Should we teach about homosexuality in schools?

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Johann Hari comments in the Independent on the posturing that there is a ‘gay agenda’ dominating UK politics. He elaborates that this is clearly false, as the suicide statistics show in regards homosexual kids.
Prejudice has no place in society. Lets accept that as a given. One LGBT charity proposed that there is ‘homosexuality orientated’ lessons in schools, and I think the idea is excellent.
I’m a straight male, but I’m someone who is strongly against bullying, prejudice and all the despicable things that human beings sometimes get up to. Anti-homosexual attitudes, do not develop in a vacuum. I remember that at school being called ‘gay’ was an extremely strong insult. I have no idea what that did to my homosexual male friends. We live in still a very homophobic society, the lack of an openly gay Soccer player in the Premiership is one example of this. Gareth Thomas’ bravery in Rugby Union and League is extremely heartening, I believe he is the first openly gay Rugby player. He is also quite frankly one of the best professionals I’ve seen in the modern game, as evidenced by his record for Wales and the Lions.
So lets examine the proposal mentioned in Hari’s article.

They [Schools Out the LGBT charity] gave out a voluntary information pack in which they suggested that, to mark LGBT History Month, teachers acknowledge the existence of gay people in their lessons. They could teach in history about how Alan Turing played a vital role in saving the world from the Nazis and paved the way for the invention of the computer, only to be hounded to death for being gay. They could learn in science that homosexuality occurs in hundreds of species of animals. They could – yes! – maybe even look in maths lessons at the census data, figuring out how prevalent gay people are.

It sounds an excellent suggestion, Turing is a tragic story of what happens when prejudice takes one of a countries finest minds. It is also an example of how we can’t change how we actually are. Perhaps that is the most important thing to actually teach – that our sexual orientation like our hair colour is genetic and innate. Teaching I believe should fight some of the prejudices that students come in with, in Physics we challenge the naive Aristotle-ism that students have and introduce Newtonian Physics.
The persecution of Oscar Wilde could serve as an interesting discussion in English or History classes, students form self images on their own. I think it is obvious that such policies would go a long way to getting rid of ugly prejudices.
So we absolutely should teach about homosexuality in schools, we could teach that between 3 and 10 percent of all societies are homosexual, we could also teach children how to spot homophobic arguments like those put forward by some of the Daily Newspapers in the UK. Now THAT would make the world a better place.

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Libraries and the need to protect them

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Libraries are something dear to my heart, like schools, hospitals, a government run post service and a list of other things that I can’t think of. While I believe that markets are necessary for wealth, I don’t believe that these things should interfere in libraries, or anything for the ‘public good’.
I’m inspired by a wonderful article by the author Philip Pullman Leave the Libraries alone

The public library, again. Yes, I’m writing a book, Mr Mitchell, and yes, I hope it’ll make some money. But I’m not praising the public library service for money. I love the public library service for what it did for me as a child and as a student and as an adult. I love it because its presence in a town or a city reminds us that there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about, things that have the power to baffle the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism, things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.

There are things above mere profit. There are things that are useless – that don’t make a profit. Oscar Wilde once said ‘all of art is useless’ and I think some things in Science are useless, certainly a lot of the Mathematics I research is absolutely Pure. This is ok, because sometimes things that we do as human beings don’t have to be useful. Love after all seems like such a waste of time when you think about it, but what would a world be without that…
Some things are best divorced from profit, and lets keep it that way. The goal of a government should not be to placate the market, but to govern. Napoleon stated that ‘to govern is to decide’ and I feel strongly that to decide to get rid of libraries is a morally vacuous decision.
Earlier this week I read an article by a German Studies Professor called Steven Brockman, he wrote the following:
‘In our culture we know quite well what that is: the belief in money, in business, in economics, and in popular culture. That is our real religion,’
Libraries are not popular culture, nor do they survive when subjected to market fundamentalism, but thats not the point. Even if a Scientific work, a humanistic text or a novel doesn’t generate a profit it doesn’t make it worthless.

