Flashbacks: On Education

I spent many years as a teacher, and I pride myself on being reformed minded and a contrarian . Enjoy these perspectives from my Flashbacks … and I hope you comment on the post you visited.

On a Senseless Situation

Daubert vTwo Rules
In Daubert v. Merrill Dow (1993), the US Supreme court established a standard on whether an expert’s testimony is based on valid science and methodology,

  • Whether the theory or technique in question can be or has been tested
  • Whether it has been subject to peer review and publication
  • It’s known or potential error rate
  • The existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation
  • Whether it has attract widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community

In Lemon v. Kuntzman (1971), the US Supreme Court established the following (known as the Lemon Test) about legislation regarding religion;

  • The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose
  • The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion
  • The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion

The Situation
Springboro, Ohio is about an hour north of downtown Cincinnati, thus actually a southern suburb of Dayton. The Springboro Board of Education recently decided to throw itself into the evolution-in-science-class debate.

The Complete Ignoral
The Springboro Board proclaims the findings of the Discovery Institute, a leading center of Intelligent Design (ID). In so doing, the Board either ignores or embraces what the Discovery Institute says of itself.

Discovery Institute has a special concern for the role that science and technology play in our culture and how they can advance free markets, illuminate public policy and support the theistic foundations of the West. ….. Our Center for Science and Culture works to defend free inquiry. It also seeks to counter the materialistic interpretation of science by demonstrating that life and the universe are the products of intelligent design and by challenging the materialistic conception of a self-existent, self-organizing universe and the Darwinian view that life developed through a blind and purposeless process.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores that the Discovery Institute (assumingly staffed by scientifically trained personnel) does not meet the criteria of science experts established in the Daubert Standard.

In so doing, the Springboro Board, as a governing organization, ignores the Lemon Test established by the high court.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores the results of Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005) where Dover (PA) Board of Education adopted a science curriculum placing Intelligent Design (ID) alongside evolution in biology classes. In the court challenge, Judge Jones, a conservative Bush appointee and Christian, stated

Although Defendants attempt to persuade this Court that each Board member voted for the biology curriculum change did so for the secular purposed of improving science education and to exercise critical thinking skills, their contentions are simply irreconcilable with the record evidence. …. Any asserted secular purposes by the Board are a sham and merely secondary to the religious objective. … To briefly reiterate, we first note that since ID is not science, the conclusion is inescapable that the only real effect of the ID Policy is the advancement of religion. …. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) where the US Supreme Court stated,

The law’s effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1981) served as a challenge to the state’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act that mandated teaching creation science along evolution. In the ruling, District Judge Overton defined both science and creation science, as well as providing numerous reasons by is simply not science.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) were the US Supreme Court states that Creation Science embraces religious teaching. In addition, the purpose of the Louisiana law of requiring teaching both views (or none) was to change the public school science curriculum to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores its potential high cost of legal fees, which exceeded over $1 million for the Dover Board.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores the fact that science has boundaries confined to explain the natural world – and fudging data for conforming to a pre-conceived theology box is not science – but rather a component of religion.

In so doing, the Springboro Board ignores that this religious stance is contrary to doctrine from Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant denominations, countless Christian scholars, and Jewish scholars – let alone against the belief system of atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others within their community.

In so doing, the Springboro Board has received support from the Creation Museum run by Answers in Genesis – another organization that does not meet the Daubert standards, yet proclaims using science to state that humans and dinosaurs roamed together on our less-than-10,000-year-old Earth – let alone claiming a 5,000 years old T-Rex skeleton.

To the Springboro Board and its supporters, I say this: You can disagree with well-established case-law, but that does not make the law wrong. You can disagree with science, but that does not make science wrong.

To Springboro residents opposing the Board’s action, learn and become proactive – which includes following the Dover voter’s lead that voted the school board members out of office.

To the Springboro churches opposing the Board, good for you – but you are partially responsible for the Board’s action. After all, odds are you perpetuated the problem by ignoring the topic for many years.

