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A teacher had her 8th graders write 'funny' captions under slavery-era photos. Seriously, WTF.

A teacher had her 8th graders write 'funny' captions under slavery-era photos. Seriously, WTF.

Sometimes you hear a story that's so absurd that your first response is, "No freaking way." Then you read more details, realize that the absurd thing actually did happen, and alternate between outright outrage and a resigned "Well, of course."

I've lost count of how many times that scenario has played out in recent years. It's pretty much daily at this point. I feel like every media outlet should have a WTF section. Good times, fellow humans.

So, in today's WTF news, a middle school teacher at J.W. Dodd Middle School in Freeport, NY allegedly handed out historical slavery-era photographs and asked her eighth grade students to caption them. She then implored students to make the captions "funny" because she didn't want to be bored.


The assignment was shared by a grandmother of one of the students on Facebook:

The school district superintendent has issued two statements on the incident. The first stated that "a faculty member is reported to have used directions to describe an assignment that were very upsetting to some students and families" and indicated that the matter was under investigation. The second included more detail:

As you may know, we have been conducting an investigation regarding an assignment given to students by a J.W. Dodd Middle School teacher last Thursday.

The teacher's directions to the students concerned the writing of captions for Reconstruction Era photos. The Reconstruction Era is the roughly fourteen years following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and end of the Civil War in 1865.

The District's investigation began last Friday after several parents contacted the school principal to share their concerns. The teacher was removed from the classroom while the investigation proceeded.

Let me be perfectly clear: Our investigation has determined that this lesson was poorly conceived and executed. The teacher instructed three separate classes of students to develop captions for photos of post-war sharecroppers. We understand from our investigation that she told students to 'make it funny' and 'don't bore me.'

Aside from the fact that this is a poor lesson, it is an insensitive trivialization of a deeply painful era for African Americans in this country, and it is unacceptable.

The teacher has delivered an apology which I will share with you this evening:

"It is with the deepest sense of respect that I apologize to the students, families and larger Freeport community for my insensitive words and actions last week. As a teacher and fellow member of this school community, it is my responsibility to exercise the highest degree of care and thought in all of my student and staff interactions. I failed to do so last week, and I fully accept that I must work hard to rebuild trust from my students, colleagues and the community."

We are currently finalizing an agreement with the teacher and her union representatives.

On behalf of the Board of Education, I want to thank the Freeport community for its patience through this investigation, and reaffirm our schools as places of tolerance and understanding.

Okay, so let's talk "Reconstruction Era photos." Theoretically, one could argue, these photos may not have been of enslaved people, but of newly freed black Americans. Except that a brief cursory of history shows that little changed for many black people during Reconstruction. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 only applied to the non-Union southern states — you know, the ones who were willing to fight to the death to keep the institution of slavery alive. Slavery didn't officially end nationwide until the passage of the 13th amendment in December of 1865. And after that, sharecropping and Black Codes resulted in black people still not being truly free. There's nothing funny about Reconstruction Era photos.

RELATED: Oprah's secret 1992 racism experiment on her audience is still incredible today

So yeah. This is what happened:

A teacher tasked with educating the minds of the upcoming generation thought it somehow okay to shine a humorous light on the violent history of racism in America.

A person professionally trained to teach children put time and thought into creating an assignment that compelled students to callously trivialize human atrocity and then passed that assignment onto her students.

A white woman responsible for helping kids understand the history of race in the U.S. told students that she would be bored if images of slavery-era black Americans weren't accompanied by the students' hilarious captions.

This was not a slip of the tongue or an unfortunate typo. This was not a problematic act from decades ago that someone dredged up. This was blatant racism. This is blatant racism, and it happened right here, in the U.S., last week.

Writer and speaker Ally Henny shared the story and commentary on Facebook, making an important point about "trauma laughter."

I don't know what's worse, the fact that this was an assignment or the fact that students participated in it. I don't even know how I would have responded to such an assignment as an eighth grader.

Let's think about what this lesson reinforces for the white kids who participated in it. Let's think about the social pressure that the black kids might've felt.

I bet you anything that the black kids had the funniest jokes because trauma laughter is a thing. We laugh to keep from crying, but we also laugh in order to disarm our oppressors so we can fit in and survive.

I know some people like to claim that the word "racism" is overused these days, but there's no ambiguity here. Laughing at the enslavement and suffering of black people is racism, full stop.

RELATED: 'Everything is racist these days' because white supremacy is as American as apple pie

What were students supposed to take from this assignment? What was the purpose? Was the teacher aware of how incredibly wrong it was? I have these questions, but honestly, the answers don't even matter. The impact is what counts.

And more questions remain: How many times do things like this happen without any publicity? How often does racism slip by without having a spotlight shone on it, allowing unaffected people to believe that racism is no longer an abiding concern?

This is why racism needs to be talked about more, not less. This is why it needs to be pointed out and called out, every time.

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Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

National Autistic Society/Youtube

"Diverted" educational video shared through the Too Much Information Campaign.

Everyone who lives with autism experiences it somewhat differently. You'll often hear physicians and advocates refer to the spectrum that exists for those who are autistic, pointing to a wide range of symptoms and skills.

But one thing many autistic people experience is sensory processing issues.


For autistic people, processing the world around them when it comes to sight, smell, or touch can be challenging, as their senses are often over- or under-sensitive. Certain situations — like meandering through a congested mall or enduring the nonstop blasting of police sirens — can quickly become unbearable.

This reality is brought to life in a new video by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society (NAS).

