You will be shocked to learn that SCORES HAVE DIPPED, KENNETH, after two years of chaos in our schools. Did I call it or what?
So now all the editorial boards and educational poobahs and conservative anti-public-school vampires have started the weeping and the wailing over the LEARNING LOSS KENNETH and how we as a nation are on the precipice.
We’ve seen all of this before, in 1983, with the panic over A Nation at Risk: our schools were FAILING KENNETH and nothing would do but we must TOUGHEN THE STANDARDS and TEST THE CHILDREN UNTIL THEIR EARS BLEED. Nation at Risk led eventually to No Child Left Behind (NCLB, or as we called it in my school, Every Child Dragged Along), which imposed draconian “goals” on our schools and punished us as “failing schools” if we didn’t meet them by 2014.
(At the faculty meeting where we went over the new law, teachers were freaking out over the “goals.” I calmly pointed out that this would only last until the law had to be reauthorized (i.e., re-funded) in 2007.)
So did we achieve all those goals? Pfft. NCLB did nothing to actually solve the problems the law “identified.” Every child reading by 3rd grade? We could have done it, but we didn’t, because NO ONE ASKED US HOW TO EFFECT THAT CHANGE. If what we were already doing was sufficient, wouldn’t every 3rd grader already be reading? But we changed nothing, nor were we allowed to change anything.
No, the nation never actually committed to any of the “goals,” and 2014 came and went without our having met any of them. The only thing NCLB accomplished was to cement the role of standardized tests in assessing student “achievement” and “school success.” It was all “research-based,” you see. (What’s that you say? Standardized tests are a scam to suction off tax dollars for testing corporations? Wherever did you get that idea?)
Sidenote: At Newnan Crossing, we were doing actual research on whether our year-round calendar — 45 days on, 15 days off —was benefiting our Title I students. I was charged with aggregating the test scores for the cohort of students who had been with us since kindergarten, and the only thing the data actually showed was that if kids had a teacher who was not very good, their test scores would go down. Having a good teacher was not a predictor of improved test scores; those were essentially random. Test scores = “achievement”? Pfft.
So here we are, panicking about LEARNING LOSS after two years of predictable “learning loss” and reaching for the smelling salts once again.
The solution? The children must LEARN FASTER AND HARDER. To “catch up.” Once again.
Here’s the deal: Teachers have always dealt with students who were not where they were “spozed to be,” and now is no different other than we have an entire school population who are not where they’re spozed to be. It’s not a “crisis,” just time to roll up our sleeves and start teaching again. (Even so, schools are not back to what passes for normal, nor will they be for the foreseeable future.)
My advice? Take any moneys appropriated for this CRISIS KENNETH and spend it on teachers: salaries, supplies, smaller classrooms. Do not spend it on packaged CURRICULUM SOLUTIONS KENNETH. Do not spend it on suddenly available TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTIONS. Do not allow LEGISLATORS TO HAVE ANY SAY on how we do our jobs.
Finally, acknowledge the drop in test scores as an inevitable record of the chaos, and then BY CTHULHU CELEBRATE THE GAINS OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS.
(An earlier version of this post, and tweets referring to it, named Arkansas as the state in question. Even though the mistake is understandable, we regret the error. Oklahoma, this is on you, babe.)
As you probably are already aware, the amygdala-based lifeforms among us have decided to be afraid of something called Critical Race Theory, which is not, as the amygdala-based lifeforms would have you believe, teaching kindergartners that WHITE PEOPLE BAD KENNETH, but rather an actual socioeconomic critique of the role of race in U.S. history, particularly the role of slavery in our economy (big) and politics (bad). It is taught at the graduate level, not in kindergarten.
However, because our Republican Party is nothing if not solicitous of their amygdala-based lifeforms, they have sprung into action in state legislatures everywhere to write laws to assist our teachers to avoid the evils of CRT in their classroom.
Just kidding. They’re trying to cover their lily-white heinies so that schools don’t end up teaching the actual history of our country, which unfortunately is hella racist in most regards. (Also, they’re trying to keep the amygdala-based lifeforms riled up for voting purposes.)
Here are a couple of excerpts from a recently proposed bill in Oklahoma (42nd in education, if you believe U.S. News and World Report).
Ah yes, the 1619 Project, or as Wonkette refers to it, Satan’s Own Bible. Moving on…
Mercy. “One race”? Who on earth could they mean by that? And who might this “another race” be?
Note: What they’re doing is trying to cast a wide net over the whole world and for all of history, so that white Americans don’t look that bad if you squint hard and believe that Egyptians and Mongols had anything to do with the political writings of Jefferson and Madison. Yeah, right.