Cognitive toolbox

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Each year the Edge foundation has a question. This years has been more interesting than most. I’ve been asking people about this for some time, hence the need to blog about it.
“What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Or, to paraphrase, how might people alter the way they interpret the information they take in about the world, to better comprehend it?
Dylan Evans of UCC answers the question with the fact that it has to be Economics 101. comparative advantage While I’m skeptical of some of the things that economists or what one author termed ‘policy entrepreneurs’ say in regards Economics. I do feel that learning some things about trade and how the world works would be beneficial to a number of people. For instance in recessions we do hear (sometimes from Family members or friends) an anti-immigration stance. Despite the fact that Immigration is generally good for an economy, i.e. it creates jobs, as opposed to something like off-shoring that decreases jobs. Tyler Cowen is one of my favorite writers on Economics issues. In the NYT he made the case for immigration: How immigrants create jobs Continue reading

Mehdi Hasan on the role of Western Muslims

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Mehdi Hasan on Pakistan, Islam and the West is a fascinating piece of writing in the New Statesman. I’ve long been a fan of Mehdi and feel that he is one of the great young political commentators in the UK. He’s particularly been a beacon of hope and rationality on Islam and Islamofascism. Particularly pointing out that those two sets are equivalent.

This quote by Mehdi is a particularly powerful example.

My advice to the Muslim Council of Britain, for example, would be to get a “not-in-my-name”-style press release out to domestic and foreign journalists as soon as possible. Silence is not an option. As I argued in a blog post in August 2009, we Muslims expose ourselves to the charge of double standards when we bleat about killings of innocent Muslims at the hands of non-Muslim armies in Palestine or Afghanistan or Chechnya, but then keep schtum when Muslim crazies start shooting and beheading non-Muslims, as well as other Muslims like Salman Taseer, and do so in the name of God and His prophet. And, above all else, where is our humanity? As I wrote back then, “Islam is a humanitarian, not a sectarian, religion and so selective outrage will not do.

Islam is a humanitarian religion and so selective outrage will not do. Despite being an Atheist, I stand by that comment – I’m generally appalled by how some otherwise rational people proclaim quite erroneous things about the nature of Islam. Those of us who wish to be socially responsible need to be more understanding about the true nature of Islam. It certainly isn’t the beheading of non-Muslims nor the subjugation of women. However I appreciate that sometimes the most powerful voices on these issues are Muslims themselves

The second link is by a Physicist and Social Activist Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy;
Why do they pick on us Pakistanis

The parts about ‘Muslims claiming persecuted in the US, and UK’ is one I think needs to be thought about. Its politically and socially irresponsible to throw away the beliefs of nearly a Billion people. The key words in all of these discussions are ‘freedoms’.
I support all peoples rights to practice their faiths, however this extends to all countries – Saudi Arabia for instance has very few churches. A Hindu or a Christian has very little freedom in Pakistan, and the violent extremism of Pakistan (a country of nearly 140 Million people) is something that one can’t ignore.
Why? Well its a fact to point out that extremism is an attack of human beings freedoms.
Apathy on issues like this can’t be ignored. Despite being an Athiest I make an effort (and am largely supported by the my intelligent Muslim friends) to understand some of what words like ‘jihad’ means.
I’m a great admirer of academics who also are brave enough to partake in Social Activism. Despite some of my work (if I ever make it as Mathematician) being highly abstract, we should all do our bit to be involved in such practical concerns. We don’t live in a perfect world, or a just world – and ignoring problems (despite the fact that one can’t always solve major problems immediately) doesn’t make them go away.
A final quote by Pervez

Cruelty to the weak is not an American monopoly; wars and brutal conquests are as old as history. The US cannot be forgiven for the Vietnam and Iraq wars, among others. But should India be forgiven for killing Kashmiris, West Pakistan for the East Pakistan massacres, Turkey for the Armenian genocide, or Japan for the Rape of Nanking? Countless states have blood on their hands. But retribution would surely make the world an inferno.

We forget just how messy War is. Some of the acts in Pakistan are crimes against humanity, the same way some of Israels actions in the West Bank are Crimes against Humanity. The sad fact for those of us who want a simple picture of the world is that there isn’t one, all of these issues are so morally ambigious that its very difficult to truly understand them. I’m appalled when I see equivalences made between Pakistanis and Irish Catholics say – I doubt one can simplify complicated political matters to ‘there like us’

The problems of math phobia

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We shall see again and again that the consequences of mathophobia go far beyond obstructing the learning of mathematics and science. They interact with other endemic “cultural toxins,” for example, with popular theories of aptitudes, to contaminate peoples’ images of themselves as learners. Difficulty with school math is often the first step of an invasive intellectual process that leads us all to define ourselves as bundles of aptitudes and ineptitudes, as being “mathematical” or “not mathematical”, “artistic” or “not artistic”, “musical” or “not musical”, “profound” or “superficial”, “intelligent” or “dumb”. Thus deficiency becomes identity and learning is transformed from the early child’s free exploration of the world to a chore beset by insecurities and self-imposed restrictions.
– Mindstorms by Seymour Papert

Its surprises me just how far ahead of his time Seymour Papert was.