Archive for the ‘education’ Category
TRC doesn’t have strong opinions of homeschooling. It is up to families to decide how they want to pursue education, and when (or if) I have children, I want to be able to make those decisions with my wife and not with the government. I know many very intelligent, socially adept individuals who were homeschooled.
That said, ensuring that children receive a primary education is not optional. Education is a right for all children, and in the US, primary education is compulsory. Homeschooling is of course a viable and valid option for a child’s education. As long as children are receiving an education.
With those quick thoughts, I recommend Barely Literate? How Christian Fundamentalist Homeschooling Hurts Kids, by Kristen Rawls at Alternet. I’m less interested in the Christian Fundamendalist part than I am in the difficulty of evaluating and understanding homeschooling. The piece is mostly anecdotal, and according to the author, that’s because there’s really no other way to discuss homeschooling.
Given the scarcity of numbers on this issue, the best one can hope for at this point is anecdotal information about the problem. But because homeschooling is such a highly politicized issue, it is often difficult to get a clear sense of what is happening from homeschooling parents themselves. And because many parents see themselves as advocates of homeschooling, they are not always very eager to discuss potential gaps in homeschooling education.
If you home school your children, you obviously believe in the practice, and are unlikely to admit if you are failing. So how can we know how well parents are doing? This problem has nothing to do with Christian fundamentalism. But it is the real problem presented here, in my opinion.
Of course, there are problems to be mentioned in the Christian Fundamentalist homeschooling movement. As one former homeschooling parent described it, “We were convinced that it would be better for our kids not to have an education than to be educated to become humanists or atheists and to reject God.” That’s hard to hear. Not because I want every to become humanists and atheists, but because parents don’t have a right to sacrifice their child’s education on behalf of religion.
And stories like this are deeply troubling. But hopefully the minority:
Their parents never taught the three other children about sex, and Diegel Martin remembers giving her 21-year-old sister “the talk” the week before she got married. She also had to intervene to ensure that her younger brothers learned about sex.
As for herself, when she completed her schooling, she says her parents did not allow her to obtain her GED as proof of high school graduation. Their reason? “The girls weren’t allowed to get a GED because we were told we wouldn’t need it. It would open up opportunities that were forbidden to us. We would work in the family business until we got married, and then become homemakers.”
Here’s a cautionary tale about the perils of education in the United States. Rick Santorum, presidential candidate and maker-up of history has been claiming that Presidents of the US home-schooled their kids in the White House for the first 150 years of our nation’s history. He continues that the federal government runs public education, and recommends that we use a 19th century education model for today’s youth.
Well, that may sound like a series of great arguments for home-schooling, but it just ain’t so. Especially that bit about federal government controlling public school. It’s a great line to incite worry, but public education is not even close to being controlled by the feds.
Rather, these are the kinds of thing Santorum and others really want to be true, and if they repeat it enough or hear it from the right source, well, that’s just good enough.
This tendency is also called: being uneducated. TRC has nothing against home-schooling. But regardless of where one is educated, there is still a premium to be placed on accuracy, history, and knowledge.
From Salon: Santorum flunks the history of home-schooling.
The fraudulence of almost every single one of these claims makes Santorum himself a cautionary example of the failures of the American education system. (One wishes that as a former U.S senator, Santorum would at least know that state and local boards of education, not the federal government, run public schools.) Santorum makes up facts, misunderstands education in early America, and manages to invoke the legacies of both racists and secularists, neither of which, I assume, he wants to claim as his forebearers. The solution to our education crisis must not be to withdraw public interest and investment from education, leaving people like Santorum to pass on these misunderstandings to another generation.
Found this over at Pharyngula. And it is interesting stuff.
The Fordham Institute has released their State of State Science Standards 2012, which grades every state’s K-12 standards for science education. The introduction highlights four problems areas creating substandard education: an undermining of evolution, a propensity to be vague, poor integration of scientific inquiry, and a lack of numbers, mathematical formulae and equations.
How did your state do?
Minnesota, unfortunately, got a C. I was a little surprised by that. But then I realized, again unfortunately, I probably shouldn’t be. MN got a 5/10, and if that’s a C, I assume this is graded on a pretty curvaceous curve.
