Many kids don’t go back to school until after Labor Day, but mine started this past Wednesday. Yes, the body of August isn’t even cold yet, and the grind has started. And no, it’s not starting this early because of Boston’s record snow fall last winter. The district decided to be democratic and give all the religious holidays off—Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, so the kids are only going to school for like five days during the month of September. I wish I could get me some of that for work. If we all got all the religious holidays off and participation was optional, we’d all be a lot more tolerant, don’t you think? Politicians, if you can take a break from nay saying and being extreme, maybe you could get working on that idea.
But I digress. Regardless of the start date, for many people back-to-school means posting annoying (to the rest of us) pics of your favorite student all bright and shiny with a brand new back pack and big smile. I’m not jealous in the least, and don’t worry, you won’t find me clogging up my Facebook page with that rubbish. You see, for my teen school has always been a grueling event to grimly endure like a Dust Bowl farmer. Believe me, nobody wants or needs this documented, with the exception of the Dust Bowl farmers above. We’re both just waiting for it to be over.
But I didn’t come here to bellyache about school, well I did a little, but I did want to acknowledge that school is starting and in honor of that and in lieu of smiling happy students, I present here 6 questions my friends and I have been pondering lately. I submit to you that they are way more useful and interesting than questions you get in school, which is why we never got the answers.
- Are blue balls a real thing? My friend insists that this is a real and dangerous condition, and I say it’s a condition guys made up to get laid. So I looked it up, and yes, it can happen and involves restricted blood flow and oxygen getting absorbed during an extended erection, blah, blah, blah. But it won’t kill you, and the website I consulted described it as more of a “minor pain.” Soooo I’m going to give you that it’s an actual medical condition, but that it’s dangerous? Um, yeah, no.
- Do hamsters change their sex? Another friend as a kid had two hamsters that were both female, and the next thing he knew there were baby hamsters everywhere. Based on that experience, he claims hamsters can change their sex by necessity. I seriously doubted that because it’s such an anomaly, it would have been used in a biology class as an example of whatever that’s called, and we all would have remembered it, even a word girl like me. When I Googled it, you’d be surprised at how popular that question is. Sorry to disappoint, but it’s not a freak of nature. The main culprit seems to be pet stores’ lack of skill in 1) identifying males and females correctly and 2) the corollary result of that misidentification, which is that you can bring home a hamster that is already pregnant. Hence, the amazing sex-changing hamster. Not.
- If a tree falls in the forest and you see and hear it, does it count as a philosophical event, or is it just falling deadwood? Yes? No? Discuss.
- What does a typed period look like in italics? In a discussion about whether to italicize the punctuation that goes with italicized text (the answer is yes), my friend and I wondered about this. I made the font really big and in Palatino it looks ovally. My friend used Times New Roman and described it as not oval, but rather “smaller and more delicate looking.” Typeface and word aficionados could easily while away an entire afternoon doing this. Left side of the internet room, serif; right side, san serif. Get crazy with it, and bonus points for posting the description of what it looks like.
- What exactly does “telling tales out of school” mean? As opposed to telling tales “in school”? And why is that OK? What tales are we talking about? Gossip? Literature? Urban legends like alligators in the toilets? Tails? Inquiring minds want to know.
- When you go to a bar’s “underwear night” and they say to wear something you could wear out in public and not get arrested, what does that mean? Can you get arrested for wearing actual underwear on the street—say, tighty whities or women’s Hanes? Or a bikini swim suit for that matter? And if so, what is the difference, besides the type of material? I see people wearing their pajamas in public and see through tops, is that also a crime? I mean besides a crime of fashion?
Some these queries like the one about the tree falling in a forest may be unanswerable, but I think it’s still important to ask these piercing questions. After all, isn’t that what education is all about?
Photo note: I mean no disrespect to people who lived, struggled, and died during the Dust Bowl. The image is a good reminder of how lucky we all are.
While I do not know the answer to question #3, a variant – “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” – has plagued me for years. As the child of a philosopher and librarian and as a recovering scientist myself I knew there had to be an answer. So, a few years ago, I finally figured out the answer: “It depends – what kind of sound do you mean?” It turns out this is a language problem, not an existential one. I wonder if other languages have the same challenge. Allow me to demonstrate.
When a tree falls and hits the ground, vibrations are created (Science). Sound is defined as both “the sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other medium” and “mechanical vibrations transmitted through an elastic medium, traveling in air at a speed of approximately 1087 feet (331 meters) per second at sea level.” (English – via dictionary.com). Thus, logically (Philosophy) if the “sound” being asked about refers to sensations in organs, clearly sounds are not produced because no one (and thus no organs) are around. If the “sound” being asked about are mechanical vibrations, then clearly sound is produced (see Science books).
So, as all good teachers say, “define your terms before you seek answers so you know what question you are asking.” One down …. Five to go….
Ah, nicely done! Let’s see what you can do with the underwear night question next. Or maybe that should just involve a field trip? :-)?