Once again this past week we have news of students and colleagues who have become the target of violence by the forces of rabid tribal ignorance. 

Garissa University College on the plains of Kenya is a small but growing school.  It was formerly a "normal" school, which is the old fashioned name for a teachers' college - a place where bright and service-minded young people could prepare to carry the light of knowledge to children and teens in towns and villages across the area.   More recently, it has been offering more advanced degrees in what we'd consider practical agriculture and engineering - skills to help the poor in towns, villages, and cities engage in sustainable development, and survive the growing drought.

I grieve with the families of my lost colleagues, and the families of our lost students.

It is a reminder, though, that now and throughout history education is on the front lines.  Education is a radical act, an act of courage and defiance.  The belief that every human can make a difference, that each student is worth empowering will forever be a challenge to tyranny.  The quest for better understanding, for unifying principles, for overarching theories and universal truth is a constant threat to tribalism and parochial ignorance in all its forms.   There is a reason why Al Shabab attacks schools and universities, and a reason why some of our own politicians continue to cut funds for elementary and higher education.  We really are their enemy.

So to all those who teach, and for all those who continue to learn with open-mindedness and commitment, it has been a hard week.  Take courage, though.  May each loss of a student be replaced by 5 more yearning to learn and be free.  May each fallen professor be followed by several more willing to stand against ignorance.  May each of us who continue as teachers and learners renew our commitment on the front lines of humanity.

And may we remember the courage of our fallen friends.

May they rest in peace.

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Comment by Belle Rose on April 5, 2015 at 1:12am

Hello Dr Bob

Thank you for sharing this. It's good to see you back friend :)

I grieve with the families of my lost colleagues, and the families of our lost students.

Hugs Dr. Bob

.......When you are done grieving, what are you going to do about it?

Comment by Dr. Bob on April 5, 2015 at 7:52pm

I'm going to pray for them, @Belle.  And then I'm going to go on teaching so that there are more educated folks and more future professors to carry on the struggle.  Where I can, I will support my colleagues and other students.

This past fall, we got a number of kids out of the war zone in eastern Ukraine, who are now studying in local Catholic schools while older siblings study at our university.  Those Catholic schools provided full scholarships as well as clothing.  We found emergency funds for our students.  You may not know, but U.S. public schools are not permitted to accept foreign students for longer than an academic year (and with a number of other hurdles), so the responsibility falls to the religious.   I and a graduate student are going over next year to run an AP Physics course for them as a return favor.

Comment by Ed on April 7, 2015 at 11:10am

@ Dr Bob 

"I'm going to pray for them, @Belle."

You still believe that actually accomplishes anything? The reality is that prayer is certainly not an answer or remedy to interfaith violence. Religious sects around the world continue to maim and murder one another on a daily basis. Hell, even the relatively civilized citizens of Belfast, Northern Ireland have to erect walls throughout their city to keep the Protestants and Catholics from killing one another. Ditto in Israel. The problem, Dr Bob, is that religions have a low tolerance for one another, often times even a low tolerance for those of the same faith. You are right about educating the masses though. My only difference with you on the subject is that the educational process should not include religion or other supernatural notions of nonsense. Let's enlighten humanity without encumbering them with outdated and unsubstantiated belief systems.


Comment by Belle Rose on April 7, 2015 at 11:56am
RE: You still believe that actually accomplishes anything?

@Ed, ummmm I'm not sure what you read into my words. I just asked him what he is going to DO. Action is the only solution.
Comment by Simon Mathews on April 7, 2015 at 12:08pm

I always feel that people who are against education are in fear of the results of that education. Shame.

Comment by Dr. Bob on April 7, 2015 at 2:00pm

You still believe that actually accomplishes anything?

Yes, of course.

It's interesting that you talk about low tolerance among religions, as you express low tolerance of religions.

A rationalist I think would say that people around the world continue to maim and murder one another on a daily basis.  Sometimes it's national (like the Russian invasion of Ukraine), sometimes it's tribal, sometimes it's racial, sometimes it's ethnic, sometimes it's economic.  Sometimes it's religious, too, although that's often confounded with ethnicity and economics, as is the case in Israel and Northern Ireland.

Recognizing that it is useless and unproductive to imagine eliminating religion and ethnicity and culture and nationalism and all the rest is the first step toward rational approaches.  It also prevents unintentional irony ;-).

So the question becomes how to co-opt those things.  Religion is the easiest to co-opt, because unlike tribalism and nationalism and all the rest, it is suffused with notions of care-for-the-other, and has core teachings that to a greater or lesser degree run counter to violence.

Hence prayer.  Prayer at very least is a form of meditation and reflection which causes people to pause and step back and possibly consider those counter-violence core teachings.  Regardless of whether you feel it has remote effects, it has effects on the person doing the praying.  Encouraging empathy, inspiring action, supporting fortitude.

Indeed, encouraging religions with non-violent core beliefs to pray and reflect more is a pragmatic and rationalist approach that is going to be more effective than the tactic of repeating anti-religious memes.  If the goal is to reduce violence, that is.  

If the goal is to advance your own group by encouraging violence, then talking about how the other group is responsible for all sorts of real and imagined evils throughout history is a better choice, and one frequently employed by groups that really are advocating violence.

I'm simply suggesting that as a matter of our own individual and personal choices, it is better to choose the pragmatic and rational.

Comment by Logicallunatic on April 8, 2015 at 6:29am

A thousand prayers is worth less than two hands working. Prayer is simply the action of talking to oneself. We can meditate and reflect without pretending to know things we don't... without pretending there is a line on the other end. 

Comment by Pastafarian Larry on April 8, 2015 at 10:02am

All the catholic churches I have been to in the last 65 years always end the mass with a prayer for peace.  We can all see how well that has worked out.  Hundreds of millions of prayers for peace each week and what do we have to show for it?  I don't think the sky daddy is hearing the prayers of the faithful.


Comment by Davis Goodman on April 8, 2015 at 12:04pm

 it is suffused with notions of care-for-the-other, and has core teachings that to a greater or lesser degree run counter to violence.

Laugh my ass off.

Comment by Dr. Bob on April 8, 2015 at 1:31pm

A thousand prayers is worth less than two hands working.

That's a nice meme, but do we really have evidence for that?

The reality is that ideas and building levels of community commitment are what get more than two hands to work.  This isn't always intuitive.  For example, if you have a certain amount of money you can give it to the poor (your hands working).  Alternately, you can give none of that money to the poor but start an agency that recruits and inspires lots of other people to help the poor.

In the latter case, you might be accused by ignorant people of just becoming a rich NGO out for your own gain, or doing nothing directly to aid the plight of the poor.  Lots of very effective NGOs and charities are accused of exactly that.   The actual reality is that they have a much larger impact than just two hands working.

If you make a billion people come to pray once a week, and you take that time to remind them of their obligation to help others, the result is that you build a worldwide network of schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, and social services.   And along the way those same people give time and treasure to local non-religious charities, vote for school taxes, on and on...

Two hands working is really a profoundly irrational idea.  If you are going to make a claim that atheism is a better notion, then you need to demonstrate that it can be more successful at building communities that care and act together to address problems.


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