Why did we get a C? Here’s the MN Overview:
The Minnesota science standards are like the frustrating student who does excellent work two days a week but shoddy work on the other three. When the standards are “on,” they are cogent and challenging. But too often they are marred by vague, incorrect, or grade-inappropriate material, or are missing key content entirely.
Other noteworthy inclusions on subjects of TRC’s interest on Minnesota science standards:
- Though a minor issue, the standards are occasionally marred by an inappropriate focus on local beliefs
- The high school physics standards are marred by illogical organization
- The physical science standards are barely passable
- The Minnesota earth and space science standards are reasonably comprehensive, covering the water cycle, mineral properties, fossils, and natural resources. The basic structure of the solar system is also well covered.
How long, as a nation, are we going to fight battles over whether non-science can be taught in the science classroom? It’s tiresome. If you don’t want to “believe” science, that’s your decision and no one can take your right away to not “believe” in science. Fine.
But you still can’t decide what is science, how science works, and what it finds. The scientific process is how science operates, and what it finds is what should be taught in the classroom. Anything else is religiously or politically motivated and should not be allowed to impact education. This has long been fought over regarding evolution, and evolution continually wins out over creation/ID in the science classroom. Because one is science and one is not.
Unfortunately, this is no longer just a conversation about evolution.
Although scientific evidence increasingly shows that fossil fuel consumption has caused the climate to change rapidly, the issue has grown so politicized that skepticism of the broad scientific consensus has seeped into classrooms.
Texas and Louisiana have introduced education standards that require educators to teach climate change denial as a valid scientific position. South Dakota and Utah passed resolutions denying climate change. Tennessee and Oklahoma also have introduced legislation to give climate change skeptics a place in the classroom.
Mandating science teachers to teach opposition shows how far the denial industry can reach in this country. There’s no other reason that states would require teaching climate change DENIAL. Teaching denial to accepted scientific findings as a valid scientific stance makes a mockery of science education, decades of scientific research, the peer-review process, and reality. Denialism has no business in the classroom. Teachers do not teach denial of creationism. They teach evolution as the strongest scientific understanding of biology.
Meanwhile, in a whopping demonstration of misunderstanding how science operates, legislatures (in areas that will be least affected by climate change, by the way) are passing resolutions denying climate change. Because that is how you respond to science. Science finds something we dislike, so our state government will deny it even exists. Screw you, peer-review! Screw you professional experts!
A true triumph for intellectual honesty.
There is room for debate in science, in the public square, and in the halls of government. But when it comes to education, there is no room for putting our heads in the sand and ignoring the fundamental understanding of science to the detriment of our future.
One of the difficult aspects of being a consumer of science is finding sound science in journalism. Being able to parse through the internet to find scientific sources of value is not an easy task. Most of the space on the inter-webs seems to give little (or no) concern to accuracy.
But this is not going unnoticed. It seems lately there is increasing coverage of this issue of how to communicate science effectively to the non-scientce community (like me) and where to find accurate reporting of science. Ethan, for example, who writes the excellent Starts With a Bang, is starting a project on just this topic. If this conversation occurs more openly in the scientific community, perhaps it will help avoid further climate-gate scandals, for example. The general public hears media reports and sees mental images of scientists interacting, but it doesn’t mean anything if the there is no effort made to communicate effectively to the general public. And that task, nobly as it has been endeavored upon, constantly needs to be re-envisioned.
The differences in how scientists communicate with one another and how science is communicated to the public are severe. And they are nicely encapsulated by the science journalist Bill Latanzi. In general, story informs people. But in science, results communicate. That is a very big difference.
Scientists want their work represented as science–but journalists’ jobs are to communicate with the public, and the main tool they have at their disposal is the story.
Science, on the other hand, is less concerned with narrative than results. Scientists speak to other scientists through their work. Reputations are based on careful accumulation of facts, and a professional reluctance to speculate. This communicates within the community well–but not so well to the world at large…
Stories need beginnings, middles, and endings. They need tension and drama and resolution. All of which are anathema to any particular bit of science. Science only proceeds as a story in the big historical sweep of things. Individual scientists are like ants (or Borgs): The collective is all.
