Which party encourages education in Texas?

June 28, 2010

You have the tools to compare the party platforms and determine for yourself which part supports education in Texas — I mean, really supports education, as opposed to using Doublespeak to profess support while angling to get a shiv in the back of education.

You can look at the 2010 Texas Republican Party Platform here.  There are brief mentions of education in other sections, but you’ll find education starting on page 12.  Texas Democrats put education up front, on page 2 (unofficial version, but the emphasis won’t change).

Education sections of the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Platform appear immediately previous to this post, in eleven sections.

Which party is more favorable to educating our children well?

2010 Texas Democratic Platform: Education (preface)

June 28, 2010

This post is second in a series on the education planks of the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Platform.

This is an unofficial version published in advance of the final version from the Texas Democrats, but I expect very few changes.


Texas Democrats strongly support our Constitution’s recognition that a free, quality public education is “essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people.” Texas Democrats believe a world class education system is a moral imperative and an economic necessity that requires parents, educators and community leaders to work together to provide our children the skills needed to compete and succeed in a global economy.

Texas Democrats believe all children should be able to attend a safe, secure school and have access to an exemplary educational program that values and encourages critical thinking and creativity, not the “drill and kill” teach-to-the-test policy Republicans have forced on students and teachers. To fulfill this commitment, Texas Democrats continue leading the fight to improve student achievement, lower dropout rates, and attract and retain well-qualified teachers.

Democrats also believe it is essential that all Texans have access to affordable, quality higher education and career education programs, with a renewed emphasis on the importance of a full four year college education, and particular attention to science, technology and engineering.

Sources: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, and Trial

November 28, 2009

More than just as tribute to the victims, more than just a disaster story, the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, and the following events including the trial of the company owners, lay out issues students can see clearly.  I think the event is extremely well documented and adapted for student projects.  In general classroom use, however, the event lays a foundation for student understanding.

A couple of good websites crossed my browser recently, and I hope you know of them.

Cartoon about 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, New York Evening Journal, March 31

1911 cartoon from a New York paper shows the owners dressed in dollar bills, holding shut the door that barred the safe exit of so many women during the fire. Courtesy UMKC Famous Trials site; New York Evening Journal, March 31, 1911

Events around the fire illuminate so much of American history, and of government (which Texas students take in their senior year):

  • Labor issues are obvious to us; the incident provides a dramatic backdrop for the explanation of what unions sought, why workers joined unions, and a sterling example of a company’s clumsy and destructive resistance to resolving the workers’ issues.
  • How many Progressive Era principles were advanced as a result of the aftermath of the fire, and the trial?
  • Effective municipal government, responsive to voters and public opinion, can be discerned in the actions of the City of New York in new fire codes, and action of other governments is clear in the changes to labor laws that resulted.
  • The case provides a dramatic introduction to the workings and, sometimes, misfirings of the justice system.
  • With the writings from the Cornell site, students can climb into the events and put themselves on the site, in the courtroom, and in the minds of the people involved.
  • Newspaper clippings from the period demonstrate the lurid nature of stories, used to sell newspapers — a working example of yellow journalism.
  • Newspapers also provide a glimpse into the workings of the Muckrakers, in the editorial calls for reform.
  • Overall, the stories, the photos, the cartoons, demonstrate the workings of the mass culture mechanisms of the time.

Use the sites in good education, and good health.

David Barton: Mediocre scientists who are Christian, good; great scientists, bad

July 9, 2009

I’m reviewing the reviews of Texas social studies curricula offered by the six people appointed by the Texas State Board of Education.  David Barton, a harsh partisan politician, religious bigot, pseudo-historian and questionable pedagogue, offers up this whopper, about fifth grade standards.:

In Grade 5 (b)(24)(A), there are certainly many more notable scientists than Carl Sagan – such as Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse, etc.

Say what?  “More notable scientists than Carl Sagan . . . ?”  What is this about?

It’s about David Barton’s unholy bias against science, and in particular, good and great scientists like Carl Sagan who professed atheism, or any faith other than David Barton’s anti-science brand of fundamentalism.

David Barton doesn’t want any Texas child to grow up to be a great astronomer like Carl Sagan, if there is any chance that child will also be atheist, like Carl Sagan.  Given a choice between great science from an atheist, or mediocre science from a fundamentalist Christian, Barton chooses mediocrity.

Currently the fifth grade standards for social studies require students to appreciate the contributions of scientists.  Here is the standard Barton complains about:

(24) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the impact of science and technology on life in the United States. The student is expected to:

(A) describe the contributions of famous inventors and scientists such as Neil Armstrong, John J. Audubon, Benjamin Banneker, Clarence Birdseye, George Washington Carver, Thomas Edison, and Carl Sagan;
(B) identify how scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as the transcontinental railroad, the discovery of oil, and the rapid growth of technology industries have advanced the economic development of the United States;
(C) explain how scientific discoveries and technological innovations in the fields of medicine, communication, and transportation have benefited individuals and society in the United States;
(D) analyze environmental changes brought about by scientific discoveries and technological innovations such as air conditioning and fertilizers; and
(E) predict how future scientific discoveries and technological innovations could affect life in the United States.

