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I’ve posted in the past about how we in America value education (or don’t, as the case more often is). I’m still concerned about this issue – not least because, having obtained a Ph.D., I’m likely going to spend at least some of my life working in the field of education. I also think of the recent image making its way around Facebook, with an American taxpayer explaining that he doesn’t mind his tax money going to education because he doesn’t want to live in a nation of idiots. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: as a supposedly democratic society, we are shooting ourselves in the collective feet if we don’t have a well-educated populace with critical thinking skills and a knowledge of history and the humanities as well as technical, informational skill sets like those offered by STEM.

Recently, a fellow blogger reached out to me about a graphic she helped create, which illustrates how the education system in Finland frames its approach differently:

Please Include Attribution to With This Graphic Finnish Education Infographic

Since I’m into data visualization and other strategies brought to the forefront by the digital humanities movement, I thought I’d share this graphic with my readers. It dramatically illustrates what we’re doing differently in the U.S., and suggests that some of our specific behaviors (devaluing teachers and “play” time, overemphasizing standardized testing) are not working and need to be addressed.

For a striking contrast, check out this public radio discussion of higher education in California (thanks to my dad, who sent me the link). The experiences and needs of the students and teachers took a backseat to discussions of tuition and technology – which are certainly important, but I fear that continuing to commodify education will have negative effects for both teachers and students.

At this point, as a recent Ph.D. still finding my way in the world, I feel a bit powerless to make sure that positive changes are happening in our education system. At the very least, though I can blog about these issues and hope to inspire the sorts of discussions and reevaluations that might eventually lead to change.


I am not a religious person. This is for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that religion is not more like dance. Allow me to elaborate.

Dance is for everyone, but no one is forced to dance.

Dance can be done alone, with a partner, or in groups. Dance is at once intensely personal and easily social.

Dance is something that makes us grateful for our bodies, but in that moment of disembodied awareness (there is an “I” that is separate from my body but also at home in my body to be grateful for it), it does not alienate us from our bodies. Dance does not make us feel ashamed about our bodies; it makes us live more fully in our bodies, which includes embracing our age, our sexuality, the ways we can and cannot move, and our pasts. Dance does not judge us for what our bodies are or are not.

Dance has the potential to be profoundly spiritual, yet it does not require it. For some people, dance is a form of exercise, and that’s okay. For others, dance is the highest form of art and communion with the divine. That’s okay too. Most of us probably fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, which is fine.

Exploring multiple forms of dance has the potential to make you a better dancer, to make you more self-aware. Experimenting with multiple forms of dance puts you in different postures and moves your body in different ways; you learn to experience yourself differently. You learn how people in others cultures learn to hold and move their bodies. Moving like others gives you compassion for them, and appreciation for their lives.

At the same time, not every form of dance is right for everyone. I’ve been belly dancing almost half my life, which makes me pretty good at it. But put me in a ballet class, and I feel like a cow. That doesn’t mean that I loathe ballet, or think its practitioners are terrible people. It just means that I practice it rarely (though perhaps I should practice it more – we can learn a lot from the things we’re bad at and the things we dislike). My belly-dance-honed posture and arm gestures have helped me learn flamenco faster than I might otherwise, while my naturally low center of gravity has aided me in the West African dance classroom. Some dance forms are, for reasons easily understood or not, simply better for certain people than others.

Even hardcore dancers take breaks from dance. Sometimes your body requires it. Sometimes other parts of your life demand it. Stepping back from dance or ceasing to dance doesn’t make you a bad dancer; rather, it means that you’re human, and have healthily recognized that no one practice should dominate your life.

So long as you are dancing, there is no right or wrong way to dance. For people who choose to dance professionally or full-time, there are nuances of the “right” or “wrong” way to do a move that help them refine their practice, but aren’t necessarily relevant for people who dance simply for the joy of it. So long as they’re not harming others through their dance, rules are less important than consistency and engagement.

If you reread my words, replacing “dance” with “religion” (or its appropriate equivalent verb), hopefully you’ll grasp my meaning. If religion were more like dance – more egalitarian, less judgmental – maybe I would consider practicing it. If religion embraced variation and change, rather than demanding adherence to the teachings of a single leader or text, perhaps it wouldn’t alienate as many people who see that we live in a changing and diverse world and thus we need mutable and diverse strategies to cope and adapt.

Dance does not insist that you must worship it and it alone. Dance does not judge you. Dancers do not persecute non-dancers.

Most of the religious people I choose to hang out with? Are dancers (and often scholars and athletes too). I’m not saying every dancer is automatically awesome, but I think dancing can teach us something very valuable about appreciating diversity, because dance is inherently as diverse as humanity – our bodies make it so. When religion catches up in that regard, then I’ll be game to have a serious discussion about its role in my life. Until then, I’ll learn only as much as I need to survive in a world dominated by confusingly contradictory and hostile belief systems.

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If I downloaded and activated the WordPress plug-in correctly, my website should go black from 8am-8pm Eastern Standard Time.

Why? Briefly, I think censorship is a terrible idea. Not only that, but it doesn’t work. Any time something becomes illegal, it simply goes underground and becomes more dangerous for everyone involved. The prohibition of alcohol in America in the 1920s didn’t work–it just led to the rise of organized crime and dangerous homemade alcohols. In places where abortion is illegal, women find ways to do it anyway and often pay with their lives. The “war on drugs” in the US is affecting lives in many countries, where drug cartels are benefiting from the underground trade and enforcing their regimes with violence. Need I go on?

Of course, not everything that’s censored is something that is potentially dangerous (this is why I’m in favor of legalizing drugs, so they can be regulated, taxed, and made more safe, because people will do them anyway; Portugal has had great luck with this policy). Books get censored because some group dislikes their message. Same with music and pretty much all art at some point. What is “appropriate” or “suitable” is highly subjective, which is another reason I’m quite wary of censorship.

Most laws, too, are subjective or relative to some degree. Very few laws are absolute and universal. Perhaps laws against killing and harming others come close–but then killing is institutionalized through war and the execution of criminals, so there are always exceptions. So when I see a law that says that certain kinds of reproduction/transmission of knowledge or music or movies are illegal? All it says to me is that in this day and age, certain corporate interests are being made into law. There’s nothing inherently good or evil about the situation. It’s a law because enough people (or a few people with enough money) think it’s a good idea that it’s a law. Not because it’s essentially good or right or  true.

This is why I support the protest blackout.

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