November 16 2009
This USA tour has recently provided me with some great reminders of why the Rap Guide to Evolution is a worthy project, even if I do sometimes get accused of being an "evangelical" for Darwin or a "scientific fundamentalist" etc. Last weekend at the Concert for Darwin my performance got a standing ovation from the evolution-defenders who fought the Dover Intelligent Design trial back in 2004. I include this detail not to self-aggrandize (a doubtful disclaimer, admittedly), but to make the general point that out of more than fifty performances of the Rap Guide in the UK this summer I didn't get this response once. The last time I got a standing O was in March in central California. I attribute the difference not to British reserve, but to their acceptance of Darwin's theory as common knowledge, an open-and-shut case. In many areas of the States, on the other hand, Darwin is either the subject of outright hostility or defensive apologetic support, but rarely of exuberant celebration.
Speaking of exuberant celebration, I got the most amazing response yesterday from a teacher in Binghamton, NY. Carolyn Wilczynski teaches a group of "at risk" 9th and 10th graders at Binghamton High School, students who were put into the program because of behavioural problems or poor academic performance. She affectionately calls them her "stray cats" and at first they were not invited to the performance at the High School on Friday afternoon, a short 30 minutes "sampler" of the Rap Guide, but she lobbied to have them included on promises of good behaviour (they were fine). The most remarkable outcome was that one of her students, a 15 year old African American girl named Kadeidra, was the only one to come to the full performance at the University that evening of her own accord, even though I pitched it to the hundred or so regular students in attendance. They were a tough-looking bunch of kids too, so I was happy just to win them over, but having one of Carolyn's bunch attend out of sheer interest felt a bit like a breakthrough.
Below is the email I just got from Carolyn, which provides me with more steam than any ovation from any audience, standing or otherwise. Read it and try not to weep.
on 11/13/09 7:14 PM, Carolyn Wilczynski at email@example.com wrote:
I really enjoyed your performances today, and was especially glad that I was able to take some of my stray cats. When I saw the math teacher that I work with right after you left, he said "I heard that the performance was great". The kids told him. He said that they were all talking about it. But that you inspired Kadeidra to want to go to the University performance is something extraordinary. She is a stray cat in the true sense of the word - she's not bad to the bone, but has never bought into school. I have struggled with getting her motivated and until recently, haven't meet very much success. But she wanted to go to the university - and so I offered to take her.
But the most amazing thing is what she told me on the way home. She told me how much she enjoyed both performances and that she learned something too. That part is perhaps not all something that you haven't heard before. But THE most amazing part is that she said "I see science in a whole new way now - it's actually kinda fun". You accomplished that in an hour! I've been working at it for months! I wish I could buy you a beer!