Friday, March 24, 2006

"...a firm grounding in math and science"

In President Bush's recent State of the Union address, Bush insisted that American students need "a firm grounding in math and science" or the nation will lose its competitive "edge." Well, consider that "edge" officially dull. This is from an investigative article in the Arkansas Times:
...“Bob” is a geologist and a teacher at a science education institution that serves several Arkansas public school districts.

Timeout. Okay, remember, this is at the science institution, not just a random podunk school in 'Footloose'-town run by a crazy board or superintendant.
[...] Teachers at his facility are forbidden to use the “e-word” (evolution) with the kids. They are permitted to use the word “adaptation” but only to refer to a current characteristic of an organism, not as a product of evolutionary change via natural selection. They cannot even use the term “natural selection.” Bob feared that not being able to use evolutionary terms and ideas to answer his students’ questions would lead to reinforcement of their misconceptions.

Okay. That's bad enough. No "evolution." It gets better/worse...
But Bob’s personal issue was more specific, and the prohibition more insidious. In his words, “I am instructed NOT to use hard numbers when telling kids how old rocks are. I am supposed to say that these rocks are VERY VERY OLD ... but I am NOT to say that these rocks are thought to be about 300 million years old.”

If the Geology teacher at the regional Science Center is supposed to "pretend" or "wink" that the Earth might only be 6,000 years old (or whatever the bullshit story in the Bible is) then there is no point in bringing students over there. They can go out in the backyard, fondle some rocks, and guess for themselves that those rocks are "very old."

Older, at least, than the rocks being formed in their heads by the State of Arkansas.

A couple weeks ago, I took my daughter to the local science center run by the City of Ann Arbor. It was an event all about reptiles and we went on little hike, carefully rolling over logs looking for salamanders (we found one), and then a discussion and handling some animals back in the classroom. There was a moment when our guide/instructor (likely a U-M grad student) was showing the kid's a particular snake, and refered to it's two vestigal "legs." For a brief moment, I could sense her hesitation, almost as if taking a deep breath or making a mental scan of the room, before she introduced the word "evolution."

I'm telling you, I don't believe it was my imagination. She actually paused for a moment. This is at a science center Ann Arbor, Michigan—home of a leading research University—not a one-classroom parochial school in Backwater, Arkansas. If this is any indication where the nation's educational discourse is headed, we are fucking screwed.

Later in the article it refers to the self-censorship going on at this Arkansas science center and similar local institutions:
Their program depends upon public support and continued patronage of the region’s school districts, which they felt could be threatened by any political blowback from an unwanted evolution controversy.

With regard to Bob’s geologic time scale issue, the program director likened it to a game of Russian roulette. He admitted that probably very few students would have a real problem with a discussion about time on the order of millions of years, but that it might only take one child’s parents to cause major problems. He spun a scenario of a student’s returning home with stories beginning with “Millions of years ago …” that could set a fundamentalist parent on a veritable witch hunt, first gathering support of like-minded parents and then showing up at school board meetings until the district pulled out of the science program to avoid conflict. He added that this might cause a ripple effect, other districts following suit, leading to the demise of the program.


[at] a privately run science museum for kids [...] I looked around the museum and found a few biological exhibits, but nothing dealing with evolution. I introduced myself to one of the museum’s employees as a science educator (I am indeed a science educator) and asked her if they had any exhibits on evolution. She said that they used to, but several parents — some of whom home-schooled their children, some of whom are associated with Christian schools — had been offended by the exhibit and complained. They had said either that they would not be back until it was removed or that they would not be using that part of the museum if they returned. “It was right over there,” she said, pointing to an area that was being used at that time for a kind of holiday display.

Go read the whole article, there's much more, including public school A.P. biology classes balancing evolution with creationism.

I really am starting to get worried that this mentality is spreading throughout the country. It's bad enough that it's all over Kansas or wherever, but it's working it way in everywhere. Right now the vocal minority is affecting the curriculum for the rest of the country, and people are unwilling to tell the people to shut the fuck up. The scariest part, to me, is that I'm not sure how long they will be the minority. The population shift in this country is all to the South, and the religious-types are far out-producing liberals in terms of offspring. There may very well (soon) be a time when these maniacs will be able to democratically instill these values even more easily by simply outnumbering the rest of us.

I gotta go have some more kids...

[via Carpetbagger]


Smitty said...

All this worry about what might be one parent making trouble. ONE PARENT. Are we really so nervous about what is essentially only a very vocal minority (and a small minority at that) that we are willing to ignore what is true right before our eyes? We are going to scare ourselves out of existance at this rate. To deny dinosaurs? To deny what we can measure as the age of our Earth?

Bright said...

You address an important issue
and I agree with your point of
view and share your concerns.
But eliminate the gratuitous
use of the f word. If you're
trying to sell an idea, make
it marketable to the widest
possible audience. Your use
of a word that is unaccept-
able by the standards of
most people adds nothing to
the discourse. Why do it?
Why limit yourself?

Mr Furious said...


Thanks for coming by, and thanks sharing your opinion. I actually appreciate the constructive criticism. The funny thing is that was actually a reletively calm post considering how agitated the topic gets me. 500 words and only two were R-rated? That's pretty good for me.

The language here is not a "shtick" for me, these posts are generally pure stream of consciousness, genuine emotion and reflect exactly and precisely how I feel. They are not written for the widest audience, per se. I welcome anyone who comes here, and you are welcome to pull anything here and post it elsewhere (with attribution and a link) with those words "bleeped" it you want to direct it to someone in particular who might be sensitive.

I hope it doesn't keep you away, but I won't self-censor my emotions and language at this point unless it becomes apparent that I really am writing to a wider audience. Since my regular readers number in the single digits (as far as I know) and they don't seem to mind, I'm okay with it. If ever I feel like it is hampering my appeal beyond that, I will consider you suggestion.

I often export my opinions elsewhere in comment threads, and then I make a judgement based on the particular site how "colorful" I keep it.

What it boils down to is this; that language is not gratuitous to me. That is exactly what I would SAY if I was sitting around talking about this with a group of friends. Not to my grandmother, but she's not reading this either.

Otto Man said...

"Arkansas: Building a Bridge to the 12th Century"

A generation from now, we're going to look back on the segregationist mobs outside Little Rock High School and think of them as the enlightened ones. Sure, they hated the nine black students, but at least they could count them.

S.W. Anderson said...

"Are we really so nervous about what is essentially only a very vocal minority (and a small minority at that) that we are willing to ignore what is true right before our eyes?"

Check out what portion of the Russian population the Bolsheviks were at the time of the Russian Revolution.

Check out what portion of the German population the brown shirts were in 1931.

Then, get very nervous.

S.W. Anderson said...

Who let the dogmas out? Who? Who?

I hope that at some point responsible people in Arkansas and similar places will assert themselves. This nonsense is letting kids down, making them less able to function and compete with those not educated with blinders on.