texas-christianity-education

CC-licensed image by Colin Purrington via Flickr

Hey there, Texas State Board of Eduction.  It’s come to my attention that you’re concerned about the textbooks that your children are being taught from; specifically, you’re concerned they might demonstrate favoritism towards the religion of Islam, while vilifying the Christian faith.

In fact, I hear you’re so concerned, you’ve got a resolution awaiting consideration by your august body in which you propose to “reject future prejudicial Social Studies submissions that continue to offend Texas law with respect to treatment of the world’s major religious groups by significant inequalities of coverage space-wise and/or bydemonizing or lionizing one or more of them over others.”

Now, I hear what you’re saying with this.  You’re afraid that your kids might think that Islam is somehow superior to the religion that you, the board members, hold.  And why wouldn’t you be?  The claims of Christianity are hard enough to swallow on their own, but then you’ve got to compete with other, equally ridiculous mythologies? It’s like, your views would have to be held up for scrutiny and comparison, and I think we all agree, that’s the last thing any of us wants for the likes of Christianity. It doesn’t play well.

But I have a few tiny issues I’d like to bring up, just for the sake of discussion.

First, I notice that your resolution contends that evidence for bias can be quantified in terms of how many lines of text are devoted to a subject.  There’s a couple of problems with this methodology.

First of all, sometimes, especially in written material, less is more. If you’ve got a compelling point to make, any editor worth their weight in salt will tell you to use as few words as possible.  It packs more punch.  It carries more weight. Go back and watch The Godfather — who does the talking in the room?  It sure ain’t Marlon Brando, and you know why? Because he’s got power on his side.

So are you really going to tell me that “spending 139 student text lines on Christian beliefs, practices, and holy writings but 176 on those of Islam” is prejudicial?  Really? That doesn’t seem petty to you? That doesn’t seem small?  That doesn’t seem like it’s an argument coming from a fundamental place of weakness to you?

Secondly, high school kids educated in Texas have plenty, plenty of opportunities to learn about Christianity.  After all, in 2008, about 80% of the population of Texas was Christian, while less than 1% is Muslim. (Or were, in 1992.)  So like, what, eight out of ten people that your kids will talk to during their education in your great state have some variant of the Christian religion going on, while less than one out of 100 can tell them anything useful about Islam?  I’d say that, environmentally speaking, Christianity has the advantage, and, just for the sake of argument, let’s call it a 10 to one advantage.

Now, doesn’t it seem reasonable to spend educational time teaching new information to children?  Doesn’t it seem that, instead of spending limited time, attention, and resources on the stuff they’ve already been exposed to, we should be introducing them to new ideas, facts, and cultures? Isn’t that why it’s called “education” and not “indoctrination”?

If you ask me, if you really wanted to be fair, you’d be saying that Islam should get ten lines to every one about Christianity.  After all, this might be the only exposure to the cultures of Islam that they’ll ever get, at least from legitimate, scholarly sources.  Shouldn’t they get to make the most of it?

But, Texas State Board of Education, your methods of detecting so-called “prejudice” in your textbooks aside, there are other reasons why you might want to consider dropping this nonsense forthwith.  Primarily, because it makes Texas look stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, Everyone in Texas that isn’t on the State Board of Education, I’ve got nothing against you personally. I like your chili. I hear Austin is cool.  I understand Pee Wee Herman keeps his bike in the basement of your Alamo.  But this ridiculous State Board of Education thing is making you seem … well, a little dim.

Here’s what’s going to happen if you pass this ridiculous requirement:  Intelligent, thinking people across the country are going to be convinced that a Texas public education is worthless. When the children of your fine state apply for jobs in other parts of the country, that high school diploma isn’t going to count for much.  They’ll be excluded, perhaps unjustly, from better jobs, better pay, and a better life.  Their kids won’t have as many opportunities, and it’ll all spiral downward until Texans everywhere are seen as a kind of second-class citizens. I mean, look what’s happened to Kansas.

I’d really hate to see that happen.  I imagine there’s a great number of smart, capable people in your state, and it’d be a shame to drag down everyone’s reputations collectively because of the blinding ignorance of the Texas State Board of Education.

It doesn’t have to be that way, either. Just look at Florida (a state not normally renowned for it’s intelligence.)  Just this week, the Florida Board of Education refused to approve the use of a science textbook because it contained citations of a “creation-scientist”.

That’s right, Texas.  Florida is smarter than you.  Are you going to take that?  Or are you going to do what’s right, and stop your silly march towards institutionalized Islamophobia?

