Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Understanding Darwin

Well, I haven't angered anyone yet, so let's get controvercial.

I'm a biologist. Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" is an excellently written book, and his theory of evolution is wonderful. However, very few people in the world actually understand it. Part of it is bad teachers. Part of it is that no one actually reads the source -- Darwin lays out his argument very well, slowly progressing from the obvious to the less obvious, taking the reader on a slow journey that maximizes understanding. But most people remember the short, sweet, and unintentionally misleading phrase "survival of the fittest".

The word 'fittest' (and fitness) as Darwin uses it does not mean what instantly jumps to most people's mind. It specifically does not mean strong, buff, fast, etc.. Well, it can, but it doesn't have to. Fittest has to do with fitting in. That's it. Which ever animal fits it's environment -- the entire environment -- and manages to make more babies will pass on more geentic material to the next generation.

Some animals use strength, Some use speed. Others are more devious -- like apes that wait until the strong apes are out hunting, or fighting each other, then quietly sneaks into their mates homes and makes a few babies for the nice strong men to raise as their own. Cuckolds, as they are called, are quite frequent in nature. It's a great strategy for the weak one -- not only do you get to make babies you don't need to invest any time or energy in raising, you get the strongest guy in the tribe to raise him for you! What a deal!

I was reading a refutation of Ben Stein's recent atrocity (and I really like Ben Stein, so it was a dismal, sad day I watched it) at The Corner:

Stein wrote:
But it fell to a true Imperialist, from a wealthy British family on both sides, married to a wealthy British woman, writing at the height of Imperialism in the UK, when a huge hunk of Africa and Asia was "owned" (literally, owned, by Great Britain) to create a scientific theory that rationalized Imperialism.

Stein's entire argument makes no sense, if you read it with any understanding of the Theory of Evolution at all.

Derbyshire does a good job refuting it even though he doesn't even bother to point out the real meaning of survival of the fittest:

If that's what "Darwinism" (he means: modern biology) is, how does it happen that there are any meek, un-hardy creatures in the world? Yet in fact "hardy" … "stronger" … "dominant" describe only a tiny proportion of species. How is it that all those wimp species are still around after three billion years? Wouldn't the "dominant" ones have eaten them all? Oh, but wait a minute … then the dominants would have eliminated their own food supply … um …

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hair Distraction

From Why Homeschool comes a story of a girl who was told that her hairstyle was not allowed in school:

A Louisville mother is making claims of discrimination after she says her daughter's hair color got her kicked out of a school. Fatimah Osborne got her hair braided and colored over winter break. The hairstyle cost her $300. However, the principal at Carrithers Middle School said the student had a non-traditional color and that's against their rules. Administrators from Carrithers middle school told Fatimah to change her hair or she'd have to leave the school, permanently.

This doesn't surprise me one bit. When I went to high school, there was a kid in class who was a bit of a class clown and did occasionally get into trouble. One day he came in with his hair in a million little braids held at the ends by rubber bands with happy face beads on them. Was it distracting? Sure, a little bit. Everyone wanted to talk about it and it was pretty interesting-looking. The principal told him to take it out, or stay home until he did.

Want to guess which was more distracting, the hair, or the principal's decree? We wanted to chat about his hair for a few minutes before class. I'm sure it would have been old news after about 5 minutes. The idea you could be expelled for hair? That distracted us for quite a long time after that! And this kid now was on a quest to find out exactly what he could get away with and what he couldn't, to test his boundaries. Which led to one distracting weird thing after another, culminating in his bizarre run for class president.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Where Did I Think I was Going? -- Introduction

It's always nice to get to know about a person you read, so I'd like to post a brief introduction about myself.

I've lived a few different places. I was born on the East Coast, moved to Texas, spent a little time in Russia, and now I've ended up in California. My college degree is in Biology, with a near minor in Russian. I went to grad school for a year (before leaving, it just wasn't the right place or time) in biophysics, then became a technical writer. I ended up as my group's technical expert and moved to a full-time programming position to assemble a new writing system for the huge group of writers. After having my two kids, I realized that I wasn't happy, so I quit to stay home and homeschool my little kids.

Oh, and I'm only 31. I guess I like change a lot, even if it does cause me undue stress.

I was reading posts from the Unschooling Voices once-a-month blog post compendium, and came across this post, titled How Did We Get Here:

It compelled me to slam hard on the brakes, step out of the car, slam my head several times on the nearest guardrail, and ask, "Now where in the h*ll did I think I was going?"

I had to go. Something had turned on inside of me. Some place deep inside had gotten a taste and I craved more. I had always lived in my head, often analyzing and weighing and considering things far beyond what was necessary, to the point of obsession on certain occasions, but for once I felt I'd gotten an answer to a longing. A longing I knew I had, but didn't understand.

That's exactly what happened to me too. It took a while to realize, and for a year my husband was actually the stay-at-home guy, while I was pregnant with our second. But I realized that the crazy life of a two-income family was just too rushed, too crazy, too full of fast food and quick moments and no time to savor anything, or cook, or learn who my kids are.

I never pictured myself as a stay at home mom. But now I love it. I love being the boss of the house. I love baking bread and freezing crockpot dinners. I love being there when my kids learn things, and being the person they spend time with. I love not having to wonder if my kids are okay, or what their teachers might be teaching them. I know, because I'm her. I don't need to help them decompress after a long day away. We enjoy our house. We're exploring our neighborhood. We're not stressed out all the time. We have time to see the doctor and get our problems treated!

I just hope that we'll be able to pull through and keep it this way. It's expensive out here, and we chose the house we rent based on the school district, not based on affordability for a one income family! But it is a walk from the library, the grandparents and two parks. I hope we can find a way to stay nearby.

We've already met several wonderful homeschooling groups, and I've started to find my niche with our homeschooling philosophy.... but like everything, I know that my son is, in some ways, my opposte, so the ideas I have might not work for him and I'm ready to be flexible. Free inquiry. Reason. At home. It's going to be an amazing journey!

Free Inquiry.... at home!

"Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error." -Thomas Jefferson

Welcome to Free Inquiry @ Home. I'm a scientist, writer, software engineer, mother, and wife. I write under the pseudonym "Silver Mine" (or silvermine) in blog comments and on my other blog, Franklin's Virtues. (From a quote, "Genius without education is like silver in the mine" -- yes I was already thinking of homeschooling back then and yes, I seem to have a little crush on each of our founding fathers.)

Franklin's Virtues is aimed at self-improvement, using Benjamin Franklin's autobiography as a method. It never really felt like a place to talk about other things. Since I started it, I and my life have changed considerably. So when I was wandering around looking for a name for my non-pseudonym blog to share my family with my extended family, I ran along the quote above and loved it! The only problem is, I'm not ready to tell my family that I'm homeschooling, and that title makes me think of homeschooling -- inquiry into everything free of charge and free of contraints. So I've decided to let Franklin's Virtues rest a little (like I ever blog there anyway) and start up something new.

This blog will likely include a lot of homeschooling commentary, about what we're doing and what others are doing. Politics and science are sure to spring up too. I do welcome feedback on what people like and don't like hearing about -- after all, the goal is to invite and retain readers! However, as the editor and host, I might not always pick what you like. It doesn't mean I don't like you. Just feel free to pass that article and move on to the next. I recommend a nice RSS reader like google reader.