Tuesday, April 09, 2013


Apparently there's been a  mass stabbing event on a Texas community college campus. (Wasn't this part of the same system - Lone Star College - where there was a shooting a while back?)

On the news they were saying that it was thought it was an "X-acto type knife, like are used in class dissections in biology."

Two thoughts:

1. We use SCALPELS, not "X-acto knives." Those are for graphic design classes, if there still are any where the students actually do physical layouts of things instead of doing it all on the computer. I think I last used an x-acto knife in high school photograph class. (In botany lab, if it needs not be a very detailed dissection, we use single-edged razor blades; a little cheaper though perhaps less easy to hold safely. I don't like dissecting with razor blades but when your supply budget is limited, you do what you have to.)

2. How soon before there's a call to ban dissections because of this?Or require background checks before a student can take biology? (Seriously - I've had a few students in lab who scared me. Not because they were unhinged but because they were so clumsy.  I never had anyone remove part of a finger by mistake but I've had a few people I watched very carefully. I also once had a guy show up to soils lab very likely high - glittery eyes, hyperactive, super-over-cheerful. It wasn't a hazardous lab that week or I would have told him he seemed "unwell" and suggested he go home).

But this kind of thing really makes me wonder: how much of this is a function of the 24-hour news cycle ("If it bleeds, it leads"?) And how much of it is people just....forgetting that other human beings are human and wanting to harm them? I know that mental illness often manifests itself in the late teens and early twenties (we've all had that drilled into our heads, along with ways to 'de-escalate' if things go bad. I hate that it is that way).

I don't know. It seems that the tide of opinion, at least from some quarters, has turned firmly against any kind of higher education, and this kind of thing isn't helping. (I have screamed more than once at some commentator on the tv: "Okay, then. Let's shut 'em down. Shut down ALL the colleges and universities. Good luck at finding a doctor in 15 years. Or good luck finding someone who can design safe bridges. There may be some majors that, in a tough economic climate, don't make a lot of sense to pursue, but good heavens, that doesn't mean that ALL college classes and ALL college degrees are useless. We can't go back to Jefferson's time and all be autodidacts, and we don't all have the brains to be polymaths or the economic freedom to be dilettantes.)

I don't know. I get really sick, really really sick, of working fairly hard as a prof and then hear people totally dismiss what I do as worthless and dismiss me as a lazy parasite.

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