Now, I understand, this probably will fall on deaf ears. After all, nobody likes to have their glaringly-obvious fear of other cultures called out into the open.  So, if I can’t convince you to stop your idiocy, maybe I can profit from it.

I happen to have the perfect book for your curriculum. I personally guarantee that not only is it historically and scientifically accurate, but it also is 100% scripturally accurate as well.  Why not buy 5 million copies for use in your schools?  You’ll be doing right by your children, you’ll be doing right by your “god”, and most importantly, you’ll be making me rich.

Do the right thing, Texas State Board of Education.  Make me rich.

Web programmer Brett Yates works on his own terms at the COOP coworking space.  Photo: Ian Monroe/Medill

Web programmer Brett Yates works on his own terms at the COOP coworking space. Photo: Ian Monroe/Medill

Forget the cubicle, get off the couch, and ditch the coffee shop.

Freelance technology workers these days have a new way to get things done –coworking (enthusiasts insist there is no hyphen). A new coworking space, opened in January, aims to provide Chicago’s independent workers with a different kind of occupational environment.

The COOP is a hip office space where technology workers such as graphic designers, programmers, and Internet experts can rent a desk for a day, a week or a month at a time. Instead of punching the clock at a soulless cubicle farm, freelance workers can call their own shots. Instead of writing code on the couch at home, where a variety of diversions threaten to sabotage productivity, independent contractors and telecommuters can get the benefits of having an office without the expensive overhead of leasing their own space.

The COOP space, located on Fulton Market, once housed a chicken processing business. The exposed brick walls laden with art create a comfortable, relaxed workspace. Young entrepreneur Sam Rosen, 23, operates his web design business,One Design Company, in one section of the loft. The other portion is reserved for independent workers and freelancers to use for coworking. The easily reconfigurable loft space can comfortably house perhaps a half dozen such workers at a time.

Coworking enthusiasts say that the spaces aren’t just useful for getting work done, but also can be a resource for generating new business and for fleshing out new ideas. “It’s an incubator model,” said Rosen. “We’re not by any means asking for a stake in anyone’s venture, but the idea is if they come here and they’re starting up something, and it works, they’re going to need help. And we can help, or we know people to help. That’s cool, and that seems a lot more natural and nicer.”

The coworking movement began several years ago in California, but has rapidly become a global phenomenon. “It’s pretty widespread,” said Eric Marden, a freelance web programmer and coworking advocate. “It used to be where there would be one city in every state, and now multiple cities in the state, and sometimes multiple spaces in one city are happening, and that’s become more prominent. There’s a third one about to open in Austin.”

“It’s great,” said Brett Yates, a freelance computer programmer and patron of the COOP space. “I spent probably at least a year working out of my apartment, and doing that just kind of drove me insane. I started to find I was getting a lot less done – I’d go to coffee shops and get more done in two hours than in a full day at home.” That lack of productivity drove Yates to explore coworking. “I got out and kind of checked out a couple different places and this one seemed exactly like I was looking for.”

Chicago hasn’t yet gotten completely on board with the idea of coworking, but it’s catching on. “It was kind of a slow start for us, getting things out there and advertising,” said Linsey Burritt, a designer for One Design Company and a leader of the COOP. “People in Chicago haven’t heard about it as much as other cities.”

Workspaces at the COOP rent for $20 per day, $90 per week, or $300 per month, and include T-1 Internet access.

An informal “coworker visa” program lets members of one coworking space use the facilities of other coworking groups when they travel. Open sharing of ideas and resources is encouraged. “Any time we’ve communicated with anybody, people have come to us, or we’ve gone to them, people are with open arms,” Rosen said. “They’re like, ‘Here’s what I’ve got, let me help you. How can you help me?’ It makes the pie bigger.”

Marden was utilizing the COOP space to work on programming projects while visiting Chicago with his family. He helps run a similar space in Orlando, Fla., and traded ideas with Rosen and Burritt during his stay. “The coworking [in Florida] kind of grew out of our BarCamps [open conferences on technology and culture],” Marden said. “For us, it’s the physical hub now. Sort of the creative club house for all the stuff that was already happening all over the city, but it kind of lets us gel and have an area to work. We still all do our own thing, but we all kind of come together for that sort of stuff.”

Coworking may not yet be mainstream, but Rosen said it has caught the attention of many successful independent professionals. “We’re lucky because we’re busy, but you hear so much about how people are struggling,” Rosen said. “People who come here are not struggling. People who come in here are thriving. The people who are sitting down working, they’re here because they have too much work to do. They need a place to focus. That’s interesting.”

Note: This story was first published on the Medill Reports website on 4/28/2009, as well as on the Windy Citizen on 4/29/2008.  It’s republished here for my own archives.