Monday, February 19, 2007

The Cold Equation

Most of life, nowadays, allows people leeway. Most often, this is a good thing.

When I was a kid, I read the short story "The Cold Equation" by Tom Godwin. It scared me to death. That there could be a situation wherein the milk of human kindness had no power, that there could be a situation wherein someone, of her own free will, could happily and blindly enter into something with the best of intentions, and die for it, gave me nightmares for years. The cold fact that there are, indeed, cold facts, still gives me the shakes.

Equations are made up of factors, and once certain factors are selected, the combination thereof is an absolute, unless the factors are changed. (Look, Ma, I'm mathing!) However, UNLESS the factors are changed, the answer can't be any different than the natural result of those particular factors.

2 + 2 = 4. If '7' wants to elbow in, it must be rejected, if both 2's are to stay, and if the answer MUST be 4. There is no room for a '7' in this equation, unless we change the whole intent of the equation.

When the weather is such that it creates snow, or tornadoes, or rain, etc, those things are the natural result of a combination of factors which have no choice but to produce that particular outcome.

No amount of bargaining or begging can change the natural outcome of an equation. Occasionally, we are allowed to change a factor, but most often, that isn't possible. When it is, we should be thankful, not gratified and entitled.

When student A is told, on the first day of class, what the outcome must be, it is the student's responsibility to make sure all the entered factors will add up to that stated outcome. If the student chooses, of his own free will, NOT to enter enough factors, or to try to change the factors, or, worst of all, to try to alter the outcome to fit his own personal situation, then I think the concept of the Cold Equation must be brought into play.

Unfortunately, the sense of entitlement felt by so many families these days causes them to label the 'outcome' as unrealistic, etc, and to believe that they have a right to change what the outcome should be, and that the outcome should be whatever they personally feel they have time to deal with, etc.

Sometimes, in this life, there are things that can be adapted. If someone does not have the ability to do certain things, certainly those certain things, most of them, can and should be adapted somewhat.

But in this life, there are also things that shouldn't have to be adapted. Adapting things because someone wanted to sleep in, or go to Florida, or got a sore throat, or decided they were worth a 'Me' day, etc. . . . . No. I got an email a few minutes from a student who was up really late last night and wondered if I could just put any assignments for today's class in my mailbox and she'll pick them up later tonight. . . . No. The fact is, unless you are in class today, you won't have a clue what the quizzes and worksheets and essays are about, and if you do them incorrectly, you will fail. If you have too many low grades, you will fail the course. If you are absent too much, you will fail the course. The natural outcome of too many absences or low grades is failure. Failure is a choice: yours.

You signed up for the course, you know what the outcome must be, and it is up to YOU to make bloody sure you factor in all the parts of this equation, yourself. I am your instructor, yes, but if you are not there, there isn't much I can do for you.

Teachers are people. When people are treated fairly, they tend to give their all. When people are treated unfairly, even those who weren't in the original equation will change their factors.

When I first started teaching, "Values Clarification" was the big thing. Only a few years later, schools forbade "Values Clarification" but in the schools, this stuff comes and goes, reappearing later under a new name, and schools pay for it again, in more ways than one.

Too many people in the lifeboat? Three of them must go, and we must decide which three. The doctor? No, he's needed. The young woman? No, we might need her for breeding purposes later. The young man? Same. The sick elderly man? Can he actively contribute something that is absolutely necessary for the survival of the group? He's the only one who can speak and understand the language of the country the boat's heading for? He can stay, then. Look around at the group, students, and find the people who have the least capabilities, who will bring the others down, who can't do anything practical. . . . . and throw them overboard. Because if you don't, EVERYONE will die.

People were horrified with "Values Clarification," because in any situation that most people can comprehend, the factors can always be altered so the outcome will still be 'survival' but perhaps a different kind.

When they finally come face-to-face with a Cold Equation, one that can not be altered in any way, shape, or form, they buckle.

In the short story, a young woman barely out of her teens decides to stow away on a rocket ship headed for a distant planet. She's a pleasant, kindhearted, sweet girl, and her intention is only to see her brother, a scientist working on that distant planet, whom she hasn't seen in many years. When she was found, she was willing to pay any penalty for stowing away; she knew she was breaking the law, it was just that she HAD to see her brother, and when she realized that this particular rocket was going to his planet, she felt that it was her chance.

This rocket was going to that planet because the people on that planet were ill, dying of a disease, and they desperately needed the medicine that this rocket was carrying. If the rocket didn't make it to the planet on time, all the people there would die.

This planet was so far away, travel to and from was terribly difficult. This mission, getting the serum to the planet, was important, in terms of saving many lives.

The fuel for such a trip had to be calculated to the nth. Everything on the ship, including the lone pilot, had been weighed and factored into the outcome: getting to the planet in time to save all those lives.

The pilot discovers that the weight of the ship is off by about a hundred pounds. That hundred pounds would cause the ship to use more fuel than the original equation had noted. That hundred pounds had to be discovered and jettisoned, or all those people would die.

The hundred pounds turned out to be Marilyn, the young giggling girl. She stopped giggling when she realized what was going to happen, what HAD to happen, what the pilot had no choice but to do.

The pilot allowed the girl to speak to her brother, on the distant planet. The second her brother heard his sister's voice, he knew what she'd done, and he knew what would have to be done with her. There was no pleading, no begging, just a few questions about factors, and a heartbroken acceptance of what could not be helped. If the girl stayed, not only would all the others die, but the ship would not have enough fuel to even reach the planet, and she AND the pilot would die anyway.

"You're going to make me die, and I didn't do anything to die for."

But Marilyn, you did. Of your own free will, you inserted yourself into an already-factored equation, and the addition did not fit. Any altering of the equation would bring death to several others; jettisoning YOU is the only solution.

And that is exactly what happened. This young, innocent, giggling girl who only wanted to see her brother again, was jettisoned out into the uncaring instant death of space.

If you overload the lifeboat, everybody dies. If the pilot had sacrificed himself, instead, which he was tempted to do, the girl would have died anyway because she wasn't a pilot, and so would all those people awaiting the serum.

Cold Equation. Not everything can be altered. Sometimes, we must alter ourselves, FORCE ourselves to do things we really would rather not do. Those who insist that life be altered to suit them are living in a fool's paradise. All the insistence in the world will not stop a tornado in its path, or make a tidal wave change its mind and turn back.

In other words, do your damn homework and get to class.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 11:39 AM | |


I am Mamacita. Accept no substitutes! Hitting the fan like no one else can. . .
I'm Speaking at BlogHer 08 Archives Links

My Classical Blogroll

This is a Flickr badge showing public photos from Mamacita3855. Make your own badge here.

Credits Powered by Blogger

Designed by Swank Web Style
< <


Honors Blogrolling.com Hot 500


Lijit Search/a> < BlogHer.org Logo


Listed Subscribe with Bloglines

View My Public Stats on MyBlogLog.com

Personal Blogs - Blog Catalog Blog Directory

Listed on BlogShares


DIARIST.NET Registered!

Technorati Tags:

Technorati search

Free Hit Counter