On calling out bigotry

A couple of weeks ago I was at a meal at a friend’s place. We were talking about the process of peer review for a paper; one of the other guests commented “you’re lucky it doesn’t get sent to India — you’d never hear about it again”.

The other day I was working in my office. Since this was during my official office hours, I kept the door open so my students could find me. Unfortunately this meant I could hear the loud conversation taking place between my two fellow (male) grad students in the office next door. They were looking up pictures of large women in order to fat-shame them, saying things like “There’s no excuse to be that fat. The only reason women get that size is because they’re too weak to just stop eating. If they didn’t eat at all they would be thin. They should just not eat anything.”.

What would you have done?

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My response to Rabbi Kimche

I’m angry. Very angry. Angry enough to write about it, which is saying something. Rabbi Kimche has written an open letter (edit: now posted on his blog) about why he thinks Orthodox rabbis (and in fact, Orthodox Jews in general) should not go to Limmud. Limmud, that magical place where for one week each year, UK Jews (and hundreds of overseas visitors) manage to set aside their differences and learn from each other. Limmud, one of the highlights of my Jewish upbringing, where every year thousands of people gather to devote day and night to studying Torah and Judaism. Hannah Gaventa has written a wonderful response about the beauty of Limmud and the importance of learning with people of varying beliefs; I agree with everything she says and recommend that you read it. My response is less positive and a lot more angry.

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Today I was ignored by an automatic door.

I was on my way into the supermarket. The person in front of me went through the automatic door with no problem, and the door opened as normal for everyone who came in after me. But when I walked up to it, it just sat there, being closed.

This is not the first time this has happened. Perhaps I’m part ghost?

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Finally, some good news about abortion access

Ireland’s president Michael Higgins has passed new laws that allow abortion in cases when a  woman’s life is threatened by her pregnancy, including when she’s deemed to be at risk of committing suicide.

(The Supreme Court had ruled in 1992 that women should have access to abortions when their lives were in danger, but it’s taken over 20 years for that to actually become law.)

The “pro-life” movement in Ireland strongly opposes legalising these lifesaving abortions. I think perhaps they have a different definition of “pro”, as well as of “life”.

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Math Semidreams

Some of what I’ve been working on lately has relied on the fact that when I move a point, all of its reflections move too.

The other night I woke up in the middle of the night and both of my hands were itchy. I was sure I only needed to scratch one of them.

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Primary education and standardised tests

The government is worried that standards in primary schools aren’t high enough. So what should they do about it? Put more money and effort into training and retaining excellent teachers, headteachers, and support staff? Find a system to recognise struggling pupils and give them the support they need?

Oh no, wait, this is the government. The solution is obviously to focus more on standardised test results.

Pupils in their final year of primary school already sit national exams (SATs) in Maths and English (the Science SATs have apparently been discontinued since I sat them). At the moment the results are in the form of levels: level 3 (obtained by about 25% of pupils) is below expectations, level 4 is expected, level 5 is impressive and level 6 is exceptional. The results are mainly used to create school league tables but also sometimes to stream pupils starting at secondary school. This system already creates stressed pupils and teachers, encourages teaching to the test and favours giving pupils practise Maths and English tests over teaching science, history, geography, art, music, P.E., or anything else. (When I was in year 6 we weren’t allowed to play in any netball matches for 6 months before the SATs.  I’m almost positive this did far more to increase our fear of the SATs than to increase our performance in them.)

As reported by the BBC, the new proposal is to replace the SATs with more challenging exams, and to tell the parents how their children are doing compared to others in their year by putting them in 10% ability bands. Because telling pupils they are in the bottom 10% of their year group right at the end of primary school, when it’s too late for their current school to help them and they’re about to make the potentially daunting transition to a new school, is going to be so effective in helping pupils be ready for secondary school?

Dear government: if your concern is making sure students are ready for secondary school, and you must achieve this by standardised testing, can you at least make the bar absolute rather than relative? And would it be too much to ask for you to have a plan for what to do with those kids who you do not deem ready for secondary school? Will you ever learn that measuring things more accurately is not the same thing as improving them, or that improving national average scores on standardised tests is not the same thing as improving the education system?

(Credit where it’s due: they are at least significantly increasing the level of funding for poor pupils.)

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Why do they make T-shirts for 1-year-old boys with the slogan “LOCK UP YOUR DAUGHTERS”?

I can think of a few possible interpretations, but none that I don’t find disturbing.

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