Score one for the (publishing) good guys

The Texas Board of Education came down entirely on the side of evolution in the Great Texas Textbook War of 2011. By a unanimous vote (one of the 15 board members was on vacation), the board chose supplemental material for high school biology classes from established, mainstream textbook publishers rather than  any of the creationist-based alternatives.

With California undergoing a suspension of school textbook purchases for the next several years, Texas is the big educational textbook buyer in America these days. Any decision to buy puts big-time money in a publisher’s pocket, and Holt McDougal’s win over International Databases, LLC, is a major win for science-based science education and a black eye on the crackpot, bullshit “intelligent design” crowd.

 

Cue the best Father’s Day story this year

Jim Brozina is a children’s librarian. He started reading to his daughter Alice Ozma every night when she was in the fourth grade. He promised he’d read to her every night for 100 nights, because she enjoyed it and he liked the way it helped them bond and enjoy each other. When the 100 nights ended, they kept up the ritual.

The streak ended last fall after 3,218 readings, when Ozma started college at Rutgers.

Neither wanted to end the nightly ritual, and when it did end the last thing he read to her was The Wizard of Oz–the first thing he’d read to her 9 years back.

Cue up the tears.

Ozma has written a book about the experience; it’s called The Reading Promise.

One (good) Sentence, at least on a good day

There is an interesting website called One Sentence that invites submissions of life experiences expressed in just one sentence.

I’m quite enamored of the short-short story genre, and so I was quite attracted to this site. I have submitted a story, and will likely do a few more, not so much to gain approval and compliments, but because I enjoy that sort of “burst” creativity and the opportunity to practice it.

You can also “grade” unapproved stories, which the site owner seems to say will influence her/his decisions. Having reviewed thirty or forty submissions, I have three words:

I am appalled.

Here are a few examples:

Texter-speak. Major errors in grammar. Lack of knowledge as to the functionality of the shift key. Run-ons. Lack of agreement between subject and verb, or references, or tenses. Emoticons, for Joe’s sake.

No wonder the state of literature and film is so sad. Not only are the old classic authors dead, but their prospective replacements cannot for the most part create a single proper sentence, much less a novel or a poem or a screenplay. Out of the submissions I’ve read, fully 80% contain some sort of mechanical error. Of the 20% that don’t, perhaps 2 or 3 had any sort of interesting content.

Appalled.

Let the schools burn

Daily Kos has a report about yet another maneuver from the rich conservative fuckknobs that have been financing destruction of American liberal organizations such as labor unions. This time the target is public education:

A new wave of school voucher bills is sweeping the nation, which would allow public education funds to be used in private or parochial schools.   As with past waves of voucher initiatives, these new bills are largely promoted and funded by the billionaire DeVos family and a core group of wealthy pro-privatization supporters. They include Pennsylvania SB-1, soon coming to a vote in the PA Senate, and the “Vouchers-for-All” bill approved by the Florida Senate Education Committee on April 14. Betsy DeVos is at the helm of organizations that have set the stage for both bills, but you would never know it based on the propaganda being marketed to Pennsylvanians.  Even if you are from another state, keep reading.  Chances are a Betsy DeVos-led campaign is already at work in your state or will be there soon…

The leaders of many of these DeVos/Koch/Scaife-funded institutes openly voice their ideological objections to all forms of public education. Some even proudly display their support for a proclamation posted at the Alliance for Separation of School and State, which reads,

“I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education.”

Regardless of the individual merits of any particular charter school, the promotion of charter schools collectively is key to the hard religious right strategy for destroying public education, because voucher-funded charter schools will siphon money and the best students from public schools.

That, in turn, will degrade public schools, at which point advocates for charter schools and privatization will point to public schools and say, “look! Public schools are a failed experiment. We need more vouchers, more charter schools!”

My attitude about public education pretty much parallels those of John Taylor Gatto:

  1. It makes the children confused. It presents an incoherent ensemble of information that the child needs to memorize to stay in school. Apart from the tests and trials that programming is similar to the television, it fills almost all the “free” time of children. One sees and hears something, only to forget it again.
  2. It teaches them to accept their class affiliation.
  3. It makes them indifferent.
  4. It makes them emotionally dependent.
  5. It teaches them a kind of self-confidence that requires constant confirmation by experts (provisional self-esteem).
  6. It makes it clear to them that they cannot hide, because they are always supervised.

The philosophy behind modern public education was conceived by 19th-century industrialists who sought to create a working class that was educated just enough to do the work and finish the paperwork, but not educated enough to exercise critical thinking:

My $0.03?

