds were awarded by salvation at heaven’s gates, while bad deeds were punishable in the pits of hell. These fear factors alone encourage society to do the right thing in accordance to their beliefs of “ultimate consequence”. Rules of humanity are painted within the pages of a religion’s bible – honor thy mother and father, do not take the Lord’s name in vain, thou shall not kill - all ethical guidelines that have shaped our society. This is what justifies our superiority; we are civilized simply because we subscribe to a set of ideas on living within our faiths of what is honorable and just and fear punishment if we deviate from these ideals. Is it morally correct for science to attempt to take this away from society?

More spectacular in the theory that God lies only within the human mind, is the idea that there is no human soul; no afterlife of existence after death, no reunions with lost love ones in a better universe. If faith builds morals through the belief that the immortal soul will be rewarded for good behavior, what is the reward for living without fear of eternal damnation? Would society revert to its primitive behavior without this divine intervention or would the value of human life increase because human’s understood that there would be no “do over’s” in the form of reincarnation, eternal afterlife and God’s final comforting embrace? For now, we can only devise theories on how we as a species would react if science could one day affirm this possibility without doubt. Until then, I remain the hopeful optimist, believing in the idea that there is a higher purpose for my being, a reason I was granted a breath of life, and the possibility an existence beyond the realm of reality I understand today.