Monthly Archives: April 2012

Book Report: Sex at Dawn

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern SexualitySex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthropological review of human sexuality theory and history is neatly argued, but still flawed. The basic argument is that we are not evolved for monogamy, a point illustrated by many rebuttals of contradictory “research” throughout recent history, as well as evaluations of sexual practices in the communities of our evolutionary siblings — bonobo monkeys, in particular.

The central flaw in arguing that we should not, according to the authors, expect ourselves to adhere to monogamy, lies in the pure fact that monogamy ideals have grown and flourished in our agricultural, large-scale western societies. (The case is different in isolated tribes in the rest of the world.) Our bodies may not be evolutionarily suited to monogamy, but our emotions and our societal conditioning seem to be. Indeed, this is why so many people in first-world Western countries still have emotional difficulty with cheating partners or, in more liberal circles, the practice of polyamory. The authors of Sex at Dawn seem to recommend the latter, but even professional sex and relationship guru Dan Savage has to counsel polyamorous wannabes to go slow and take baby steps to re-condition their monogamous hearts.

All in all, this book was very thought-provoking, a must-read for any sociology nerd. However, a huge takeaway from it is my new conviction that human beings really need to stop trying to understand why we act the way we do, and just take it a day at a time. Anthropology and psychology are well and good, but at the end of the day, it’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to — or, more accurately, we’ll be monogamous or polygamous if we want to.

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I love this melded image of Natalie Portman and Audrey Hepburn, from (click image for source)

Yes, I love bad plays on words — in this case, “web” and “bibliography.” Here are a few things I’ve been reading about on the web that mean something to me, and the takeaways I gained from them.

Travel is an exercise in perspective, from BreatheDreamGo.

Kelly Williams Brown of Adulting says that grown-up people should be able to sit down and read something long-form.

MindHacks cites a study from the European Journal of Psychology that found that “physically attractive people are more likely to be psychologically balanced and accepting than the rest of us.” I think this depends on whether “physically attractive people” are universally attractive. From the study itself: “contemporary studies have revealed that people share common views of physical attractiveness regardless of race, age or nationality.” However, I completely disbelieve the study, because the participant sample and “judges” (model recruiters living in London — whose profession is based on completely commercialized ideals, not actual “beauty”) are severely limited. The researchers themselves admit this in the limitations of their paper. Tough luck, “science.”

Video break! Walk Off the Earth does “Somebody I Used to Know”… with 5 people on 1 guitar!

Sociological Images shows the overcrowding of California prisons, making me grateful to have been raised as a law-abiding citizen in our prison-heavy country.

Lindy West on Jezebel says, “Stop using cavemen as an excuse for your fad diet,” and it’s true. Paleo diets are silly, as are diets of McNuggets and fries. We evolved to eat somewhere in between the two: think whole grains, fresh produce and local animal products in moderation.

The Supposed Evils of Sidetalk


The text: “Causons bavardage,” from MAIF, a French insurance provider (translation: “Let’s talk chatter”)
The media: blog post/article
The thought: Sidetalk or chatter in classrooms is a widespread roadblock to productivity. There are ways to identify and mitigate it.
The lesson: Teachers might do better to embrace the learning power of student chattiness, instead of stifling it.

Pourquoi les élèves bavardent-ils ?
Explication qui revient le plus souvent : ” Un élève bavarde d’abord parce qu’il s’ennuie “.


Why do students talk so much in class?
The most recurrent explanation: “Students talk in class primarily because they are bored.”

These infuriating, generalized lines tell only half the story. Although I’m hesitant to make generalizations about the entirety of an education system, I did spend time teaching and observing in a public French high school, and I did also read François Bégaudeau’s Entre les murs. A motif common to both of these is teachers’ ongoing struggle to quiet the incessant sidetalk (supposedly) inevitable in all classrooms. Many French teachers, and probably many teachers worldwide, spend a great deal of energy on attaining the (supposed) holy grail of classroom management: a silent class.

Silence is not the natural state of the average student, at any age. Chattiness is a social behavior, and I disagree that it comes primarily from boredom.* A good classroom should not be absolutely silent; instead, there should be enough opportunities for students to chat with each other about the subject matter that they won’t have time to digress into idle chitchat. This permission to chat freely about academic material is sometimes called “buzzing” in American, or at least Californian, school culture.

The MAIF article goes on to cite widespread disrespect for French teachers by their students, and tells tales of failed classroom management descending into unrecoverable chaos. As a student, I would certainly become bored, yes, and consequently lose respect for my teachers if I were yelled at or sent out of class every time the noise level reached above a whisper.

Entre les murs

It’s certainly true that well-behaved students may appear to be the most hardworking and productive. But generalizing the well-behaved learner as the best of all learners is like generalizing a sheep’s follower mentality to be the most effective in the entire animal kingdom. Everyone learns differently, and many of us learn effectively through discussion. The flaw in the reasoning of “Causons bavardage” is in its insistence that talking in class is only ever bad, never good. I shudder to think that an entire country’s educators make the same generalization as MAIF.

The end of the article makes some huge concessions about its initial closed-mindedness, which I’ll translate here unofficially so that they can speak for themselves.

Selon Florence Ehnuel, il est primordial de poser une réflexion sur la façon de gérer la classe.
” D’abord en mettant en place une pédagogie adaptée via des travaux en groupe, des pauses, des activités variées et ensuite en repensant le cours magistral qui ne peut plus aujourd’hui être qu’un outil parmi d’autres ” Yann a entendu parler du co-enseignement, mesure qui consiste à faire intervenir deux enseignants dans une même classe. Ainsi, ces derniers supervisent des activités différentes à des moments distincts.
Enfin, tous les témoins de ce dossier insistent lourdement sur la formation du corps enseignant en terme de gestion de groupe, qu’ils estiment très insuffisante et inadaptée à la réalité du terrain.

According to Florence Ehnuel, it is essential to consider methods of classroom management, “first by enacting  teaching practices adapted via group work, breaks, and a variety of activities, and then by rethinking the traditional lecture style, which nowadays should only be one tool among many.” Yann [a music teacher] mentions the discussion of co-teaching, a method that consists of introducing two teachers in one class. In this model, the two teachers lead different activities at specific times.
Finally, readers of this report strongly emphasize teacher training in the realm of classroom management, which said readers find very lacking and poorly adjusted to the reality of the field.

*Translation note: not to argue semantics, but it’s also possible that here, d’abord simply means “first of all.” I chose “primarily” for the sake of making my point.