Wednesday, April 13, 2016

On Reconsideration--Letter #78


            We don’t have a microwave in our kitchen. It’s not because I believe microwaves irradiate our food with nuclear particles. I’m a slightly better scientist than that. But it does take up space on my counter and microwaves do encourage me to cook more processed foods like frozen burritos and Hungry Man Fried Chicken dinners. At least if I have to cook those things in the oven, I usually realize it takes just about as much time to make them from scratch. But it does suck not to be able to defrost frozen foods. I’m OK at planning for dinner around noon the day of. Not so much the day before. But recent research has shown that contrary to earlier guidelines that you should only thaw food in the refrigerator, which takes forever, or in a cold water bath, which isn’t much faster, that now you can defrost small cuts of meat in a warm 100 degree water bath, at least according to Harold McGee, a food scientist featured on A Splendid Table.
            I am currently defrosting a small steak for dinner. It took five minutes to defrost it most of the way.
            Once, I asked my students to write an essay about something they were sure was true but found, using Google, the facts to show the opposite. The best reconsideration? Eating your boogers is actually good for you. Scott Napper, a scientist at the University of Saskatchewan, found that introducing pathogens from your own mucus can help build your body’s natural defenses.
            I love the idea that with an open mind, we can ask questions that we wouldn’t have even thought to ask—that received knowledge was the only knowledge.
            This American Life broadcast a show about a research study showed that a particular kind of political canvasser when going door-to-door, if they sat down with their door-opener, they could get them to change their minds by telling their personal story. One woman changed her door-answerers mind about abortion by telling the woman about her own abortion and how hard it had been to tell her family about it but how it was right for her. The door-answerer went from 100% against abortion to 100% for abortion in the span of an 18 minute conversation. Sadly, this study, was summarily dismissed. The abortion story is on record but other evidence of these amazing canvassers couldn’t be verified. The researcher invented the data. But then, two new researchers tried to replicate the study and found that the actual findings from the first study had been accurate at least, in some cases. People’s minds could be changed, even permanently. Talking one on one to people in Florida about transgender issues about transgender rights changed their minds when researchers told them personal stories.
            I can only tell you my story, and maybe the story of my kids, my fellow teachers, my students, and hope that you will listen. I’m willing to listen to you. I would be willing to sit down and hear how you think public education isn’t necessary for Arizona. I would listen as carefully and open-mindedly as I could if you would do me the same favor. If I could tell you about the students who won’t be joining the MFA program this year because the cost of out-of-state tuition is too high or the students who won’t be able to join us because the number of teaching assistantships is so low or the undergraduate who had to drop out because his parents couldn’t afford to send him anymore or the student who can’t continue her studies because she has maxed out her student loans.

            My six-year-old, Max, sits in front of me, reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. My ten-year-old daughter Zoe just finished a book report on slavery. These kids, not just mine, all these kids, should have access to small classrooms and well-supported teachers and the promise of a college education that won’t leave them with debt as big as a mortgage on a house. I will tell you. Person by person. Individually. If you would listen, maybe you would reconsider.