Archive for the Education Category

I failed as a teacher

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , , on June 9, 2010 by airtightnoodle

Yesterday I visited my local evil government house of mail (a.k.a., the post office).  While waiting in line, I overheard a young boy behind me asking his mom, “But I don’t understand how DNA works.  I don’t get it.”  I glanced back and smiled at him and his mom, impressed that a boy that looked so young would know anything about DNA.  His mother explained patiently that she didn’t know and advised him to ask a science teacher. 

Cue the superhero music!  Science teacher to the rescuuuuue! 

I boldly turned around again with my brightest smile, proclaiming, “I’m a science teacher!” 

The boy, not impressed, asked, “Are you a scientist or a science teacher?”  (At this point I’m sure someone with acute vision could see my ego deflate just a bit.)

“I’m a science teacher.  Is that ok?”

“Well, I guess.  My science teacher really loves science.  She has all sorts of weird stuff in her room.  Like, she loves science.”

“Oh, that’s cool.  How old are you?”

“Nine.”

“Go ahead,” said Mom.  “Ask her your question.”

At this point I was prepared to explain that our bodies are made of lots of teeny tiny cells, and inside each one is a chemical called DNA that tells the cell what to do.  Instead, the question I got was much more specific. “Ok, how does the DNA say if you’re a boy or a girl?  I don’t get it!”

Instantly, since I teach high schoolers, images of sperm cells, egg cells, chromosomes, and so on go tumbling through my mind, and all I can think of is sexual reproduction.  My jaw drops a little bit. 

“Um,” I stutter to Mom, “I’m not sure how to explain that to a 9 year old.”

Don McLeroy–no longer head of the SBOE

Posted in Education, Evolution, politics, religion, science, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by airtightnoodle

It’s a sad day in Texas.

No, wait…I’m sure it’s a sad day somewhere, but not in Texas.

On Thursday, the reappointment of Don McLeroy as head of the state board of education was blocked by Democrats of the state senate.  You may recall that McLeroy is one of the creationists on the board and has given science education a difficult time by supporting “strengths and weaknesses” and “academic freedom” movements. 

Now, don’t go crazy rejoicing just yet.  He is still a member of the board. 

It’s not often that I agree with Democrats (I realize that may shock some of you, being that at least on this one issue I do agree with them more often than the more conservative of the political arena), but I think Kirk Watson, a Democrat of Austin, summed it up nicely here:

“People have a right to be confident that the State Board of Education is putting the interests of our children above ideology, politics and everything else, including the so-called good fight.  Whether they agree with McLeroy or not, Texans simply cannot have faith in this board when it is led by a man who has so enthusiastically embraced his role in these endless culture wars.”

As a Christian, there are many things that I have a firm personal opinion on.  However, I don’t always think that those things are of the utmost importance in the political sphere, and I don’t always agree with people forcing such issues simply because they are Christian.

But I digress.  Governor Rick Perry now has the responsibility of naming someone else as chairman of the board.  Since he fully supported McLeroy, it won’t surprise me if he simply nominates another creationist on the board.  Only time will tell.

To read more about this, visit the Houston Chronicle’s article here.

The latest on the Texas science standards

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , on March 26, 2009 by airtightnoodle

For live blogging updates on the current debates over the Texas science standards, visit the blog of the Texas Freedom Network here.

Don McLeroy attempts to spin the issue

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

Today in the Austin American Statesman we have an editorial from none other than the state’s chair of the board of education–Don McLeroy!  Recall that McLeroy is himself anti-evolution, though he has continued to claim for years that he has no intention of promoting the teaching of creationism and/or intelligent design in science classes (though his actions have always said otherwise).

According to McLeroy’s editorial today, the blame for this controversy lies at the feet of the proponents of evolution:

The controversy exists because evolutionists, led by academia’s far-left, along with the secular elite opinion-makers, have decreed that questioning of evolution is not allowed, that it is only an attempt to inject religion or creationism into the classroom. Even Texas’ 20-year-old requirement to teach the scientific strengths and weaknesses of hypotheses and theories has come under attack. Words that were uncontroversial and perfectly acceptable for nearly two decades are now considered “code words” for intelligent design and are deemed unscientific. The elite fear that “unscientific” weaknesses of evolution will be inserted into the textbooks, leaving students without a good science education and unprepared for the future, compelling businesses to shun “illiterate” Texas.

