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homeschooling and educational neglect

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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.”

 

Written by Christopher ZF

March 16, 2012 at 12:17

Rick Santorum on education proves Rick Santorum wrong on education

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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.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 25, 2012 at 13:48

Anoka-Hennepin School Board replaces Neutrality Policy with Respectful Learning Environment Policy

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Last week at TRC we posted a link to the Rolling Stone article on the Anoka-Hennepin School District and its neutrality policy that has garnered national attention in the wake a string of tragic student suicides. This issue is very emotional and very contentions in the district, throughout MN and around the country. Check my inbox for evidence.

Yesterday, the School Board for the Anoka-Hennepin School District voted 5-1 to replace the neutrality policy with the ” Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy.”

Whether the new policy will result in an improvement remains to be seen. But it does at least seem to provide a new starting point for teachers and others who work in schools, and will hopefully provide those men and women more confidence as they seek to provide an equally safe environment for all students. Let’s hope the vote is a first step towards resolving this divide, moving towards equality and protecting everyone in the halls of high school, which can be a very difficult environment.

As the outspoken, local  anti-gay activist Barb Anderson told the School Board just yesterday:

You are the gatekeepers…This decision will affect our children and grandchildren and will have a ripple effect for years to come. On this one issue you will be remembered forever for your vote.”

True. Thankfully, they did not listen to Barb Anderson.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 14, 2012 at 10:05

Rolling Stone on Anoka Bullying and the No Homo Promo

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Bullying, specifically bullying of gay and lesbian youth, has become a part of the Minnesota history in the past few years. Among the darkest parts of our recent history. With such tragedy on our home-front, it is not a surprise to see publicity such as this article from Rolling Stone. Whatever you think about anti-bullying laws, special protections for gays and lesbian, education policies regarding homosexuality, there is no way any society can accept seeing its children commit suicide because of fear, self-loathing, or ignorance on the part of his or her peers or protectors. Something has to be done. If you cannot acknowledge the real life of a person, if you cannot discuss the reality of being gay, how can you protect someone who is?

Suicide rates among gay and lesbian kids are frighteningly high, with attempt rates four times that of their straight counterparts; studies show that one-third of all gay youth have attempted suicide at some point (versus 13 percent of hetero kids), and that internalized homophobia contributes to suicide risk.

Against this supercharged backdrop, the Anoka-Hennepin school district finds itself in the spotlight not only for the sheer number of suicides but because it is accused of having contributed to the death toll by cultivating an extreme anti-gay climate. “LGBTQ students don’t feel safe at school,” says Anoka Middle School for the Arts teacher Jefferson Fietek, using the acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning. “They’re made to feel ashamed of who they are. They’re bullied. And there’s no one to stand up for them, because teachers are afraid of being fired.”…

The No Homo Promo eventually became the Neutrality Policy, which led to anything but neutrality. It led rather to ignoring abuse.

In Andover High School, when 10th-grader Sam Pinilla was pushed to the ground by three kids calling him a “faggot,” he saw a teacher nearby who did nothing to stop the assault. At Anoka High School, a 10th-grade girl became so upset at being mocked as a “lesbo” and a “sinner” – in earshot of teachers – that she complained to an associate principal, who counseled her to “lay low”; the girl would later attempt suicide. At Anoka Middle School for the Arts, after Kyle Rooker was urinated upon from above in a boys’ bathroom stall, an associate principal told him, “It was probably water.” Jackson Middle School seventh-grader Dylon Frei was passed notes saying, “Get out of this town, fag”; when a teacher intercepted one such note, she simply threw it away.

“You feel horrible about yourself,” remembers Dylon. “Like, why do these kids hate me so much? And why won’t anybody help me?” The following year, after Dylon was hit in the head with a binder and called “fag,” the associate principal told Dylon that since there was no proof of the incident she could take no action. By contrast, Dylon and others saw how the same teachers who ignored anti-gay insults were quick to reprimand kids who uttered racial slurs. It further reinforced the message resonating throughout the district: Gay kids simply didn’t deserve protection.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 8, 2012 at 14:05

Posted in bullying, education

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grading the states’ science standards.

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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.
There’s a lot in these reports. If you are interested in science education, it is worth a quick look, if for no other reason than to see how well your particular interest is getting treated. These are some tough graders, remember. The only As given were to California and Washington, D.C. And notice that the mountain West is swimming in a sea of failure to educate on science. Alas.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 3, 2012 at 16:01

Teaching Denialism as Science, or putting our heads deeper in the sand.

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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.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 17, 2012 at 11:29

Communicating Science: Using story to report Results

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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.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 19, 2011 at 10:28

Posted in education, Science