Maybe homeschoolers have ulterior motives (sometimes)

September 24, 2006

Scripps News carried an op-ed type of feature from a Texas English professor named John Crisp, that questions whether public education is as bad as some crack it up to be, and whether homeschooling is the noble answer to the over-stated problem that homeschooling is cracked up to be. The entire piece is worth reading, but his closing paragraphs deserve emphasis:

Abandonment rather than improvement of our public schools would be an unfortunate choice. I’m attracted to the ideas of the late Neil Postman, who argues in his book “The End of Education” that to the extent that our nation enjoys a common shared culture, that culture has been developed and is passed on from generation to generation at least partly by means of the shared knowledge and ideas that we acquire during our common experience in the public schools.

In other words, because our public schools are a place where we develop a set of common stories, myths and experiences _ George Washington crossing the Delaware, Betsy Ross sewing the first flag, even the fear of being sent to the principal _ they encourage a sense of a shared heritage that helps pull our country together.

Homeschooling and vouchers for private schools _ places that allow the teaching of the things that Roger Moran believes _ tend to pull us apart. All in all, our public-school system has served us well; it would be better to repair its faults than to abandon it.

Asimov’s tribute to the national anthem

September 23, 2006

The scientist, science and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov at one time held the title for the most published human being ever. There were few topics he didn’t have a learned opinion on, and there were many areas of ignorance where a well-trained scientist with a drive to get at the facts could shed a lot of light. His path lighting was not always appreciated. He wrote a guide to the Bible that has earned disdain from many a Christian conservative, thought I suspect that their disdain is really a disguise for the fear that a secular Jew could know the text so well and challenge so many unwarranted, but common, assumptions.

To the surprise of some, Asimov was quite a patriot. His short piece on the four stanzas of the “Star-spangled Banner” demonstrate his patriotism and his love of history, while offering a bit of humor to make it all stick in your mind. I post a complete copy below the fold.

I have not yet found the original publication source for Asimov’s piece; if you know it, or find it, please let me know. I suspect there is copyright attribution to be made, too. I borrowed the text from an on-line source called The Purewater Gazette. Read the rest of this entry »

Carnival of Education #85

September 23, 2006

Obviously we’re all gearing up for the State Fair Edition.  Carnival of Education 85 is up over at Median Sib, and the quality and applicability of the posts just gets better and better.

The quality is very high, really.  I’ve checked out more than a dozen links.  No bad ones.  It’s safer than a spinach salad, that’s for sure.

Economics of globalization — will it work?

September 22, 2006

Economics sits on the back burner in the Bathtub these days.

Something interesting brews in international economics. South America had been a place of triumph for the Chicago school, with great success in turning a right-wing dictatorship into a free market system in Chile, for example, and free market inroads in Venezuela. But what happened in the past ten years? Elections in Venezuela, Bolivia and Chile did not run as some Chicago school advocates may have hoped.

So, recently I’ve been looking at some of the comments of Joseph Stiglitz, whose views are not always perfectly in accord with the line out of Washington. Stiglitz headed Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors, spent time at the World Bank, and won a Nobel.

Maybe we should listen to him. From the University Channel at Princeton:

Lee C. Bollinger, Tina Rosenberg, Nancy Birdsall, George Soros, and Joseph E. Stiglitz discuss solutions for some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as debt, unfair trade, the “resource curse”, the need to curb harmful emissions and world poverty

Image Streaming video (length: 1:44:43)

- Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University (Host)
– Tina Rosenberg, Editorial Writer, The New York Times (Moderator)
– Nancy Birdsall, President of the Center for Global Development
– George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Institute; Chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC
– Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist; University Professor at Columbia University; Chair of Columbia University’s Committee on Global Thought; Executive Director of Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University; former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton; former Chief Economist of the World Bank

(taped September 18, 2006, at Columbia University)

In particular, high school kids in Texas show skepticism towards the free-market economics pushed in many forums. Especially for kids with family and economic ties in Mexico, Central and South America, there can be serious cognitive dissonance with what they see in the textbook. I have found it very effective to discuss alternative views, and to find high quality sources of information. I’m considering adding Stiglitz to my list, which is a short one at the moment, populated chiefly by the modern Hernando DeSoto.

(I found this via shizaam.)

More apologies

September 21, 2006

I’ve not been posting as much as events would demand lately.  My apologies.  I am still working to catch up on setting up courses, struggling with changes in classroom technology (it went away!), and it will be at least two more weeks before I begin to see daylight.  Thank you, Dear Reader, for sticking around.