So how can we bridge this divide? As one of my Nova mentors told once told me, “Promise ‘em Bigfoot and give ‘em science.” It’s not a bad formula. Our job is to build a bridge to our viewers: folks who are smart, curious, but not necessarily educated in the same way we are. They come to us for the story, but we’ve got to meet them where they live. So if we get them into the carnival tent with a promise of a “mega-disaster,” once they’re there, in between the flying pieces of metal, we may be able to persuade them that, say, climate change is real, and there are still some things we can do about it. And wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Of course, actually teaching science through story is not as easy as saying ‘this is is a good way to effectively teach science.’ But Nova sets the bar, in my mind. And has been the bar for years. The endeavor that Nova has been undertaking is worthy and critically important, and needs desperately to be emulated on the internet. This is happening, and has been, and will continue with the purpose of teaching folks how science operates. Because without understanding how it operates, results will never matter.
Student debt can be a crushing burden. Decisions one makes as a youth can potentially weigh down an entire life. Often, students are told by parents, teachers, and university professors to pursue what they love, that passion is more important than money. And in the walls of a university, this is an appealing argument. Outside school, too, this should be the driving force of one’s life.
If you were a college student in the past 10 years or so, and are middle-class or lower, you probably took out student loans to pay for that degree. And if one loves books, or art history, or 13th century religious iconography, following that advice with passion will cause problems when you have to pay off those student loans. When you graduate, excited about the world and its opportunities, do something big and interesting. Because after that, you might find that the world doesn’t want to pay you, or at least not very much, to pursue your passion.
This is our own fault. Believe it or not TRC does believe strongly in personal responsibility. If you took out a 100K in student loans, you are responsible to the institution which borrowed you that money. It must be paid back, even if, at 25 years old, you realize that you made a terrible decision at 17, and will pay for it for the remainder of your adult life. Alas. These are the rules, which, even when soul-crushing, are still the rules.
The US is in an a difficult place regarding student debt, and it could have serious consequences. The nation now carries more student loan debt than it does credit card debt. The costs of tuition have been rising at staggering rates, and show no signs of tapering off, and in the meantime wages for graduates are decreasing. Student debt, it is being said, could drag this economic recession on and on, and leave a generation of college students unemployable. By year’s end, a projected $1 trillion in student loans will be outstanding in the United States. A trillion dollars. How is repayment going?
Barely more than a third of loan holders are actively paying down their debts, indicating that the burden may be too much for many. What effect will the ballooning student debt load have on the economy in the long term? According to Alan Nasser, professor emeritus of political economy at Evergreen State University, the American dream is about to become the American nightmare.
That doesn’t sound good. Too many people are having too hard a time surviving and one cause of the difficulty is simply that middle-class kids did what they were told middle-class kids do: go to college. College is a benefit, and it should be encouraged. The college years are the best years of one’s life (they really were), and the intellectual pursuit is among the greatest endeavors of human existence (truly). It is not culture or society’s fault that millions of young, highly educated people are unable to get a job. But culture is not guilt free, either. There is plenty of responsibility for this $1 trillion dollars. The question should be, what are we going to do about it so it does not erase a generation?
Who knows. Are there any viable solutions? At Occupy Wall Street there is a growing cry for student debt relief. There is an argument to be made for debt forgiveness: if we forgive the crushing debt burden, individuals will have money to spend on goods and services rather than sending their money (or not sending money, as the case may be) to pay off interest on student debt. Mrs. TRC and I have discussed this. We are doing well in comparison, working and able to meet our payments. But if we didn’t have to make the monthly student loan payment we would immediately: buy a car, buy a computer, re-do our kitchen floor. Would it help if we opened up what little capital is available to Americans and allowed them to direct that money towards economic recovery? It seems reasonable, but I’m not economist.
Either way, that’s not likely. And no one should be surprised that our government does not forgive a trillion dollars in debt to its own citizens. It’s not our style, and it may not be the best solution anyway. A strong argument against simple debt-relief is that it is unfair to people to worked tooth-and-nail to pay their education off and did not accrue debt. This person, the argument goes, did not need a private school education, and found a way to pay for it without loans. That is true, and that individual deserves the praise of our society; that person is a role-model. I think there are too few of those individuals; I wish I had been one.
Another plan is out today from President Obama to help ease the burden of student loans. The President’s plan “allows borrowers to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their income, a significant reduction from the 15 percent cap in current law. And the plan would allow for loan forgiveness on a remaining balance after 20 years of payments.” Pay 10% of your income for 20 years, and the rest is forgiven. That seems generous. Whether it will work or be welcomed remains to be seen.
