Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Academic Freedom… to Be Anti-Academic

May 4th, 2008 7 comments

Well, the ID’ers are at it again, trying to cram creationism into Science classes by way of sabotaging the teaching of Evolution theory. This time, their false-front is called “academic freedom,” as in “academic freedom bills” which creationist legislators are pushing to get passed now. It’s all about the name of the bill, isn’t it? This one is like the “Patriot Act,” suggesting you’re not a patriot if you vote against it. We all know that the more strongly a bill is so named, the more likely it is not to have any relation to the name, and this one certainly fits the bill.

The problem is this case, of course, is that it’s not about academic freedom. It is not “academic freedom,” for example, to teach that photosynthesis doesn’t happen, or that the Earth’s atmosphere is primarily made up of oxygen. Instead, that kind of stuff is more accurately termed as “being wrong.” Now, the ID’ers are not claiming that photosynthesis doesn’t happen or that the Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t mostly consist of nitrogen. My point is that they would be arguing such drivel if they had happened to interpret the bible as having said so. They are not against Evolution because it’s wrong–after all, they have not argued against scientific theories that are far more likely to be wrong. They argue against it because it goes against the peculiar brand of science they have divined from scriptures written by people who knew even less about science than the least-educated people in the country today, people who were not even writing about science, but from whose words people today extract conclusions about the nature of the universe. They argue against Evolution because they want people to believe in their own product instead of what actually exists.

The argument is that these new laws don’t bring creationism into the classroom, but just like ID, that is a shallow pretense and is ultimately false. After all, what is being proposed is essentially to tear down Evolution in the classroom and teach that it is false–which is precisely the nature of the intelligent design scheme, which runs not on its own evidence but rather purely on the conjecture that Evolution is wrong–which they claim leads us to the conclusion that god created the universe.

They are, to their credit, becoming a lot more politically savvy about this. Creationism failed because it was a blatant attempt to implant one religion’s dogma into science classes. ID failed because it was a sloppy attempt to dress up creationism as a faux scientific theory; its origins were directly traced back to creationism, and as a “scientific” theory, it was laughable. This latest attempt is the creationists’ cleverest attempt yet, because it claims to do nothing but to allow teachers to challenge Evolution theory, which is what Science is supposed to do–challenge and test theories to see if they stand up.

That sounds legitimate, except for one small detail: it is even more a fraud than ID was. This is not about challenging Evolution theory in scientific venues to test its veracity; if it were, there would be no new laws necessary; anyone can challenge Evolution theory anytime they want, however often they want. ID’ers have been trying to for some time, and they came up against a teensy little problem: their challenges have to have the smallest shred of legitimacy or fact, and none of theirs have that. What these new “academic freedom” laws intend to do is not to challenge the theory, but to discredit it with false claims that have been disproved in that very peer review.

Here’s the Fox News argument presented by one creationist “Science” teacher:

Doug Cowan, a public-school biology teacher, said his colleagues are often afraid to speak out.

Mr. Cowan said he tells students: “I’m going to give you the evidence for Evolution and the evidence against, and let you decide.” For instance, he’ll mention Darwin’s observation that finches evolve different-shaped beaks to suit different ecosystems. Then he’ll add that you don’t see a finch changing into another species.

Asked what evidence he presents to bolster evolution, Mr. Cowan paused. “I don’t have any,” he said.

Mr. Cowan is obviously an idiot. First of all, if he has no evidence to bolster Evolution, then he clearly is not a Science teacher; that’s like a professor of Constitutional Law claiming he doesn’t have any evidence to bolster the concept of Freedom of Speech. Secondly, the claim that no one sees a finch spontaneously change into a giraffe in a sudden puff of smoke is just one of the many completely ludicrous “criticisms” of Evolution theory that has the honor of having been so plainly disproved that even creationists are loath to bring it up; Mr. Cowan apparently didn’t get the memo.

But even aside from that, Mr. Cowan is suggesting that it’s a good idea to have creationists masquerading as authorities representing Science in the classroom to follow a half-assed representation of a rock-solid theory upheld by a century and a half of testing and peer review with a rebuttal of plainly false creationist fabrications, and then “let the students decide.” Yes, let’s do this for all subjects. Let’s hire members of white supremacist groups to teach American History, give students a half-assed lecture about slavery, follow it with a rebuttal about how black people enjoyed slavery and were better off under it, and then “let the students decide.” Or let’s have Computer Science taught by Luddites who briefly introduce the Internet and follow it up with a scare lecture about how using the Internet will lead teenagers to be raped and killed by child molesters, and let the kids decide on that, too. Because this kind of teaching methodology will only lead students to make informed choices which are bound to be correct. Right?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This bill to introduce “academic freedom” is nothing less than a bald attempt to give creationists who have defrauded their way into becoming “science” teachers free license to sabotage the teaching of actual science so that the students will, they hope, be driven to accept creationism.