On Golden Amber

My first year of teaching served as my first exposure to many things – including students with learning disabilities (LD).

I recall a discussion with a staff member who assisted LD students at one of the other buildings when she told me these students are very capable of college, but they just have a learning handicap. Being fresh out of college, my mindset was probably very stereotypical, so I took in the information while actually doubting the statement’s validity.

Several years later, a new LD teacher started working with my students. She worked very hard for them – and they were having success. Because they were in the general class, I’m sure I retained the stereotype.

As the school grew, staffing increased – including LD – and that is when I met Bette. Somewhere along the way, I had an LD student in my college prep class. I admit having a mindset that she was misplaced, and primarily there due to the advocacy of her proactive mother. The end of the school year was odd as I felt the proactive Mom used me in her bout with the school administration. On graduation night, proactive mother told me I was a good teacher – but I only accepted her compliment in words, but not in my mind and heart.

Fast forward a few years as our department changed the science curriculum to have no tracking – that is, no differentiation between college prep and general students for at least 3 years, so classes would have students with a variety of academic skills and abilities. Enter Bette as she was to work with the LD students in my classes.

Because I had more than a few of Bette’s students, she was in my classroom one or two periods a day. We developed a few alternative strategies and she always kept me well-informed. Through Bette, and my willingness to adapt, I was beginning to learn about what LD really meant.

Amber was a freshman and an LD student – simply a very nice young person who academically struggled. She, and much because of Bette’s work, she passed the course with Cs and Ds. Amber was in my class again as a senior – a biology class with many college prep students. Bette kept me informed, but she was not involved on a daily basis as she was three years prior.

A major test was approaching and Bette told me that Amber knew her material very well. By this time, I truly understand that Amber’s LD was writing – and that she would struggle answering essay questions. Simply put, as her mind sprinted, her fingers crawled – thus words that came from her pen took directions that were unrelated to the question asked.

I decided to test her orally – not just by asking her the questions orally, but in a conversation. Bette approved, Amber agreed, and wow – she delivered answers full of substance.

I recall Amber getting an A on that test, and I believe she earned an A for the last quarter because I finally understood what it meant to be LD. The last time I saw her, she was working in a pizza place, but that was more than 10 years ago.

I doubt if she ever went to any post-high school education. To be honest, I’m not even sure how much success she had in the work world. Nevertheless, for me, Amber is golden because she taught me a powerful lesson – one that took me over 20 years to learn – thus I finally understand that what that LD teacher told me during my first year. Because of Amber and Bette, I finally understood and trusted the role of the staff member assisting LD students, thus I worked as closely as possible with them for that time forward.

As for Bette, we continued to have a positive work relationship, and then she retired. She may read this with a smile – and, she knows that I wonder about what if I would have done something different with the one student having the proactive mother.

On Education: Texas GOP Style

Sometime one stumbles across a treasure trove of information in one link – and that recently happened to me as I found the Texas Republican Party platform. Below are a few excerpts from this document regarding education. (My italicized comments follow in parentheses.)

Keep in mind that future governors, Congressional representatives and senators, and maybe even a presidential candidates may be on the committee. Hmmmmm … Enjoy and be enlightened.

Basic Standards – We favor improving the quality of education for all students, including those with special needs. We support a return to the traditional basics of reading, writing, arithmetic, and citizenship with sufficient discipline to ensure learning and quality educational assessment. (In other words, the hell with science.)

Controversial Theories – We support objective teaching and equal treatment of all sides of scientific theories. We believe theories such as life origins and environmental change should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind. (Not only the hell with science, we only care what the Supreme Court says when they agree with us.)

Classroom Discipline –We recommend that local school boards and classroom teachers be given more authority to deal with disciplinary problems. Corporal punishment is effective and legal in Texas. (We can beat kids that deserve it.)

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. (Duh! Critical-thinking skills are not required to think like a Texan because Texans from Texas blood are genetically given that gift. Besides, we are the higher order.)