The eye-opening PSA takes viewers into the mind of a autistic woman as she thinks about struggling to stay composed in a crowded, noisy train.

It's worth a watch:

The PSA hit especially close to home for 22-year-old actress and star of the video Saskia Lupin, who is autistic herself. "Overall I feel confused," she said, of abrupt changes to her routine. "Like I can't do anything and all sense of rationality is lost."

She's not alone.

According to a study cited in NAS' press release, 75% of autistic people say unexpected changes make them feel socially isolated. What's more, 67% reported seeing or hearing negative reactions from the public when they try to calm themselves down in such situations — from eyerolls and stares to unwelcome, hurtful comments.

The new PSA aims to improve that last figure in particular.

It's part of the organization's Too Much Information campaign — an initiative to build empathy and understanding in allistic (i.e., not autistic) people for those on the spectrum.

Autism Awareness Day, campaign, World Autism Awareness Week

Campaign by National Autistic Society created to share the autistic experience to the world.

Photo from Pixabay

"It isn't that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said in a statement in 2016. It's just that, often, the public doesn't "see" the autism.

"They see a 'strange' man pacing back and forth in a shopping center," Lever explained, "or a 'naughty' girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don't know how to respond."

Well, now we do.

Instead of staring, rolling your eyes, or thinking judgmental thoughts about the young person's parents, remember: You have no idea what that stranger on the train is going through.

“We can't make the trains run on time," said Lever. But even the simplest, smallest things — like remembering not to stare and giving a person some space and compassion if they need it — can make a big difference.


This article originally appeared on 03.28.18

Joy

Pet cockatiel is obsessed with singing 'September' by Earth, Wind and Fire

Kiki remembers the 21st night of September ALL. THE. TIME. and it's actually quite impressive.

Representative hoto by Saqib Iqbal Digital on Unsplash

Apparently, "September" is all the rage with cockatiels.

“Do you remember…the 21st night of September?” has been one of the most iconic song openings of the past 45 years, as the R&B hit by Earth, Wind and Fire perpetually serves as a catchy favorite for dance clubs, movie scenes and TikTok clips alike.

However, "September" has also gained wild popularity among an unlikely group—pet cockatiels.


One cockatiel in particular has taken a shining to the song to the point of obsession, to the combined delight and chagrin of his owner. You see, Kiki doesn’t just like listening to the song, he sings and dances to it. Loudly. Over and over. At uncomfortable hours of the morning.

Kiki’s owner has shared multiple examples of her pet bird reveling in his favorite song, and it’s hilarious every time.

Watch:

@kiki.tiel

Send help plz wheres the off button on parrot #fyp #foryou #bird #cockatiel #parrotsoftiktok #birdsoftiktok

"Kiki…it's 7 o'clock in the morning…" Yeah, Kiki does not care. Kiki is feelin' the groove.

This isn't just a one-off and it's also not just a random song. Here we can see that Kiki recognizes it and sings it when his owner plays it. (Just after pooing on her leg—the reality of having a bird, in case these videos make you want one).

@kiki.tiel

Babywipes handy at all hours 🫡 #bird #cockatiel #fyp #foryou #september #parrot

But Kiki doesn't even need anyone else around in order to sing his favorite song. Here he is singing and dancing all by himself when his owner left the room and left her camera running to see what he would do.

@kiki.tiel

Partying without me :( #cockatielsoftiktok #birds #fyp #for you

As cute and hilarious as this is, it surely gets old after a while, right? It's one thing to watch in a video—it's got to be entirely another to hear it all the time at home.

It's also not just a Kiki quirk. Apparently, "September" is a "thing" among cockatiels. Other cockatiels have been known to love it and sing it, though not quite as well as Kiki does.

Someone on Reddit asked why so many cockatiels love the song—one person even said it was basically the cockatiel national anthem at this point. No one knows exactly why, but this explanation by Reddit user nattiecakes is as good an explanation as any:

"Yeah, cockatiels genuinely like the song in a way they don’t universally take to many other songs. My cockatiel is 17 and early in life basically seemed to max out his harddrive space learning a little bit of La Cucaracha, The Flintstones theme, the phrase 'pretty bird,' and this horrible alarm clock sound that is similar to the hungry baby cockatiel sound. We thought we could not get him to learn anything else because they do have some limits.

Then 'September' came. Every cockatiel loved it. We decided to see if our cockatiel loved it.

I sh*t y’all not, within a DAY he whistled the first three notes, which is really all that matters. He hasn’t been able to learn more, but he loves it.

Now our African grey whistles it to him constantly. He used to reliably whistle La Cucaracha to our cockatiel when our cockatiel would get angry and upset, and our cockatiel would start singing instead and forget he’d been upset. But almost immediately our grey switched to using 'September' 90% of the time. Like, it’s so plain even to our grey that 'September' is the song to unlock a cockatiel’s better nature. I think the grey likes it a lot too, but he has many other songs he likes better.

As for why cockatiels like this song so much… all I can guess is it really resonates with their cheery vibe. I think the inside of a cockatiel’s mind is usually like a disco."

Rock on, Kiki. Just maybe not so early in the morning.

How to clear a stuffy nose instantly.

With cold season upon us, there's no better time to learn a couple of awesome and easy tricks that will clear up the dreaded and annoying stuffy nose.

Prevention magazine created a short video showing two easy ways to get you breathing free again no matter how stuffed up you might be.


Both tricks take less than two minutes and are certainly worth trying out when it feels like that runny nose might never go away.


Watch the YouTube video below:

This article first appeared on 9.8.17.

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.