McLeroy makes several misleading statements here.  First, acceptance of the validity of evolution is not restricted to academia’s “far-left”.  Even if that were true, proponents of evolution are not against questioning of the theory, or any theory.  Questioning the world around us is part of the scientific method.  Furthermore, there are plenty of real controversies about the theory of evolution that are currently being questioned and examined by scientists around the globe. 

What educators and scientists ARE concerned about is the attempt to confuse students about the theory.  Anti-evolutionists are trying, as they have been for years, to make it appear as if evolution is a theory in crisis, when it certainly is not.  By making it appear thus, this opens the door for creationists and intelligent design proponents to say, “Look, students.  Here is the alternative.”  Such teachings may be acceptable at home, at church, or in a religion or philosophy class, but these ideas of origins are unscientific.  Being unscientific, they do not belong in a science class. 

Now, others might point out that having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the standards does not mean that teachers will be tossing ideas about creationism around willy-nilly.  True.  However, having the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” in the science TEKS is dangerous regardless.  This phrase itself is unscientific and gives students false ideas about the very nature of science.  McLeroy points out that this phrase has been part of the standards for several years and was uncontroversial until recently.  That’s not really the case.  There have been many people who have wanted that phrase removed for YEARS.  (Recall that several months ago state board of education member Barbara Cargill wrote an editorial in which she stated that the phrase had served Texas students well for years.  When I emailed and asked her to explain this statement, she never replied.)

McLeroy points out that the new standards focus on contructing “testable explanations”–a phrase he says should be satisfactory to both sides of the issue.  He states that, “The debate can now shift from “Is it science?” to “Is it testable?””  Fair enough.  The issue of something being testable is, of course, very important to the scientific method.  McLeroy claims that one of the new controversial science standards is simply following through with this idea of “testability”:

A new curriculum standard asks Texas students to look into this question. It states: “The student is expected to analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.” It should not raise any objections from those who say evolution has no weaknesses; they claim it is unquestionably true.

The question I have for McLeroy and others on the board who support these changes is…why are you singling out evolution?  If you truly feel that the “strengths and weaknesses” of theories need to be addressed, why are you particularly singling out this one theory?  Why aren’t there any standards being drafted to address the strengths and weaknesses of the germ theory of disease, for example?

In his concluding paragraph, McLeroy states:

If we are to train our students, engage their minds and, frankly, be honest with them, why oppose these standards?

McLeroy himself is clearly being dishonest.  By singling out evolutionary theory for “strengths and weaknesses” and attempting to use a Stephen Jay Gould quote to discredit the theory (yes, you’ll have to read the editorial for that tid-bit) he shows that his actions are, in fact, religiously motivated. 

So, to answer McLeroy’s question…why should we oppose such standards?  Here are just a few reasons.

1. These standards give students a false idea that there is a scientific controversy over evolution.  There is not.
2. The phrase “strengths and weaknesses” gives a false idea about the very nature of science. 
3. This approach could potentially lead to costly lawsuits when teachers use the standards to promote alternative theories in class like creationism (or, vice versa, teachers could potentially be accused of not adequately covering the “weaknesses” part of the clause).
4. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our great state. 
5. Potential damage to the educational system, reputation, and economic growth of our COUNTRY (recall that Texas is one of the largest purchasers of textbooks, so what Texas decides largely impacts the rest of the nation).

Texas science standards…making the state look bad

Posted in Education, Evolution with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

In the Dallas Morning news from Tuesday, we have an interesting editorial from Daniel Foster, physician and professor.  Daniel points out that

Six thousand years and 13.7 billion years can not be brought together. What is the child to believe?…The first rule of all ethics is, “Do no harm.” I believe it is harmful, and therefore unethical, to confront our children with two disparate truths considered by anti-evolutionists to be equally true.

I think Daniel hit the nail on the head with this comment.  There is no scientific reason to teach, in a science class, that there is evidence for a 6000-10,000 year old earth.  If a student brings it up in class, should the teacher address it?  Sure.  But to promote such discussion about unscientific ideas about origins as part of the state’s standards is ludicrous. 

These ridiculous standards have the potential to make Texas a laughing-stock in several respects.  Foster states, for example:

If Texas appears to the nation and the world uncommitted to science, we confuse outsiders about whether we mean what we say about improving the quality of the education we offer our youth and about our research aspirations.

