In my sophomore year of high school, one of my teachers used a similar method of discussing symbols and their power.  He took the small American Flag – left side of every chalkboard in each classroom – off the wall and casually held it above a flame(he didn’t smoke so he usually had to borrow a lighter from someone in class).  He then asked who would be angry if he set the thing on fire right then and there.  Most students became quite unhinged as soon has he had the flag in one hand and the lighter in the other.  Some were too distraught to participate in the conversation.  One kid cried.  Those of us with the ability to think critically, no matter which side we took, had a very interesting conversation about it, with the teacher occasionally asking questions but never offering his opinion.  I don’t know how many angry letters he got, he had been doing this exact lesson since the mid 1980′s.  Had the internet and Fox News existed, surely he would have become the liberal boogieman of the week.
 

It seems that every other week, conservatives must take up arms over another story of liberal oppression.  A student ordered to take off her Romney 2012 t-shirt because it’s, “akin to wearing a KKK shirt.”  A college professor suspends a student for refusing to stomp on a piece of paper with “Jesus” written on it.  Students are forced to sing a song praising Barrack Obama.  Yes, from the removal of Christmas from public schools to the persecution of Christian children for taking a stand, it seems that schools in the country are out to indoctrinate and oppress students of faith.

Cherry picking stories about evil teachers is a standard in conservative media.  And not always a harmless one.  A few months ago, Florida Atlantic University Professor Deandre Poole was put on paid leave, not because of his actions in the classroom, but because the reaction from many Christians was to issue death threats.  What Professor Poole did was have his students write “Jesus” on a piece of paper and then asked them step on it.  When the students hesitated or refused, Poole, a devout Christian, would then open up a discussion on the power of symbols.  As an atheist, I wouldn’t have any issue with stepping on the paper apart from needlessly offending a fellow student.  That is not to say I have a problem with offending people, I just prefer my offending behavior to have a purpose; a purpose of making a statement, or just for a giggle, but a purpose nonetheless.  Anyway, it would seem that upsetting the sensibilities of those whose sensibilities are up-settable is a byproduct of attempting meaningful discourse.

Apart from the typical fear-mongering within the media, the anti-intellectualism of the right seems to pervade each of these stories.  While the occasional public school story will fill the average consumer with enough terror and rage to keep them alive for another week or so, the real prize is to be able to go after some elitist snob with a PhD.  From tall tales of a philosophy professor attempting to prove the non-existence of God at the end of every semester, to real(ish) stories of intellectual bullies picking on people of faith, the college professor is the ultimate villain.  The fictional stories all end with the plucky Christian kid proving that the elitist pedagogue isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.  He may have a decent idea of how the universe works, but he doesn’t understand God.  

The above video is an old trope that Christians like to pass around as a parable about how Professors aren’t as smart as they think.  The unlikelihood of that story ever actually happening doesn’t seem to occur to the faithful.  The worst of these anti-intellectual videos was created by Wretched Network.  It’s a similar piece of vapidity that’s been passed around in one form or another.  The video features a man, labelled generically as an “Evolutionary Professor,” telling the story of the time a student came up to him after a lecture and asked him some tough questions about evolution that he just couldn’t answer.  Both questions they show are loaded with nonsense that anyone competent in their field (or indeed, a blogger with no degree) should be able to sniff out.  But this pipe smoking archetype sat dumbfounded, unable to recall the most basic concepts of the science he teaches.  Surely he must be the worst professor to ever step into a lecture hall.  My heart goes out to his students.  

Comments
  1. John Sullivan says:

    Scott, I would have preferred to have seen you develop this more extensively. It’s as if you stopped in the midst of a good argument and just signed off.

    Anyway, 2 things jumped out at me as I watched the video. One, that dropping the chalk resulted in it’s breaking into 100 pieces. Wow!!! Really? How could anyone ever do precisely that? I could see 2-5 pieces, perhaps. More if you really slammed it to the ground, and a hard ground at that. But 100???? If anyone could consistently get exactly 100 pieces, I’d have to concede divine intervention.

    The other is the depiction of Jesus. When is anyone going to show him as he likely appeared, namely, Middle-Eastern Jewish? Choosing to believe or not; choosing to have a “relationship” with Jesus or not: He didn’t, couldn’t have, wouldn’t have wanted to see himself depicted as some Northern European, Charleton Heston look-alike. What really bothers me is that the “believers” seem to want to have it all: They believe in the Divine Jesus. They believe he was Jewish. They know he was from what we now call the Middle East. Yet they want to believe he looked like some English nobleman circa 1550, minus the tights. If you want to have it all, face it all! He’s the number one iconic personage in need of a makeover.

  2. Atheist Slut says:

    My own father told me about the professor having students step on a paper with “Jesus” written on it. He was deeply offended and used it as the ultimate evidence of the evils of liberalism.
    But, really, what is a piece of paper? The real motivator behind the offense people take is they associate their religion with their own ego. The two are so inextricably linked, in fact, that they can’t separate the symbol “Jesus” from their own sense of worth. Dogma can be quite powerful and scary!
    If someone wrote “free thought” on a piece of paper and then soiled it, it would mean nothing to me because my highly valued cognizance is completely independent of anyone’s ability to deface it. Plus, even by not appreciating free thought themselves, no one can threaten what it means to me.
    Good post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s