There is also a third option that TRC has thought of lately, and it’s terrifying, but no less realistic. It is said that if you do not find a job within five years of graduation, the odds of ever working into the competitive position you could have decrease significantly (I heard this on MPR, and am looking for the source). That is going to be a lot of students in the wake of this recession. And it will not be just liberal arts majors who want to be curators or book-store owners, but law students and scientists, and individuals from every field with graduate degrees, and thus more loans, because why look for a job when there are none? Better to keep learning and acquiring degrees to be more competitive when jobs come back. One may disagree with this line of thinking, but it is not uncommon and results in a lot of MAs, MSs, PhDs, JDs, etc.
Millions, probably. And the vision of these over-burdened and underemployed college graduates making coffee around the nation will eventually, finally, demonstrate what people around the country have known for a long time: the university system needs to change. The system cannot be: take out loans to go to school to get a job to pay off the loans you needed to go to school. That is a heartless cycle, and will destroy too many people in its wake.
Or we’ll just stop attending higher-education. The US will continue to run colleges and universities that compete with the best institutions in the world and continue to increase tuition to meet costs, but Americans will not attend those schools, at least not the majority of Americans. And this would be a loss of monumental proportions. Learning what you are passionate about, like your teachers said, is what college is for, and learning how to follow that passion for the rest of your life should take priority over monthly interest payments.
Did you hear about the discovery of a planet made of diamond? If you are interested in science, space, or use the interwebs, or receive media input from any source, I imagine you did. It was a scientific discovery that people of all ilks loved to discuss, pass around, and chat about over the water-cooler (do people still do this?).
In the general population, this is the kind of science we can all get behind. It is fun. Interesting discoveries about the universe are received, processed with minimal critical consideration, and filed away without much controversy. The national coverage allowed a few days of fame for the researches who discovered this planet, and then they went about their lives.
According to one of these scientists, Matthew Bailes, this finding will be the biggest discovery of his career because pretty much the whole world’s media covered it, and covered it positively. But at the end of the day, it’s not really that big a deal. Of course, this brush with fame did not have to go this way. Bailes wrote an article on this celebration of the diamond planet, and wondered how different his life would be if he were a climate scientist. After all, same method used to discover this planet has provided that other, easily rejected and dismissed science of the swindlers: climate change. Here’s Bailes:
Following the publication of our finding in the journal Science, our research received amazing attention from the world’s media.
The diamond planet was featured in Time Magazine, the BBC and China Daily, to name but a few.
I was asked by many journalists about the significance of the discovery. If I were honest, I’d have to concede that, although worthy of publication in Science, in the field of astrophysics it isn’t that significant.
And yet the diamond planet has been hugely successful in igniting public curiosity about the universe in which we live.
In that sense, for myself and my co-authors, I suspect it will be among the greatest discoveries of our careers.
Our host institutions were thrilled with the publicity and most of us enjoyed our 15 minutes of fame. The attention we received was 100% positive, but how different that could have been.
How so? Well, we could have been climate scientists.
Imagine for a minute that, instead of discovering a diamond planet, we’d made a breakthrough in global temperature projections.
Let’s say we studied computer models of the influence of excessive greenhouse gases, verified them through observations, then had them peer-reviewed and published in Science.
Instead of sitting back and basking in the glory, I suspect we’d find a lot of commentators, many with no scientific qualifications, pouring scorn on our findings.
People on the fringe of science would be quoted as opponents of our work, arguing that it was nothing more than a theory yet to be conclusively proven.
There would be doubt cast on the interpretation of our data and conjecture about whether we were “buddies” with the journal referees.
If our opponents dug really deep they might even find that I’d once written a paper on a similar topic that had to be retracted.
Before long our credibility and findings would be under serious question.
But luckily we’re not climate scientists.
The point that Bailes makes often goes unmentioned in popular scientific discourse in the US, where science literacy continues to decline and ignorance about the scientific method is rampant not just in the citizenry but in the media. The scientific method is the scientific method, and is no less valid a method in astronomy than it is in climate science, or any other scientific endeavor.
