Gossip

Really enjoyed Doubt. This parable definitely going to be reused with students.

“A woman was gossiping with a friend about a man she hardly knew— I know none of you have ever done this—that night she had a dream. A great hand appeared over her and pointed down at her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession.

She got the old parish priest, Father O’Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. “Is gossiping a sin?” she asked the old man. “Was that the hand of God Almighty pointing a finger at me? Should I be asking your absolution? Father, tell me, have I done something wrong?”

“Yes!” Father O’Rourke answered her. “Yes, you ignorant, badly brought-up female! You have borne false witness against your neighbor, you have played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed!”

So the woman said she was sorry and asked for forgiveness. “Not so fast!” says O’Rourke. “I want you to go home, take a pillow up on your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me!”

So the woman went home, took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to the roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. “Did you gut the pillow with the knife?” he says.”Yes, Father.” “And what was the result?” “Feathers,” she said. A world of feathers.

“Feathers?” he repeated. “Feathers everywhere, Father!”

“Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out on the wind!”

“Well,” she said, “it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.”

”And that,” said Father O’Rourke,“is gossip!”

Bertrand Russell’s 10 Teaching Commandments

I like these a lot (thanks Maria). They come from a 1951 article in the New York Times, titled “The Best Answer to Fanaticism: Liberalism”, which is well worth a read.

Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Teaching Doubt

From NNT:

My biggest problem with the educational system lies precisely in that it forces students to squeeze explanations out of subject matters and shames them for withholding judgement, for uttering the “I don’t know”. Why did the Cold War end? Why did the Persians lose the battle of Salamis? Why did Hannibal get his behind kicked? Why did Casanova bounce back from hardship? …

I am not saying causes do not exist; do not use this argument to avoid learning from history. All I am saying is it is not so simple; be suspicious of the “because” and handle it with care, particularly in situations where you suspect “silent evidence”.

Doubt and Toilet Soap

[via Chris]Spiked have just done a science survey to celebrate Einstein Year, asking a range of renowned scientists what one thing above all they would teach the world about science. There were two gems.

From Frances M Ashcroft:

Science is the art of doubt, not of certainty

And from Dr Alec D Bangham:

Amphiphiles are molecules that have an affinity for both aqueous and non-aqueous media

I should teach the world about amphiphiles. Amphiphiles are, as the Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology puts it, ‘molecules that have an affinity for both aqueous and non-aqeous media’.

Toilet soap is one of the most common and ubiquitous examples.

😉