Textbook Review – Until such time as all texts are required to be approved by the SBOE, each ISD that uses non-SBOE approved instructional materials must verify them as factually and historically correct. Also the ISD board must hold a public hearing on such materials, protect citizen’s right of petition and require compliance with TEC and legislative intent. Local ISD boards must maintain the same standards as the SBOE. (Attention textbook companies – adjust accuracy for the Texas viewpoint.)

Traditional Principles in Education – We support school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles upon which America was founded and which form the basis of America’s legal, political and economic systems. We support curricula that are heavily weighted on original founding documents, including the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and Founders’ writings. (Yep, the Founding Fathers were very clear and in agreement – and if you don’t believe we know what they meant, just ask us.)

Meanwhile, about that border fence, I do have a good idea.

On School Time

Labor Day – the final summer holiday and what used to be, the day before school starts. Believe me, I’m not clamoring for schools to return to that outdated approach to a school calendar. Nonetheless, most schools will have started by now.

Since this is a four-day workweek (for those with traditional hours), instead of our Monday Morning Entertainment, thought I’d start the work week asking readers to provide a caption for a picture.

For many years, I have advocated educational reform, which may be a reason why I appreciated this satirical headline from The Onion: “Nation’s Student to Give American Educational System Yet Another Chance.” By the way, here is my Sept 10, 2009 post about the difficulties the education system faces regarding reform.

Now that I’ve set the stage, write a caption to the picture below.

On Connecting Egypt and Schools

With the power of instant news, we watched the events in Egypt as they happened. Whether the peaceful gathering of the masses or the few days of violence, there were and still are so many stories intertwined into this overthrow of a long-standing regime.

These two thoughts repeatedly played in my mind: the desire of people to be free and the peaceful nature of the masses – and each of these took me back to the 1960s and the way Martin Luther King treated civil rights. However, the Egyptians had something that Dr. King’s followers did not have: social media.

Some have described it tweets versus tanks. Columnist Kathleen Parker wrote these words:

Unarmed men and women inspired by tweets of freedom stared into the bullying armaments of dead ways. It was a stark image of the prolonged battle between good and evil that human apparently have been fated to fight. This time, enabled by what we casually call social media, evil finally may be outgunned.

Today, news travels faster than ever – and Revolution 2.0 has spread to other countries in the region – yet we are witnessing different behaviors by those with the tanks. Nonetheless, the events in Egypt have demonstrated social media’s power – and as this outstanding video shows, the numbers are staggering. (Sorry, this one can’t be embedded.)

Many people use social media as modern-day paparazzi to keep up with the latest news from someone they deem important. Businesses use social media to increase revenue through communication, customer service, and marketing. Many people (as me) use blogs to fuel our appetite for learning through informal means. Some corporate training departments are now incorporating social media tools. Meanwhile, can social media tools be the lightning rod to ignite public education reform? Do you really think schools entrenched in the industrial age model could react that fast?

On Linking a Pulitzer to a Fulbright

Education is always a popular topic. Besides, all of us can share a thoughtful story about a teacher in their life.

As I have noted many times, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker is one of my favorite columnists, so I was thrilled to hear that she recently won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Then she wrote this column about a high school teacher who influenced her, which got me thinking about my life.

I taught high school for many years, enough to have over 3,000 students. While at an airport for a recent trip, I encountered a former student from 20+ years ago. Although our paths have occasionally crossed through the years, she updated me on her two sisters – whom I also taught. What a great family!

Nancy is the oldest sister, and a person I have always enjoyed and appreciated. About 5-6 years ago, my wife and I encountered Nancy and her sisters at a much-unexpected place – a football game at our college alma mater at it seems the sisters were visiting Nancy at her new job as an associate professor.

Back to the airport discussion with Nancy’s sister, I learned that Nancy not only recently earned full professorship, but she also earned a Fulbright scholarship. I am not going to take any credit for her achievement, and my influence on her is probably minimal, but I did think – wow – I taught a Fulbright Scholar and was lucky to do so.

Congratulations Nancy … and thanks for making me feel lucky!