Texas’ overall high school graduation rate is among the lowest in the nation. Of Texas high school graduates, only 41 percent are ready for college-level math and only 24 percent are ready for college-level science. Many of our most qualified students now leave the state to go to college, creating a “brain drain.” We claim as a state that we mean to improve, but what message does the proposed action regarding our textbooks convey?

Despite our poor high school graduation rates, Texas actually has several great research universities and top-notch medical centers.  It would be a shame for the reputation of these institutions to be damaged as a result of unscientific standards being included in the TEKS.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

Creationists in Texas attack the Earth and Space Science standards

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2009 by airtightnoodle

As if the foolishness surrounding the biology TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) wasn’t enough, the proposed standards for the Earth and Space Science course are under attack as well. 

Steven Schafersman has reported on this issue at his blog on the Houston Chronicle’s website here.

Victory in Texas for Science? Not quite…

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2009 by airtightnoodle

Earlier this week the Texas state board of education agreed to strike the phrase “strengths and weaknesses” from the current science standards.  This move was cheered and celebrated by many scientists and teachers all over the state. 

However, on Friday, January 23, the state board looked at the issue again and decided that students should have to evaluate a variety of fossil types and assess the arguments against universal common descent.

On one hand, I feel like saying…ok!  Send me some fossils so I can teach that (hey, I’d love to have more fossils for free in my class).  But of course, it wouldn’t work like that if this proposal gets passed. 

This proposal is completely unscientific and is in the same spirit as the “strengths and weaknesses” clause that was struck down.  What is even more amazing to me, personally, is that at least before this creationists/intelligent designer proponents could make the argument that they weren’t singling out evolution–they wanted to teach the strengths and weaknesses of ALL theories (which of course for the most part wasn’t true, but they could still make that argument).  This new proposal is blatantly singling out evolution. 

Not surprisingly, chairman Don McLeroy, a self-proclaimed creationist, also added the following:

Also added to the proposed standards by board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, is an amendment that directs science teachers and students to “describe the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record.”

Board member Barbara Cargill had a lot to say as well.  Recall that I recently contacted Ms. Cargill asking her to explain some of her recent comments in an editorial from a Texas newspaper.  She has never responded.

One board member who pushed for the change said that fossil records create scientific evidence against universal common descent — and students should be allowed to study the possibility.

“There are many, many gaps that don’t link species changing and evolving into another species, so we want our students to get all of the science, and we want them to have great, open discussions and learning to respect each other’s opinions,” said Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, a former science teacher.

She scoffed at claims that social conservatives on the 15-member board were just trying to find another way to expose students to creationism — the belief that life, Earth and the universe were created by a supreme being.

“This isn’t about religion. I don’t know how many times we have to say it before people accept it,” she said. “It’s about science. We want to stick to the science.”

As usual, Ms. Cargill seems to assume that teachers who WANT  to teach evolution properly are trying to censor their students’ thoughts and opinions.  Of course a good teacher wants students to be able to ask questions and respect others’ opinions.  However, this move is certainly about religion.  It’s not about science, because what these board members are proposing to teach students isn’t backed by the scientific community.

There is still hope, however.  The board will not take a final vote on these newly proposed science standards until March. 

You can read more about the issue here.

Take action to support science in Texas!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2009 by airtightnoodle

From the Texas Freedom Network:

This Wednesday the State Board of Education will hear public testimony on proposed science curriculum standards. The new draft standards reject efforts by creationists to undermine instruction on evolution. They also make it clear that supernatural explanations like creationism/”intelligent design” have no place in public school science classes. But creationists who control the state board are insisting that the standards require students to learn phony “weaknesses” of evolution. They want to force publishers to include those bogus arguments in new biology textbooks.

Take Action!

Help us turn back efforts to sabotage the education of Texas schoolchildren by standing up for science this week!SUFS

  • Click here to sign up to testify before the State Board of Education IN SUPPORT OF THE DRAFT STANDARDS at the public hearing on Wednesday. The board will hear only four hours of testimony. But even if you don’t get a chance to speak, adding your name in support of the draft standards is very important. Also, supporters of the draft standards will WEAR GREEN at the hearing to show their support for a sound science education.
  • Tell your state board member that you SUPPORT the draft science standards and OPPOSE efforts to water down the curriculum by opening the door to phony attacks against evolution. Click here to find the name and contact information for your State Board of Education member. Once you have the name of your board member, you can also click here to send an e-mail to him or her in care of the Texas Education Agency.
  • Donate to the Texas Freedom Networks’ Stand Up for Science campaign. Your contribution will help ensure that the next generation of Texas schoolchildren gets a 21st-century science education that helps them succeed in college and the jobs of the future.