This new angle is building up to a regression of lies and scams, all leading back to creationist claims that when what we see with our eyes contradicts a specific interpretation of biblical stories, we should deny observed fact and instead accept the preferred biblical interpretations. I mean, really, who could believe that science-fiction claptrap about the formation of proteins in a primordial soup, followed by the formation of cells grouping into colonies, which then progressed into more complex forms which survived by being the best-adapted to changing environments? Baloney! After looking at all of the abundance of fossils, the chemical analyses, the structure of DNA, and all the rest of the evidence, it is so obvious that man was formed when a big guy with a white beard breathed on a lump of clay! I mean, come on, how clear can it be? All you have is a century and a half of piercing peer review and mountains of evidence; we’ve got a guy who may or may not have been a sheep herder four thousand years ago who claims he spoke to god!! Beat that, science bitches!!

Categories: Education, Religion, Science Tags:

What’s Next?

March 23rd, 2008 2 comments

Good lord. Already the English language teaching market in Japan has become bad enough so that most jobs out there for teachers rate only the rock-bottom $30,000/year salary, work you hard, and most require you teach classes to little kids. For those of you who thought it could not get much worse, then prepare to have your hopes dashed.

What’s next? Clown suits and pie throwing? (Although this could easily be seen as the equivalent….) I am all for making the classroom environment stimulating and interesting for the students, but there are limits; this borders on the fetishistic.

Categories: Education, Focus on Japan 2008 Tags:

The Accreditation Process

November 26th, 2007 3 comments

Today we had several meetings at my college concerning accreditation. When I was a student, I was completely unaware of the process; I just took for granted that colleges got by on reputation or something, and didn’t think about how they got the authority they have. In the U.S., colleges are accredited by one of several regional accreditation agencies, which use thousands of volunteers (educators and administrators from colleges and universities) to observe and investigate institutions, and hand down decisions based upon those observations. This is an oversimplification, but will serve for the time being. Colleges have usually been reviewed every ten years or so; an institution falling short is given warnings and a chance, over several years, to correct itself.

The accreditation agencies derive their authority from the federal government, through the Department of Education. In the past, the DoE has not been overly controlling, and educators have pretty much run the show. It is unsurprising that this has changed under the Bush administration. In another crony hiring, Margaret Spellings was installed as Secretary of Education by Bush at the beginning of his second term. Spellings’ highest degree is a B.A. in Political Science, and was Bush’s political director in his first campaign to become governor of Texas. She has not done any teaching beyond work as a substitute–and she was not even certified for that (Texas, at the time, did not require certification).

Spellings has demonstrated a pretty clear but unstated preference for dismantling the current regional accreditation system and replacing it with direct federal control. Her husband is an advocate for school vouchers, a position which usually claims that government cannot be trusted to manage the education process. Spellings is a big “No Child Left Behind” advocate, and wants to apply the same standardized assessment system to higher education. So now big buzzwords in our accreditation process are “outcome assessments” and “transparency.”

The problem is, no one has assessed the assessment policy. Just as NCLB sounds good in principle and has a lot of support, but is underfunded, the new paradigm of assessment is big on concepts but short on demonstrating how A leads to B. Standardized tests look good in a political campaign, but they do more to encourage “teaching to the test,” which focuses on test scores rather than actual learning. Japan has suffered from this for a long time, producing students with high scores but not as high comprehension of the subject matter. “Transparency” sounds great, but there is no reason to believe that this will lead to lower tuitions.

There’s a rule in education: learning is a personalized experience. Everyone learns differently. It’s hard enough to maintain quality teaching in a class with 20 students, each with individual quirks and styles of learning. The more generalization and standardization there is, the less freedom each individual student enjoys, and the less likely it is that they will be able to learn. Standardized tests veer the lesson away from the student advancing in their skill or understanding, and emphasize instead rote memorization and test-taking strategies. Scores might increase, but that does not mean that learning will increase.

As a teacher, I will have to devote less of my class time to addressing individual student needs, and more time administering tests which are written by people who have never met my students, much less instructed them. We got a taste of that recently, when Writing class teachers had to administer a test in their classes which included questions they felt had little relevance to what the students in the class needed to learn.

Worse is that our students, being mostly non-native speakers learning in an English-only environment in a country where English is not widely spoken, have even more unique needs which will be ill-served by standardization.

And we’re still in the early stages of preparation, with the review coming in two years. A lot of headaches down the road.

Categories: Education Tags: