• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: When Evil Enrolls

Tragedy in Kenya.

April 9, 2015

Economists teach that there we can find a “market clearing” price that equates the amount demanded by consumers with the amount supplied by producers. I recall one extreme case of this when I left my first job almost twenty years ago. Before leaving, I had been teaching a section of a “First Year Seminar,” a piece of the core curriculum that every department was instructed to offer each semester. While not my field of study, I stepped forward to cover my department’s requirement, and did so for several years. I found it challenging but interesting, and was surprised to learn that when I left, no one in the department was willing to assume the responsibility for teaching that course. That was, until the Department of Economics devised a market solution to the problem. They decided that everyone who did not want to teach the course would contribute a sum of money into a pool, and whoever taught the course would receive that money as a bonus for teaching it.

I thought of this recently as I remembered the last assignment I gave those students before leaving; I asked them to write their own obituary.  I recall crying when I read my students’ work, as I realized that the fact that reading them would imply that the students who had shared my semester had died. I found myself thinking of this recently when I learned of the shootings in Kenya last week in which 147 people, many of college age, were killed. For those people, the obituaries were not part of an imaginary end of the year assignment, and the tears that were definitely shed for their passing were not tears from an overly imaginative college teacher. Rather, they were real tears shed by family and friends who would need to burry young people long before their time.

As our part of the world prepared to celebrate Easter weekend, word reached us about what had happened in a college in Garissa, Kenya. Some reports said that students were asked to identify themselves by their faith, with their future hanging in the balance. I have to wonder if I, groggy from being awakened, would have had the integrity to answer with the truth as I experience it, or if I would have reverted to self-preservation. According to those reports, for many students last week, that was not an abstract intellectual question, but one that may have determined whether they had any future.

I listened to what had happened, and once again found myself at a loss for how to keep my child safe as she moves further into adolescence. The world I now inhabit is very different from the world that I grew up in. Back then, computers were plugged into a TV set in order to play “Pong,” and the worst thing that could happen to a young woman was that she could become pregnant before she got married. AIDS was yet to be discovered or named, and there was no internet and no internet bullying. As I compare the world my daughter inhabits to the one I grew up in, I realize that I don’t always feel that I have the knowledge to be able to teach my daughter the skills she needs to make it safely to adulthood. And that, of course, is while growing up in suburban Ohio. I found myself amazed that some parents and students needed to spend time and energy navigating a world that also includes the immediate presence of terrorism and frightening men with machine guns that break into college dorms in the middle of the night. I wonder if I would be so willing to imagine college in my daughter’s life if that was the world I inhabited.

I know the feeling I have of wanting to protect my daughter from all that is dangerous and bad in the world, and I admire the parents who have the same instincts but must accomplish this in a much more frightening place. My heart goes out to the parents, friends, and yes, professors, who experienced such great loss last week when terrorism went to college. But I am still left with the question of “how DO we keep our children safe?”


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