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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


15th annual White privilege conference

The 15th annual White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, was attended by 2,500 public-school teachers, administrators and students from across the nation.  

The conference had a few running rules; 1) most restrooms are gender neutral, 2) Conference participants are encouraged to model the use of preferred gender pronouns by stating their preferred gender pronouns when they introduce themselves, 3) the struggle for justice is a spiritual matter. The deep learning, challenge, and listening demanded by WPC can also demand of us reflection, understanding, reckoning, and also a gentleness toward the Self, and 4) To improve our sustainability, there will be no bottled water this year. Pitchers of water will be available throughout the conference center.

In one of the workshops, “Examining White Privilege and Building Foundations for Social Justice Thinking in the Elementary Classroom,” educators Rosemary Colt and Diana Reeves told how teachers can “insert social justice, anti-racist information” into their lessons that “even little kids” can understand.

Kim Radersma, a former high-school English teacher, hosted a session titled, “Stories from the front lines of education: Confessions of a white, high school English teacher.” She said teaching is a purely political act and that neutral people should “get the f— out of education.”

She also explained: “Being a white person who does anti-racist work is like being an alcoholic. I will never be recovered by my alcoholism, to use the metaphor. I have to every day wake up and acknowledge that I am so deeply embedded with racist thoughts and notions and actions in my body that I have to choose every day to do anti-racist work and think in an anti-racist way.”

Jacqueline Battalora, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Saint Xavier University, informed conference participants that “white people did not exist before 1681. Again, white people did not exist on planet earth until 1681.”

If professor Battalora is correct, how are we to identify William Shakespeare (1564), Sir Isaac Newton (1642), John Locke (1632), Leonardo da Vinci (1452) and especially dear Plato (428 B.C.)? Were these men people of color, or did they not exist?

John A. Powell, a University of California, Berkeley, law professor, told his audience, “And right now, I’m going to suggest to you that race is driving almost everything that’s happening in the country.” He explained the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans by saying, “They took money away from protecting the levees because the levees were protecting black people.”

Stephanie Baran’s message to conference participants was that capitalism is the cause of racism in the world today. This adjunct professor at Kankakee Community College, who calls herself a vulgar Marxist, added that racism was invented in Colonial America by white capitalists as a tool to divide labor and keep the working class in their place.

Educator Paul Kivel explained what he sees as Christian hegemony, saying, “Very simply, I define it as the everyday pervasive, deep-seated and institutionalized dominance of Christian values, Christian institutions, leaders and Christians as a group, primarily for the benefit of Christian ruling elites.  Christian hegemony punishes the poor, destroys the environment, and contributes to our seemingly endless “war on terror”.”

Speaker Leonard Zeskind – explained that “the longer you are in the tea party, the more racist you become. The Tea Parties are a dire and immediate threat. ” He added, “Parents put their kids in private schools because they’re racist.”

Ilana Morris fielded as seminar on ‘Deconstructing Democracies’. The understanding is that Robert’s Rules, are consensus-based – these structures determine whose voices are heard, what participation styles are rewarded, and ultimately, how relationships rooted in oppression directly influence inequitable resource distribution. Democracy is commandeered by those with power and privilege.   A new political structure is needed that caters to anti-racist outcomes, equity and social justice.

University of Iowa professor Adrien Wing gave some of her observations about white privilege, asking, “Does having a black president change that? Has it changed that? Unfortunately, it hasn’t. … (President Obama) ends up being the front man for the system. … He works for the master of the system of white privilege.”

The US constitution is painted in a very negative light in this conference. It claims that the constitution was create by white privileged slave holders and is an Anglo-centric, capitalistic, unjust document that leads to social and economic inequity.

"When an opponent declares, 'I will not come over to your side,' I calmly say, 'Your child belongs to us already... What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new ‘Veltanschuung’ [world view].'"
Adolf Hitler, Speech November 1933

This conference was sponsored by many of the usual suspects:

  • UW Madison
  • UW La Crosse
  • UW Eau Claire
  • Edgewood College
  • University of Northern Iowa
  • Gustavus Adolphus College
  • Madison Area Technical College

There were also a number of religious organizations involved:

  • Wisconsin council of church
  • United Methodist churches of Wisconsin
  • First Congregational United churches of Wisconsin
  • MUM (Madison Area urban Ministry)
  • Dominicans

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