Why doesn’t Barton like Carl Sagan?  In addition to Sagan’s being a great astronomer, he was a grand populizer of science, especially with his series for PBS, Cosmos.

But offensive to Barton was Sagain’s atheism.  Sagan wasn’t militant about it, but he did honestly answer people who asked that he found no evidence for the efficacy or truth of religion, nor for the existence of supernatural gods.

More than that, Sagan defended evolution theory.  Plus, he was Jewish.

Any one of those items might earn the David Barton Stamp of Snooty-nosed Disapproval, but together, they are about fatal.

Do the scientists Barton suggests in Sagan’s stead measure up? Barton named four:

Wernher von Braun, Matthew Maury, Joseph Henry, Maria Mitchell, David Rittenhouse

In the category of “Sagan Caliber,” only von Braun might stake a claim.  Wernher von Braun, you may recall, was the guy who ran the Nazi’s rocketry program.  After the war, it was considered a coup that the U.S. snagged him to work, first for the Air Force, and then for NASA.  Excuse me for worrying, but I wonder whether Barton likes von Braun for his rocketry, for his accommodation of anti-evolution views, or for his Nazi-supporting roots.  (No, I don’t trust Barton as far as I can hurl the Texas Republican Party Platform, which bore Barton’s fould stamp while he was vice chair of the group.)

So, apart from the fact that von Braun was largely an engineer, and Sagan was a brilliant astronomer with major contributions to our understanding of the cosmos, what about the chops of the other four people?  Why would Barton suggest lesser knowns and unknowns?

Matthew Maury once headed the U.S. Naval Observatory, in the 19th century.  He was famous for studying ocean currents, piggy-backing on the work of Ben Franklin and others.  Do a Google search, though, and you’ll begin to undrstand:  Maury is a favorite of creationists, a scientist who claimed to subjugate his science to the Bible.  Maury claimed his work on ocean currents was inspired at least in part by a verse in Psalms 8 which referred to “paths in the sea.”  Maury is not of the stature or achievement of Sagan, but Maury is politically correct to Barton.

Joseph Henry is too ignored, the first head of the Smithsonian Institution. Henry made his mark in research on magnetism and electricity.  But it’s not Henry’s science Barton recognizes.  Henry, as a largely unknown scientist today, is a mainstay of creationists’ list of scientists who made contributions to science despite their being creationists.  What?  Oh, this is inside baseball in the war to keep evolution in science texts.  In response to the (accurate) claim that creationists have not contributed anything of scientific value to biology since about William Paley in 1802, Barton and his fellow creationists will trot out a lengthy list of scientists who were at least nominally Christian, and claim that they were creationists, and that they made contributions to science.  The list misses the point that Henry, to pick one example, didn’t work in biology nor make a contribution to biology, nor is there much evidence that Henry was a creationist in the modern sense of denying science.  Henry is obscure enough that Barton can claim he was politically correct, to Barton’s taste, to be studied by school children without challenging Barton’s creationist ideas.

Maria Mitchell was an American astronomer, the second woman to discover a comet. While she was a Unitarian and a campaigner for women’s rights, or more accurately, because of that, I can’t figure how she passes muster as politically correct to David Barton.  Surely she deserves to be studied more in American history than she is — perhaps with field trips to the Maria Mitchell House National Historic LandmarkIt may be that Barton has mistaken Mitchell for another creationist scientist. While Mitchell’s life deseves more attention — her name would be an excellent addition to the list of woman scientists Texas children should study — she is not of the stature of Sagan.

David Rittenhouse, a surveyor and astronomer, and the first head of the U.S. Mint, is similarly confusing as part of Barton’s list.  Rittenhouse deserves more study, for his role in extending the Mason-Dixon line, if nothing else, but it is difficult to make a case that his contributions to science approach those of Carl Sagan.  Why is Rittenhouse listed by Barton?  If nothing else, it shows the level of contempt Barton holds for Sagan as “just another scientist.”  Barton urges the study of other scientists, any other scientists, rather than study of Sagan.

Barton just doesn’t like Sagan.  Why?  Other religionists give us the common dominionist or radical religionist view of Sagan:

Just what is the Secular Humanist worldview? First and foremost Secular Humanists are naturalists. A naturalist believes that nature is all that exists. “The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” This was the late Carl Sagan’s opening line on the television series “Cosmos.” Sagan was a noted astronomer and a proud secular humanist. Sagan maintained that the God of the Bible was nonexistent. (Imagine Sagan’s astonishment when he came face to face with his Maker.)