How to fold state flags

September 20, 2006

As a lifelong Boy Scout and Scouter, I have lived with flag etiquette so long as I can remember. One of the key parts of flag etiquette with the U.S. flag is the proper folding, done to allow the flag to unfurl neatly when hoisted on a lanyard. (I have earlier discussed the meaning of folding the flag, or rather, the lack of meaning, here, here, and here.)

Several people wrote to ask about etiquette for folding state flags. Whenever I’ve been involved in ceremonies involving state flags, we have used the same fold prescribed for the U.S. flag, for the same reason — it allows the flags to neatly unfurl when they are posted. I have found several sites that urge a different fold for state flags, to preserve some uniqueness of the U.S. flag folding, but of course, that rather avoids the fact that the method used for the U.S. flag is just old ship tradition.

It seemed likely to me that some state had a special fold, however — and sure enough, I’ve found one. Ohio’s flag is not a rectangle, but is instead a tapered banner with two tails. In 2005, as an Eagle Scout project, Ohio Scout Alex Weinstock from Ohio’s Junction City Troop 260 devised a folding method for Ohio’s flag that ends with with 17 folds — appropriate to Ohio’s being the 17th state admitted to the union.

The fold is not easy — flag professionals call it “tricky.” (See a diagram here, from the Muskingumm Valley Council, BSA, in .pdf.)

Ohio’s flag is the only one of the state flags that is not a rectangle. So far as I have found, it is the only one with any suggested method of folding that differs from the method used for the U.S. flag — but my searches may have missed an odd law here or there.

If you know of other special folding methods, please leave a note in comments, or e-mail me.

Teaching writing and persuasion

September 19, 2006

I’m biased. I debated in high school, and spent four years debating at the University of Utah under Jack Rhodes, and then I coached debate for a year under Tim Browning at the University of Arizona. That training got me through journalism school, into law school and through it, and did me yeoman service in politics. The ability to survive and thrive in the heat of public policy discussion is . . . fun.

Over at The Reflective Teacher, we get a great argument for using debate to teach 8th grade English, especially the persuasive writing paper and the research paper. Looks good to me.

Progress in public schools: Boston schools win Broad prize

September 19, 2006

No, I’d not heard of the prize, either. But we should spread the good news.

Via the Sacramento Bee (subscription required), I see an Associated Press report that Boston’s public school system won $500,000, or half of the Broad Prize for Public Education. (Here’s a link to the same story in the San Jose Mercury-News which did not require a subscription.)

This year, 100 districts were eligible. The other four finalists were Bridgeport Public Schools in Connecticut, Jersey City School District in New Jersey, Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the New York City Department of Education. They will all receive $125,000.

Boston has been a finalist for five straight years. It won this year’s top honor by posting impressive gains among poor and minority kids when compared with other Massachusetts districts.

“Boston has consistently shown that stable leadership in the school district and the city, as well as data-driven teaching, leads to strong student performance,” said Eli Broad, the philanthropist who created the Broad Foundation in 1999, with his wife, Edythe.

More information is available on this year’s prize winners and those of the previous four years at the Broad Foundation’s website (it’s pronounced “brode,” by the way).

The Broad Prize was started in 2002. The inaugural winner was Houston Independent School District, followed by Long Beach Unified School District in 2003, Garden Grove Unified School District in 2004, and Norfolk Public Schools last year.

There is also a link from the Broad Foundation to the Stand-Up Coalition, a group dedicated to improving public schools and reducing drop outs. The Coalition has an impressive provenance; go see.

Omaha segregation plan put on hold by federal courts

September 19, 2006

Via Rational Review, I see that the plan to resegregate Omaha’s schools has been put on hold, at least temporarily, by the federal courts.

Here’s the MSNBC story on the deal.

Fillmore’s bathtub — metaphor?

September 19, 2006

One of my searches turned up what appears to be a well-informed essay from 1999 by Wendy McLemore, “The Bathtub, Mencken, and War.” According to her curriculum vitae, the article originally appeared in a publication called Ideas on Liberty, “The Bathtub, Mencken, and War,” Vol. 49, No. 9 (September 1999).

While the article is available on the author’s website, I have not found a link from her blog to the article. So let me urge that you make a second foray, and check out her blog, too. A word of warning — while I haven’t found anything at the blog that is not suitable for viewing at work (NSVW), this is the subtitle the blog: “A site for individualist feminism and individualist anarchism.”

McLemore argues that Mencken was not merely fighting deadline, but was writing a close satire of the difficulties he had getting stories published during World War I that did not condemn Germans willy-nilly. She writes that Mencken was a great appreciator of German culture, and did not go along with propaganda that merely demonized Germany and Germans.

She also wrote that it was Andrew Jackson who introduced the bathtub to the White House, in 1834. This contrasts with the White House story I noted earlier, attributing the introduction of the tub to Fillmore’s wife in 1853. (Before my hard-drive crash, I wrote to the White House historian asking for a check of the veracity of that story. I’ve got nothing in response.) What is McLemore’s source for the Andrew Jackson tub?

We continue the search for the Truth about White House bathtubs. Go read McLemore’s essay.

Post script: Go see what Cecil says about Millard Fillmore, at the column archives for Straight Dope.

Revisionism of current history, 9/11/2001

September 17, 2006

There is a “carnival” of economics posts that I rarely link to because I find the topics often far out on the right wing end of the scale, offensively so to me, the Economics and Social Policy Carnival.

In the current issue of the Carnival there is this post from :textbook evaluator, discussing complaints about history texts and their treatment of the attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, and the aftermath. It is a serious, thought-provoking post. It raises deep questions about the purpose of a history text:

What dismays me most about the arguments over “what history should be covered” or “how it should be covered,” is that we never arrive at the thought that kids themselves should “do” history. We don’t trust our teachers or kids enough to give them many sides or perspectives on an issue, and let them try to make sense of it. We don’t teach them historical thinking skills: we instead argue over what “truths” to feed them.

Criticism of texts of such high quality is in short supply — and, considering the process for textbook approval in Texas, we need a lot more, high quality criticism of texts.

I may pay more attention to the Economics and Social Policy Carnival from now on.

Constitution Day, September 18

September 17, 2006

On September 17, 1787, delegates to the Philadelphia convention met at Independence Hall to sign the document they had labored all summer to produce, to send it to the Continental Congress to be sent to the states for ratification. Ultimately 39 of the delegates would sign it.

We celebrate Constitution Day annually on September 17 in honor of this event (September 18 this year, because the 17th is a Sunday).

Texas requires all students to get a dose of Constitution (and Declaration of Independence) in social studies classes, each year — Freedom Week*. For that matter, there is a federal requirement, too (it would be fun to analyze whether such a requirement runs afoul of the law that requires the federal government to stay out of curricula, sometime). Where to find materials?

The Bill of Rights Institute has wonderful stuff — posters, videos, lesson plans. Much of what a teacher needs for Constitution Day is available for free on their website page for Constitution Day. I had the great good fortune to attend a week-long institute put together by this group, at Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Their scholarship is top notch; their materials are well researched, keyed well to the various age groups, and packaged to make their use easy. The Bill of Rights on Demand feature is good for quick lesson plans, too.

Christy Painting of Signing of the Constitution

Here is one of my favorite sources: Prof. Gordon Lloyd of Pepperdine University created an interactive version of Howard Chandler Christy’s famous painting of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. If you can project from your computer, you can show students the history — roll your mouse across the painting, and you get the name of the delegate with a link to get more history on that man.

The National Archives has lesson plans for Constitution Day, to get students to study and understand the Constitution and other contemporary documents directly.

This site, Constitution Day, makes me nervous. Yes, they have Colin Powell leading the nation in the Preamble this year — but they also highlight former Alabama Judge Roy Moore, who has little understanding or respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights, in my opinion. Still, I haven’t found much other stuff that is objectionable, though I have a sneaking suspicion it’s there somewhere (they have car flags for sale, for example — they display of which is a violation of the flag code — but I digress). The authors appear to be well-intentioned, if less informed than I prefer.

Texas’ Region XIII Education Service Center features several lesson plans and other materials, keyed more to Texas but probably suitable for use in other states, too. Read the rest of this entry »

The student who needs more

September 17, 2006

I learned two tricks over the last three years that I wish I could use more often. First, most DVDs have caption tracks. I accidentally turned on the captions for a rather difficult DVD in economics. Before I could turn it off, I realized that several kids whose first language was not English were thoroughly engaged in the presentation, something that was rare for them. They were able to hear words and see them on the screen, making connections they had been unable to make before.

Second — well, really, it’s the same trick — I found that kids I knew to be dyslexic picked up material like sponges from good videos, and the captioning helped them, too. What was really interesting was that I had three students thank me for showing them because, they said, they can’t learn from books. All three were dyslexic, but not known to be by the school district. Videos that tell a good story give them enough to pass the class, and often excel. Adding captions helps.

So when I saw this post at RedKudu, I was pleased to see that other teachers care about kids who have difficulty learning. It’s a great story, without an ending yet. Go see.

Inherently dishonest: Creationism

September 16, 2006

If you’re interested only in history and education, and if you think there is no overlap between the people who try to censor biology textbooks and those who try to “reform” history books, you may go to the next post and skip this one.

Quote accuracy is a big deal to me. When creationists can’t look you square in the eye and tell the truth about what another human being said, they lose my confidence, and their arguments lose credence. I think all scholars and policy discussants have an obligation to readers, policy makers, and the future, to try to get right quotations of famous people. I think this responsbility is particularly important in health and science issues. It was in the vein of checking out the accuracy and veracity of quotes from creationist publications some (okay — many) years ago for a minor issue Congress was dealing with that I discovered the depths of depravity to which creationists stoop to try to make their case that creationism is science and should be taught in public school science classes — or that evolution is evil, and shouldn’t be taught at all. Famous writings of great men like Charles Darwin regularly undergo a savage editor’s knife to make it appear he wrote things quite contrary to what he wrote with regard to science and evolution, or to make it appear that Darwin was a cruel or evil man — of which he was quite the opposite.

With the great benefit of having the Library of Congress across the street, I would occasionally track down obscure sources of “quotes” from scientists, only to discover in almost every case where creationists claimed science was evil, or wrong, that the creationist tracts had grotesquely distorted the text they cited. It was as if the creationist authors had been infected with a virus that made them utterly incapable of telling the truth on certain things.

Over the years I have observed that dedicated creationists tend to lose the ability to tell when they have stepped over the line in editing a quotation, and have instead changed the meaning of a quotation to fit their own ends. This the inherent dishonesty of creationism. It affects — it infects — almost all creationists to one degree or another. Many creationists seem to be under the influence of a virus that renders them incapable of telling a straight story about science, or Darwin.

I ran into a raging case recently. It would be amusing if not for the fact that the creationist seems to be an otherwise rational person.

Read the rest of this entry »

Evangelism vs. scholarship: Bible study in public schools

September 15, 2006

Last year the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) published a revealing study showing that most curricula for Bible study in public schools promote Christian faith more than they study the Bible. The study was done by a witty and amusing professor of religion from Southern Methodist University, Dr. Mark Chancey.

This week they followed up that study with a detailed look at Bible studies courses in Texas public schools, as they are actually presented to students. It’s not pretty.

In their press release, TFN said:

Clergy, Parents Voice Concerns About Public School Bible Classes

New Report Reveals Poor Quality, Bias, Religious Agendas in Texas Courses

September 13, 2006

AUSTIN – Clergy and parents are voicing serious concerns that Bible classes in Texas public schools are of poor quality and promote religious views that discriminate against children from a variety of faith backgrounds.

“The study of the Bible deserves the same respect as the study of Huck Finn, Shakespeare and the Constitution,” said the Rev. Dr. Roger Paynter, pastor of First Baptist Church of Austin. “But in some public schools, Bible courses are being used to promote an agenda rather than to enrich the education of our schoolchildren.”

Dr. Chancey is a solid scholar of the Bible. His criticisms are detailed and often understated, in a business where criticism is generally more hyperbole than substance. Especially if you live in Texas, you should read the report.

In the original study, Chancey noted that some nationally-promoted curricula for Bible studies had plagiarized some of their most important materials, in one case including the entire section on honesty as defined by the Ten Commandments. Dr. Chancey does not write drily — he really does a great job turning words. Both studies are well worth the reading.

First Amendment charlatans are fond of quoting the Supreme Court’s decisions in school-and-religion cases since World War II, in which the Court urges critical studies of scripture, saying such studies are legal and good. Then the charlatans go on to advocate Bible studies that are devotional, confusing a Sunday school class-style of scripture study with the critical literature study the Court actually urged. These reports leave little room for squirming by those advocates.

Last time around, TFN held a meeting here in Dallas featuring Dr. Chancey talking about the report and the reaction to it from the religious right (they were stunned into saying many really stupid things). It was a fun night, and I hope TFN will do it again.

Other coverage of the report:

If you see a particularly good story on the study, will you please send me a link?

Patriots and Christians don’t let children take crappy Bible studies courses:

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