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Faith-Based History: "Wrapped in a Flag, Carrying a Cross"

February 16, 2010 Leave a comment

The New York Times magazine recently printed an article on the battle over history (and more general educational) standards in the Texas School System, which has huge influence over the national textbook market. Much of the situation is disturbing – fundamentalist Christians with no particular expertise are rewriting (or trying to) the academic subject standards. America’s religious history should not be whitewashed, but the obvious politicization of history by the Christianist school board members should appall any dispassionate historian or educator.

In the new guidelines, students taking classes in U.S. government are asked to identify traditions that informed America’s founding, “including Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law),” and to “identify the individuals whose principles of law and government institutions informed the American founding documents,” among whom they include Moses. The idea that the Bible and Mosaic law provided foundations for American law has taken root in Christian teaching about American history. So when Steven K. Green, director of the Center for Religion, Law and Democracy at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., testified at the board meeting last month in opposition to the board’s approach to bringing religion into history, warning that the Supreme Court has forbidden public schools from “seeking to impress upon students the importance of particular religious values through the curriculum,” and in the process said that the founders “did not draw on Mosaic law, as is mentioned in the standards,” several of the board members seemed dumbstruck. Don McLeroy insisted it was a legitimate claim, since the Enlightenment took place in Europe, in a Christian context. Green countered that the Enlightenment had in fact developed in opposition to reliance on biblical law and said he had done a lengthy study in search of American court cases that referenced Mosaic law. “The record is basically bereft,” he said. Nevertheless, biblical law and Moses remain in the TEKS.

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Pseudoscience, Running in Reverse

February 14, 2010 Leave a comment

It didn’t even seem right at the time. A young girl gets a seasonal flu shot and is struck with incredible symptoms. It is clear now that the flu shot never caused Desiree Jennings’ bizarre troubles. Of course, even if it was real it was important to remember at the time that 1 ancedotal case doesn’t destroy the mountains of evidence supporting vaccines’ safety and effectiveness. It does, however, confirm our need to better educate the population about statistics. As Steven Pinker writes,

The goal of education should be to provide students with the cognitive tools that are most important for grasping the modern world and that are most unlike the cognitive tools they are born with.
[…]
The obvious cure for [the innumeracy, factual ignorance, and scientific illiteracy of typical Americans] is enhanced education in relatively new fields such as economics, biology, and probability and statistics. (my emphasis)
The original vaccine story got a lot of play (some may even say it was viral). I hear about it every time the topic of vaccines comes up. What is disappointing in these situations is that the truth too often gets underreported and gets overshadowed by the shocking nature of the initial account.

No Child LEFT Behind

September 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Apparently this leftist video is being shown in some public schools (can anyone confirm or deny this?). It is very troubling; the video is full of falsehoods and political spin. It has no place in a school – I mean, what class was this shown in anyway?

I have to give Glenn Beck credit (as much as I think he’s bad for politics) for covering this. I mean it’s not a huge deal but it’s nice to see any schools get called out on this crap.
Drummond Pike, Founder and CEO of TIDES, responds to Glenn Beck here.

I knew it!

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

Given that half my family is educators (mom, dad, sister, sister-in-law) and also that I entertained being a teacher for a while, I’ve had an interest in education and educational policy. This article in The Economist reports on a new program to revolutionize classroom learning. The idea is to ditch the “chalk and blackboard” stuff and design video games that have students apply different skills in order to learn them.

Another Way-Things-Work unit asks pupils to imagine they are pyramid-builders in ancient Egypt. This means learning about maths and engineering, and something about the country’s religion and geography.

Obviously nothing yet has proven to work but after years of study this could really help change education for the better. Trying different methods for educating students should be encouraged by our political leaders – whether this specific plan works or not I’m encouraged by it.

Stanley Fish sticks to his "core"

August 25, 2009 Leave a comment

Every time Stanley Fish ventures into the god topic he fails miserably and he aggravates me beyond belief. But to show I’m not a bigot regarding him I have to applaud his latest piece in the New York Times. He often writes on educational policy and I often find myself agreeing with him. Here he argues that writing courses should teach students how to write. I know it seems obvious but if only more colleges thought so.

A few years ago, when I was grading papers for a graduate literature course, I became alarmed at the inability of my students to write a clean English sentence. They could manage for about six words and then, almost invariably, the syntax (and everything else) fell apart. I became even more alarmed when I remembered that these same students were instructors in the college’s composition program. What, I wondered, could possibly be going on in their courses?

I decided to find out, and asked to see the lesson plans of the 104 sections. I read them and found that only four emphasized training in the craft of writing. Although the other 100 sections fulfilled the composition requirement, instruction in composition was not their focus. Instead, the students spent much of their time discussing novels, movies, TV shows and essays on a variety of hot-button issues — racism, sexism, immigration, globalization. These artifacts and topics are surely worthy of serious study, but they should have received it in courses that bore their name, if only as a matter of truth-in-advertising.

I apologize if exhibited any poor writing in this post. Part of my strong feelings on the subject are personal since I feel I never experienced a truly proper writing course myself.
Categories: Education, Stanley Fish
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