Sagan’s science, in Barton’s view, doesn’t leave enough room for Barton’s religion.  Sagan was outspoken about his opposition to superstition.  Sagan urged reason and the active use of his “Baloney-Detection Kit.” One of Sagan’s later popular books was titled Demon-haunted World:  Science as a candle in the dark.  Sagan argued for the use of reason and science to learn about our world, to use to build a framework for solving the world’s problems.

Barton prefers the dark to any light shed by Sagan, it appears.

More resources on the State Board of Education review of social studies curricula

Vintage film on Japanese internment during World War II

May 20, 2009

[Google Video version is not showing or playing for reasons I don’t know; fortunately the National Archives (NARA) has uploaded a version to YouTube]

“A Challenge to Democracy,” by the War Relocation Board.  This film defends the relocation of 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

Japanese-descended American citizens harvesting crops they grew during internment during World War II. Screen capture from "Challege to Democracy."

Japanese-descended American citizens harvesting crops they grew during internment during World War II. Screen capture from “Challege to Democracy.”

“These people are not under suspicion,” the narrator says.  “They are not prisoners, they are not internees.  They are merely dislocated people, the unwounded casualties of war.”

According to the Internet Archive, the film is a 1944 production.  That site has the film available for download in several formats.  The film is collected in the Prelinger Archives.  On my computer, some of the Internet Archive versions offer  better quality than the Google Video version above.

I originally found the film at a school site in Washington, Mr. Talmadge’s Wikispace site, apparently for his classes in the history of the State of Washington.  That site has a very useful series of links to good sites on the internet for information about the Japanese internment.  There are several other topics noted there, too, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Whitman Massacre in Oregon, and the Nez Perce Retreat.  I’d love to see Mr. Talmadge’s plan for the year.

What do your students do to display their work on the internet?

Dear President-elect Obama

November 24, 2008

Good execution of a lesson plan here, at one of my favorite blogs, The Living Classroom — with a lot of possibilities for follow-up.

A citizens plea to President-elect Obama

A citizen's plea to President-elect Obama

This may be the only elementary level classroom in the nation with its own lobbyist.

Never underestimate the power of students united to do good works.

In the Boy Scouts’ merit badge series on citizenship, Scouts are required to write letters to public officials.  This is a good exercise.  Not all students get the full value, but on the chance that answers actually come to the letters, this is a good classroom activity.

Hmmm.  I should use it more.

Evolution, other science on trial – today, in Austin, Texas

November 19, 2008

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) hearings on proposals for new science standards kick off today — and will probably run long into the night.

You can probably still sneak comments in.  You can listen to the hearings in streaming audio, live.  You can read the live blog reports from Texas Citizens for Science (TCS) President Steve Schafersman.

Texas science teacher Joe Lapp (a member of TCS) will give the board some good advice — will they listen?

Lapp will say:

My name is Joe Lapp, but I go by Spider Joe. I teach children about spiders, about the biology and physics of a spider’s world. My mission is to stoke passion for science in children and to empower children to think like scientists. I like to think that I’m launching these children into productive future careers as scientists, and indirectly, through them, contributing to solving some of mankind’s most serious challenges.

I’m watching what is going on here in the State Board of Education. You’re vying over what to teach about science and about evolution in particular. Some of you say, “teach the weaknesses with evolution.” Some of you say, “the ‘weaknesses’ are phony, don’t teach them.” You argue over whether science includes the supernatural or is restricted to just natural phenomena.

I ask you, how many of you grew up to be scientists? How many of you make a living teaching science to children? In a world full of people who dedicate their lives to science or science education, how many of you on the board are one of these specialized experts?

I’m suggesting that you recognize that you yourselves don’t have the answers.

We all come to the table with preferences and biases, but we’re talking about our children’s education and their future lives. When a scientist approaches a question, she may have a preferred answer, one that might win her the Nobel prize. When Pons and Fleischmann performed their cold fusion experiment, they wanted to see more energy output than input. Their bias blinded them to the truth, and rather than winning the Nobel Prize they became laughing stocks. If a scientist wants to know the truth, she must design an experiment that might show her desired outcome wrong; she must delegate her answer to the outcome of an experiment that ignores her biases.

The State Board of Education has a choice. One option is to play politics with our children’s future and vote your bias, regardless of the truth. The other option is to delegate your answer to the outcome of an experiment that ignores your biases, so that the answer better reflects the truth.

Fortunately for you, you have already performed the experiment. You delegated answers to your questions about science and evolution to experts in science and science education. They answered in the form of your September TEKS drafts. I urge you not to suffer the embarrassing fate of Pons and Fleischmann and to accept your experimental results. I suspect that politics introduced biases into the November drafts. Don’t fudge your results.

Please show your respect for children and science by making this a scientific decision and not a political one. Launch children into science by example. Envision children growing up to create new biofuels, cure cancers, eliminate AIDS, end malnutrition, reverse global warming, and save our wondrous natural resources for future generations.

Science is our children’s future.


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