We got our first Human Biology exams back today. No unpleasant surprises for me (or pleasant ones, for that matter...I knew I'd get the passive diffusion question wrong), but some of the class was extremely disappointed. Judging by the discussion we had about a graph on heart disease, the big problem was with reading and interpreting data--or lack of data--correctly.
This is not a post about math literacy, so stick with me.
Several members of the class misread an uptick in heart disease in 2000 as the result of 9/11. This stunned the professor, partially because they got the date wrong, but partially because they actually thought this might be the cause of an additional 100,000 deaths over the course of five years. I was fascinated.
This is primarily a class of freshman. They are a group of 18 year-olds who were in 4th grade when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit. To them, it is the defining (inter)national event of their young lives. Maybe it seems entirely plausible that this tragedy would result in so many heart attacks.
I think of 9/11 as the defining moment of the 2000s, but certainly not my life. Maybe it's just a perfect storm of the growth of the internet, the 24-hr-news cycle combined with two wars started by the Bush Administration, but as we move into the last year and a half of this decade it seems like the legacy of Sept. 11 is a nation that wants everything black and white. If you're not with us, you're against us.
What is encouraging is that these kids don't seem so quick to define the enemy. They mostly worry about money and if they'll have a job upon graduating. They're okay with gay marriage and immigration. It's the older generations that want it crystal clear...and want to get mad about it in the process. We see it in the mid-term elections, we see it on the news channels, we see it the response to a straightforward plea for less sexist yoga advertising.
So maybe the end result of 9/11 will be more heart disease, if everyone over 30 keeps working themselves into a lather of hatred over what the "other guy" is trying to pull. Why agree to disagree when you can point and call names?
But I'm hopeful. They may have been wrong about question six, but I think these teenagers realize there is a lot of gray. That it's mostly just confusing, instead of obvious. Maybe they can take some observations they made as children, and move beyond this era of Us and Them. That sure would make my heart beat a little faster...