Let public education die. Let it burn.

School is not teaching your child anything really useful anyway, and it’s a tremendous waste of childhoods and educational opportunities.

If you really want your kids to be properly educated, to really learn something, homeschool them. The religious right has known for decades that homeschooling works stupifyingly better than public education; now it’s time for the secular world to learn the same thing (minus the religious indoctrination of which the right is so fond).

It’s been proven repeatedly that children pick up the essentials of literacy and thinking in about 100 hours of education (that’s twelve 8-hour school days, folks); the rest of a child’s education should reading, discussion, and regular exposure to educational opportunities, all of which can be easily handled by most parents.

“Always do the right thing.” “That’s it?” “That’s it.”

From former NBA player Don Amaechi’s blog concerning Kobe Bryant’s outburst of “fucking faggot!” aimed at a referree during last Tuesday’s NBA game:

“A young man from a Los Angeles public school e-mailed me. You are his idol. He is playing up, on the varsity team, he has your posters all over his room, and he hopes one day to play in college and then in the N.B.A. with you. He used to fall asleep with images of passing you the ball to sink a game-winning shot. He watched every game you played this season on television, but this week he feels less safe and less positive about himself because he stared adoringly into your face as you said the word that haunts him in school every single day. Kobe, stop fighting the fine. Use that money and your influence to set a new tone that tells sports fans, boys, men and the society that looks up to you that the word you said in anger is not O.K., not ever.”

“Think aboot the wee bairns, laddie!”

There are some public schools in the Chicago area that have a strict policy about lunch:

You can’t bring your own.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices…”Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” [Little Village Academy principal Elsa] Carmona said. “It’s about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom).”

Uh-huh.

As you’ve undoubtedly figured out by now, money has changed hands somewhere:

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district’s food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

Drop a line to Elsa Carmona at LVA. Her number is 773-534-1880 and let her know (nicely, please) what you think about a principal who uses the “think about the children!” defense to make money, who takes bribes from a business so that children are forced to eat nutritionally poor, overly-cooked food packed with salt, corn syrup, and fat.

Ask her what she thinks when she sees dozens of unsophisticated 7th graders toss their lunch entrees uneaten.

Ask the principal where she eats her lunch.

Some laws aren’t as pinheaded as they appear at first glance

The Tennessee state legislature just passed a bill concerning science education in the state’s public schools. There are those who are panicking about the bill’s passage:

“…the Tennessee Science Teachers Association is on record describing the bill as “unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional.” Although the document is worded so as not to promote any particular doctrine, the thrust of the proposed law would elevate creationist theories about human evolution to the same status accorded by most educators to Darwin’s research.”

Really? Let’s take a look at what the bill actually says (emphases and inserted comments are mine):

~~~

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following as a new, appropriately designated section:

(a) The general assembly finds that:

(1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens;

(2) The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy; and

Yes, that is true; some scientific subjects such as evolution have caused controversy due to the confusion between opinions held by faith and facts sustained by science and scientific methods.

(3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.

That is also true. Some teachers are pinheads despite possessing a modicum of education, and others don’t know how to handle the political ramifications.

(b) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.

How about these for “appropriate” and “respectful” responses? “Creationism is a religious belief that doesn’t belong in the science classroom”, and “there are strong indications that global warming is a real event, even though the exact causes are not fully understood yet”? These responses are appropriate and respectful, stick strictly to scientific fact, and are responses that indicate use of scientific method and critical thinking.

(c) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Sounds like the acts of a properly taught science curriculum to me.

(d) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

Still looking okay.

(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote  [d]iscrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

Again, looks good to me. No one gets dumped on or ridiculed. No one.

SECTION 2. By no later than the start of the 2011-2012 school term, the department of education shall notify all directors of schools of the provisions of this act. Each director shall notify all employees within the director’s school system of the provisions of this act.

SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

~~~

Now, the real question is what do school administrators and teachers do with this.

There is a neat easy answer: follow the letter of the law.

  • present scientific facts and encourage the use of critical thinking
  • discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the stances toward socially controversial subjects such as evolution and global warming
  • come to factually supported conclusions
  • do all this with a view toward respectful stances toward belief and non-belief

Aaaaaannd a quote from CBS News:

Presumably, that would also extend to teaching about alternative theories to global warming, a hot-button issue among conservative groups.

There is no “presumably” here. Any teacher who instructs students in “alternative” theories” about any controversial subject in science should, by law, just stick to facts and critical thinking. If they don’t, then there should be some heads stuck onto pikes warnings about violations of state laws.