The labor and attention to detail and process is no more absent in climate science than in other disciplines. The need for testing and repeating hypotheses, recording observations, submitting to peer review is necessary in climate science and astrophysics, and it is a process whose participants make mistakes, and when they do they can be loud jerks, or humbly correct the record. Often they don’t make big mistakes and are quiet and desire not to be in the public eye. When something important comes about that challenges the status quo it is not hidden from view, at least not for long, and will be adopted into the scientific literature. It will be dealt with by future research, and compared to other observations, tested against other hypotheses, and the conclusions that stands up will be the conclusion that stands up.
I have said this before, and I was told that this is too rosy a picture of science. But I don’t think it is. Mostly this accusation accompanies a defense of climate science. Making that accusation against the process goes beyond climate science and attaches to capital S Science.
It is not appropriate to simply accept without question one field of research, such as astronomy or astrophysics simply because the results provide something bizarre or heretofore never envisioned, and reject another field, such as climate science, because politics allows it. If as a community we want to take science with any seriousness, then this selectivity has to be done away with. As Balies concludes:
In all fields of science, papers are challenged and statistics are debated. If there is any basis to these challenges they stand, but if not they fall by the wayside and the field continues to advance.
When big theories fall, it isn’t because of business or political pressures – it’s because of the scientific process.
Sadly, the same media commentators who celebrate diamond planets without question are all too quick to dismiss the latest peer-reviewed evidence that suggests man-made activities are responsible for changes in concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere.
The scientific method is universal. If we selectively ignore it in certain disciplines, we do so at our peril.
Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal. At the time, of course, that meant white men. Then it meant black men. Then it meant women. Men became a malleable word; we could say that all persons are created equal. But now we have new categories of persons.
Namely, Corporations. That corporations were given individual rights of persons is not new. It came about in the early 19th century, and corporate persons have been further broadening his/her (are corporations gendered?) rights since then. The corporate person comes in to great conflict with another category of person to increasingly build rights in the US government over the last 150 years, according to Joel Bakan in today’s NY Times: children.
A clash between these two newly created legal entities — children and corporations — was, perhaps, inevitable. Century-of-the-child reformers sought to resolve conflicts in favor of children. But over the last 30 years there has been a dramatic reversal: corporate interests now prevail. Deregulation, privatization, weak enforcement of existing regulations and legal and political resistance to new regulations have eroded our ability, as a society, to protect children.
Bakan has familiar complaints about the corporate impacts on children, such as the role of advertising to children regarding junk food and media and violence. But he also includes two other movements of the corporate person that threaten childhood: the increasing push for childhood medication and the desire to market more psychotropic drugs towards children; and the increased quantities of toxic chemicals, not just environmentally (though definitely environmentally), but in toys and products marketed to kids. The world of chemicals in the US is highly unregulated, and harmful exposure is a regular, and serious, threat.
Bakan concludes: As Nelson Mandela has said, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” By that measure, our current failure to provide stronger protection of children in the face of corporate-caused harm reveals a sickness in our societal soul. The good news is that we can — and should — work as citizens, through democratic channels and institutions, to bring about change.
I struggle to make sense of corporate person-hood. How we can treat a corporation equally with a person in the courts absolutely boggles my mind. But it is the case, and we have survived such legal standing as a nation for 180 years or so. Corporations being protected by the First Amendment may be stupid, but it is not the harbinger of our nation’s decline.
And yet, children are fatter than ever. More children are medicated at earlier ages than ever. The amount of toxic chemicals in a child’s environment is greater than ever, and such chemicals pose more risk to public health than ever. Are these the result of greater protections of corporate rights? Or are parents to blame? Or declining cultural values? Maybe they’re all to blame. But I doubt they are all equally to blame. It’s possible, and fair, to put pressure on parents to protect their children from too much advertising. And arguing the decline of moral and cultural values as cause for societies problems presumes that everyone has the same idea of what that means, which is simply not the case. Bad parenting is a problem, declining values (I suppose) could be a problem (though this argument makes my stomach wretch), but these things do not account for the increasing risks to children.
In this light, Bakan makes an interesting and important comparison. How can we balance corporate individual rights with the rights of those who cannot protect themselves? Sometimes, corporations come into direct conflict with children, right? If we continue to corporatize our public school education for example, corporations will continue receiving essentially free-access to children. If corporations want to change history or alter science to benefit his/her own image, is that right protected by the First Amendment? Even at the cost of an education based on facts? I would hope not, but how could we say no?