So, today in class, we were going over a rather complex essay titled "The Selfless Gene" by Olivia Judson (a play on Richard Dawkins' book titled The Selfish Gene). In this essay, the author argues that the impulses toward self-sacrifice and altruism could possibly be a trait passed on genetically. I'm not going into the particulars of the essay because that's not the reason I'm posting. I want to talk about my classes.
Once students got through some of the major ideas, they debated the merits and delved in the philosophical depths. Some were rather Hobbesian: the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. And others took issue with the evolutionary underpinnings of her argument ("It's just a theory"), etc.
Since the essay used many examples from the animal kingdom to prove her point, one student posited that characteristics can be passed on. After all, we breed dogs to have certain temperaments. I thought this was a good point although I was slightly galled that an international student who I had just told that he could not do a "how-to" speech on "how to train dogs for dog-fighting," was nodding enthusiastically (and I agreed with him).
Another student piped up about her dogs and I asked her what breeds they were (both were versions of Labrador and Golden Retrievers). I then asked the class "why these breeds were most popular family dogs in America?" They answered, of course, that they were friendly and good with children. This same student objected, stating that she had had another Golden Retriever which had bitten a few people and her parents had given it away.
In a low, but audible, voice, I said "Your parents didn't give him away." I immediately regretted saying it because her mouth dropped open and she turned a little red as the ramifications of my words dawned on her. Most of the class began to rib her a bit, and I apologized profusely.
As a friend put it "you won't be accused of mollycoddling your students." Such is life and death. Thank God I don't teach Elementary school students, right?
Fortunately, I held back from another student's comment about recessive genes -- she has different colored eyes than her family....