“Boy, those were the days, weren’t they?”

I never fail to laugh when I hear college entrance candidates bitch when discussing how “tough” it is to get into school.

Let us take the Wayback Machine to the year 1869, and look in on those students taking the entrance examination for Harvard University. We see questions like:

  1. Bound the basin of the Po, of the Mississippi, and of the St. Lawrence.
  2. Compare Athens and Sparta.
  3. Find the cube root of 0.0093 to five decimal places.
  4. Prove that two regular polygons with the same number of sides are similar.
  5. Translate into Latin: I do not care how rich Gyges is.

See more tidbits here.

Waddaya mean, schools don’t work??

From the introduction (by David Albert) to John Taylor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down:

“Central…is the fact that schools are not failing. On the contrary, they are spectacularly successful in doing precisely what they are intended to do, and what they have been intended to do since their inception. The system…funded by the captains of industry, was explicitly set up to ensure a docile, malleable workforce to meet the growing, changing demands of corporate capitalism…[the system] ensures a workforce that will not rebel–the greatest fear at the turn of the 20th century–that will be physically, intellectually, and emotionally dependent upon corporate institutions for their incomes, self-esteem, and stimulation, and that will near to find social meaning in their lives solely in the production and consumption of material goods.”

So, the next time you read a story about yet another middle school student who threatened others with a knife, or how American school children’s test scores have fallen again, or how American graduate schools in math, science, and engineering have to recruit students from overseas because there are literally not enough American applicants to fill available positions, contemplate one of Mr. Gatto’s points about American education:

U.S. labor statistics indicate that the four jobs most widely held by Americans (and the jobs that have seen the most growth in the last 30 years) are

  1. Wal-Mart clerk
  2. McDonald’s burger flipper
  3. Burger King burger flipper
  4. elementary school teacher

“We don’t want no nig…nee-gah-roes in ouah schools”

Just when the South was trying to shuck its stereotype of the dumb-as-shit, religious-as-hell white cracker segragationalist…

The Wake County School District in Raleigh NC (where I happen to be this week) has a school board which has pledged to “say no to the social engineers” who had the temerity to use school busing in an effort to racially and economically desegregate its schools. As a result, some of the best schools (academically) are in the inner city.

The nerve of those social engineers.

When asked to comment, board chairman Ron Margiotta of course directed questions to the board’s attorney, who like most lawyers clammed up at just the moment when something needed to be said. Board member John Tedesco says his “life is already integrated”, and that “we need a new paradigm”. (Someone keep the jar of $5 words out of the reach of grown children, please.)

Time to get those phones and computers out, pals and gals. Keep in mind that it’s the newbies on the board that brought this about. So call and/or drop all these fine folks a line (keep it concise, polite, and mad as hell) and let them know that it isn’t 1951 anymore.

Mr. Chris Malone
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587
919-850-8865/office
919-562-6165/fax
Term Expires: November 2013 (recently elected)
cmalone2@wcpss.net

Mr. John Tedesco
Garner, North Carolina 27529
919-850-8866/office
Term Expires: November 2013 (recently elected)
jtedesco@wcpss.net

Mr. Kevin L. Hill
Raleigh, North Carolina 27614
919-850-8867/office
Term Expires: November 2011
klhill@wcpss.net

Mr. Keith Sutton
Raleigh, NC 27604
919-850-8868/office
919-231-5752/residence/fax
Term expires: November 2011
ksutton@wcpss.net

Dr. Anne McLaurin
Raleigh, North Carolina 27603
919-850-8869/office
919-508-9012/fax
Term Expires: November 2011
amclaurin@wcpss.net

Dr. Carolyn Morrison
Raleigh, North Carolina 27609
919-850-8870/office
919-954-5100/fax
Term Expires: November 2011
cbmorrison@wcpss.net

Ms. Deborah Prickett
Raleigh, North Carolina 27617
919-850-8871/office
919-544-6718/fax
Term Expires: November 2013 (recently elected)
dprickett@wcpss.net

Mr. Ron Margiotta, Chair
Apex, North Carolina 27523
919-850-8872/office
919-290-2043/residence, fax
Term Expires: November 2011
rmargiotta@wcpss.net

Ms. Debra Goldman, Vice Chair
Raleigh, North Carolina 27611
919-678-1090/office
919-678-1090/fax
Term Expires: November 2013 (recently elected)
dgoldman@wcpss.net

BTW, WCPSS, you need to not publish your board members’ personal street addresses. A private life is difficult enough to maintain without inviting disaster.