Saturday, March 17, 2007

These Things I Learned

Today, amidst snow and the functionally illiterate, I returned to Seminole Oklahoma after an 8-year absence to judge high school debate. Debate is the technical term, but it is altogether misleading. The word cluster-fuck seems more illuminating.

Now some of you, not from Oklahoma, may be asking, "but what is Seminole?" Although not a Native American linguist, I contend that "Seminole" simply denotes the maximal set of organizational skills that can be acquired via the union of two first-cousins plus a leaded water supply and a suspicious proximity to high-voltage power lines; i.e. I advance the theory that the meaning, or bedeutung as Frege wrote, of "Seminole" is merely the empty set, similar to "Santa Claus," "the present king of France," or the class of prime numbers less than 2. There's just nothing there. Yet, I digress.

Today, while young men and women fight and die in Iraq to defend our American freedom and protect our sacred institutions such as public education, I witnessed spectacular atrocities right in my own backyard. A squat, compact, sophomore boy, when confronted in a speech contest with a question regarding US and Iranian relations with Iraq, dazzled his audience with an exactly 17-second long oration in which he declared that "we ain't got nothing to do with them folk over there" and left it up to us to fill in the rest of the puzzle. Foreign policy W-style I thought.

During a different, yet equally horrifying event at the tournament, four students were asked to prepare sermons ranging from the American deficit to the SAT. A sharp fellow from a small, western town, which contains neither a library nor a hospital, but has found room to accommodate two competing liquor stores and a "Bait-'n'-Ammo" shop, informed the eager crowd that had gathered to hear his word, that the recently elected Congress would not "hurt the deficit." Two minutes into his speech it became evident he had confused the word "deficit" with "Laura Bush," and despite some initial reservations, he was now convinced that Madame Speaker Pelosi would not try to kill First Lady Bush in a supposed hunting accident. After impressing me by completing a 3-minute speech without reference to "rag heads" or "camel jockeys" the contestant was summarily disqualified for cheating. In fact, 3 out of the 4 contestants were caught cheating. Another cheater was a soon-to-be-junior-college-drop-out whose best friend was a genius and only received a 13 on the ACT, but herself did even worse (though she quickly qualified that of she was not a genius). And the third cheater: a bright, cheerful, blond girl who tried to multiply 13 by 200 during her speech but, after several seconds of silence, was unable; embarrassed, but not ashamed, she boldly declared, "Heh, well I don't know. I suck at math!" Feminists around the globe suddenly became nauseous.

It is perhaps worth noting, for the readers own moral enlightenment, that the sole orator whose integrity remained intact, thus allowing him to win the tournament, gave the following argument to explain the rise in capital murder cases in the US:
1. Wages are increasing, but not as fast as consumer spending.
2. Increasing interest rates are forcing both parents into the workplace fulltime.
3. Due to the family's purchase of a new car, childcare is out of reach.
4. More children are home alone.
5. Parents have guns at home.
6. Children, alone, play with guns, and inevitably shoot each other.
7. Therefore, the rise in capital cases is due to murderous children with guns.

This argument went unrequited. It really makes you think.

Now home, retired by the fire in my dressing robes and reflecting on the day, I can engage in the sort of radical skepticism Renee Descartes immortalized. Though I doubt not my own existence or the potential of real knowledge, I doubt the future of American education.

The profoundly retarded walk among us; and sometimes if you live Seminole, they are also your math teachers.

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