 

Let them learn science!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , on January 19, 2009 by airtightnoodle

This is the cry of a new website entitled “Teach Them Science“.  The site does a nice job of explaining exactly why Texas’ science curriculum is important and how it impacts the entire country.  Visit the site to learn how Texas decides what teachers teach and to see how you can get involved.

Airtightnoodle–conspiracy theorist extraordinaire!

Posted in Education, Evolution, Texas with tags , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2008 by airtightnoodle

Recently I’ve been accused of being a conspiracy theorist and a member of some sort of special interest group.  I’m not really sure what group that would be, but nevertheless, Michael from “New Discoveries and Comments About Creationism” affirms it.  I hope Michael can let me know what group that is, because I probably owe them some membership dues…

Basically, Michael seems to feel that I am picking on Don McLeroy, chair of the Texas state board of education, for no good reason.  So…to find out why I am concerned over the state board…read on!

The first part of Michael’s post (linked to above)  relates to Eugenie Scott, Glenn Branch, the NCSE, and Bobby Jindal.  Of Eugenie Scott, Michael states:

Eugenie Scott is the same woman who appeared in a movie where she advocates ruining careers if anyone dares to question Darwinism. She makes up stories, trying to demonize creationists and intelligent design proponents.

Now, I’m going to be honest.  I don’t know much about Eugenie Scott.  I don’t even regularly track what the NCSE is doing (sorry if that disappoints some of you).  I don’t know anything about her appearing in a movie advocating ruining the careers of those that question “Darwinism”.   (By the way, is this a reference to “Expelled”?  I have yet to see it, as I didn’t want to pay money at a theater to view it.)  Somehow, though, Michael seems to feel I am a lot like her, because later in his post he takes a few stabs at me:

Also, there is no evidence whatsoever in it’s 10 year history in Texas and I have even confronted a Texas science teacher over this issue. Granted she takes her teaching seriously, and wants the best for her students. But she is wrong on a number of issues including this one, because she believes in special interests like the NCSE.

First, I do thank Michael for recognizing the fact that I truly do want the best for my students.  However, I’m not a member of the NCSE, I don’t follow the NCSE much as stated above, I strongly disagree with several well-known members of the NCSE on several issues, I’ve never donated to the NCSE, and so on. 

Next Michael stated:

Her response or lack thereof wasn’t surprising concerning because she can’t even find a notion that she believes is a real example of her concerns to even agree or disagree with, but she will write mainly about personal beliefs like the blogger whom I quoted, undermine people’s character who are creationists or ID proponents in such places like the school board and about so-called errors by creationists. To me, she is just as bad as Eugenie Scott!

Apparently Michael was miffed that I didn’t respond to a comment he had made at one of my posts, as linked to in the above paragraph.  Other than that, there isn’t a lot about this paragraph of his that makes much sense to me.  As I told Michael at his own blog, I simply didn’t think there was anything in his post that required a response.  In fact, I even agreed with some of what he said.  I asked Michael at his own blog to please tell me what he wanted me to respond to.  There were a few posts back and forth between Michael and myself, but he clarified what he wanted me to answer, so here are my responses.

Michael stated:

Mr. Mcleroy from your home state of Texas has been a target for special interests including yourself. There has been nothing as far as solid evidence that he had pushed creationism or intelligent design in the public schools.

Though McLeroy has stated on occasion that he will not push for intelligent design to be taught in school, his actions often say otherwise.  For instance, back when McLeroy was first appointed as the chairman of the state board of education, an article from the Dallas News reported the following on McLeroy:

“One of four board members who voted against current high school biology books because of their failure to list weaknesses in the theory of evolution.”

“…in 2003, Dr. McLeroy was one of four board members who voted against proposed high school biology textbooks because he felt their coverage of evolution was “too dogmatic” and did not include possible flaws in Charles Darwin’s theory of how life on Earth evolved from lower forms.”

McLeroy has stated that he won’t push for creationism or intelligent design to be taught in schools, yet he told his home church congregation in College Station to “keep chipping away at the objective empirical evidence”.  He also seemed to encourage young people to “take on” evolutionists by stating the following: “But it’s the young people, talented young people, that be able to rise to the intellectual level it takes to take on the future talented naturalists that will be on the scene.”

Again, though he has said often that he doesn’t want intelligent design or creationism as part of the standards, the Texas Insider reported the following:

Mr. McLeroy and others say they’ll push for books to include a more thorough examination of weaknesses in the theory of evolution.

McLeroy believes there are weaknesses because he doesn’t “believe” in evolution.  He is a self-proclaimed creationist.  He can continue making the claim that this debate is about teaching “good science”, but the truth is that he is religiously motivated to have the “strengths and weaknesses” wording as part of the Texas science standards.  One only needs to look into what he has preached at his own home church and check out his own personal website to see that this is the case.

Furthermore, it is not surprising that McLeroy continues to state that he does not support teaching creationism or intelligent design.  He is following the wedge strategy and has basically even stated so (again, from the address to his church in College Station):

So what do we do about our Bible in the intelligent design movement? According to Johnson [reference to Phillip Johnson, author of "Darwin on Trial"], the first thing to do is to get the Bible out of the discussion.

Michael asked:

“Why are you concerned about the survey anyway? What has he done on the job to prompt you to track what he believes in?”

McLeroy, along with other board members, have pushed for textbooks to be adopted that are critical of evolutionary theory.  That’s a red flag that deserves “tracking”, to use Michael’s own wording.  Regardless of whether there were any evidence of McLeroy wanting creationism taught in schools, his personal beliefs DO matter.  The personal beliefs of ANY person involved in politics matter.  Isn’t this largely what we base our votes on for any position?  (By personal beliefs, I am referring to the ones that are related in some way to his job.  It’s not as if I’m interested in his personal beliefs about taking milk or honey in his tea.)  McLeroy’s beliefs do matter because they have the potential to affect how he does his job, and thus the education of the students of our great state.   

Speaking of which, the duties of the state board include the following:

  • As part of its efforts to provide the best possible education to public school students, the Board designates and mandates instruction in the knowledge and skills that are essential to a well-balanced curriculum. The Board approves and determines passing scores for the state-mandated assessment program.

And, some of the duties of the chair of the state board (for those that are curious) are as follows:

  • The chair shall preside at all meetings and perform all other duties prescribed by law, by board rule, or by board direction.
  • The Committee of the Full Board shall be composed of all members of the board, and the chair of the board shall be the chair of the Committee of the Full Board.
  • Ad hoc committees. Ad hoc committees (i.e., task forces) shall be constituted from time to time as directed by the board or by the chair to perform such duties as the board or chair may assign. The personnel and length of service of ad hoc committees shall be designated by the chair unless otherwise directed by the board. No action taken by any ad hoc committee shall be final or binding upon the board unless otherwise directed by the board.
  • Special meetings of the board may be held at times and places as ordered by the chair during a regular meeting, or special meetings may be called by the chair of the board to be held at a time and place the chair shall designate.

Michael then stated:

“Isn’t it true that what you are engaging in which I think is trivial, is all about your concern over how evolution will be taught?”

Yes, of course I’m concerned over how evolution will be taught.  I’m a science teacher.  Why should this come as a surprise?

“The 1990s was suppose to be a break through decade. Genomes from diverse organisms would be collected, sequenced and compared. Through this research up until now, this data was suppose to reveal answers to a lot of questions concerning the Phylogenetic tree. It hasn’t.”

It has, but in true scientific fashion, it has also opened the door to new questions and new roads of discovery.  That’s not a flaw of the scientific method; that’s one of the things that makes it great.

“But when teaching stuff like this, you make sound like there is so much evidence. You certainly wouldn’t teach it as a weakness in evolution, now would you?”

I’m assuming by “it” Michael is referring to genomic research, which he spoke of just prior to this question.  No, I probably would not teach it as a weakness.  I probably wouldn’t teach it as a strength.  I would just teach it (because technically, there are no such things as weaknesses in scientific theories).  Regarding strengths and weaknesses, Michael (and others) might be interested in reading my post directed to Barbara Cargill asking how one is supposed to cover “strengths and weaknesses” of theories.

“One can get an idea of what you believe in considering you have public writings on the internet and the writings of others. I thank you for your reply.”

Yes, indeed, one can learn a lot about someone through their writing.  Yet Michael’s arrogant assumption that he knows what I believe is amusing to me.  What I find hysterical, honestly, is that other than evolution, I probably have much in common with many of the people I debate over intelligent design/creationism/evolution.  My beliefs and opinions don’t categorize me very neatly into any one “box”…hmm, or maybe I’m just one very confused individual.  ;)

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