But you know me: I am nothing if not helpful, and so I have prepared a handout for Oklahoma teachers who need to teach how slavery just kind of happened in this land and white people are definitely not to blame no not never racism is over WE’VE HAD A BLACK PRESIDENT KENNETH.
CAVEAT: The numbers are kind of wonky, since the only readily confirmable numbers I could find on short notice were the number of white slaveholders from the 1860 Census and the number of free black slaveholders from the 1830 Census. However, it definitely shows that NOT ALL WHITE SLAVEHOLDERS KENNETH, amirite?
Several ideas spring from this:
I could create a version of the handout with all blank circles, and you could have the students color in 37 of them to represent the free black slaveholders. NOTE: They will need magnifying glasses and 0.5mm pens. If you would like such a handout, just email me and let me know.
For math skills, have your students calculate the percentage of free black slaveholders to the total number. [KEY: <1%]
For advanced classes, like AP U.S. History, you could have the students find the actual number of slaves owned by white slaveholders v. the number owned by free black slaveholders. There we might use the 1830 Census numbers for, you know, greater fairness in depicting the multiracial responsibility for slavery in this country.
Speaking of APUSH…
Does anyone think that the Educational Testing Service or the College Board are going to alter their standardized tests to accommodate the amygdala-based lifeforms? Or is it not more probable that students in Oklahoma (and Texas and Virginia and Florida…) simply are going to flub those questions on the test? I don’t see this raising Oklahoma’s ranking in the U.S. News & World Report ranking, do you?
The other day there was a tweet that led to an article about THE MAP THAT CONVINCED LINCOLN TO FREE THE SLAVES, and even without clicking on the link I knew what map they were talking about:
I had stumbled across this map in the Library of Congress’s online files several years ago, and I used it to develop a lesson for 5th graders on how to read primary source documents.
For the lesson, I came up with the following chart:
Levels of Understanding Primary Source Documents
What is this document? What does it say? What do the words mean?
What is the historical context of this document? What other documents/events/ideas are connected to it?
Why did this document exist? Who created it and why? What is its meaning? What was its meaning to those who created it?
Can I create a product of my own that comes from the same literal/connections/meanings as the document?
I printed up enough copies of the map for every two students to have one; I had a large format printer, so they got something close to the original size. Then we started.
I. Literal level
We read the words on the map and talked about what the map was. We looked at the date of publication (1861). We looked at the text at the top:
We looked at the scale:
We found Coweta County on the map:
We talked about the number in Coweta County: 49.4% of the county’s population was slaves.
We discussed what the Census was.
I remember asking them whether it looked as if the slave population were evenly distributed across the south, and they were quick to say no. When I asked if they could explain the patterns of light and dark, they immediately told me that it was pretty clear that the heaviest slave populations were where cotton and rice were grown, i.e., plantations. I was impressed.
II. Connections level
Next I asked them to tell me what they knew about the U.S. in 1861: the nation was at war, the Confederacy vs. the Union. The Union was not doing well in battle; the war was not popular. Abraham Lincoln was President. The South was largely rural/agricultural, and much of that was supported by slavery.
I showed them Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
We talked about the 3/5s Compromise and what that meant. I directed them to the computers — I ran a 21st century media center — where I had prepared a HyperCard stack for them to use the census data to calculate how many congressional representatives each southern state got based on their free populations as well as “all other Persons.” (We discovered that the southern states gained an extra25 representatives based on a population who could not vote and who were not actually citizens.)
III. Meanings level
The crux of the matter: why did this map exist?
Part of the answer is the piece at the top about the map being sold to support the sick and wounded soldiers of the U.S. — it was an appeal to patriotism, underscored by the title of the map: this was a map of the southern states of the United States. (Confederate States of America? Pfft.)
And by linking the reminder of sick and wounded soldiers to the southern states, the map was driving home the point of the war: the southern states had seceded to protect their Peculiar Institution, an institution that had given them an unfair advantage in Congress since the drafting of the Constitution 75 years before.
Indeed, and I didn’t know this at the time of this lesson, Lincoln had used this map in his deliberations about the war and the Emancipation Proclamation, so much so that it was included in this painting of the “First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation”:
IV. Interpretations level
Students then given the following assignment:
Buy This Map!
Your task is to persuade a friend to buy one of these maps. You are a young person living in Philadelphia in 1861, and one morning in October you happen to be walking by H. Long & Brother Booksellers when you notice this map in the window. You immediately realize what the maps have to say about the reasons for the war, and you go in and buy one to support the war effort.
Now you want all your friends to buy one, too.
Write a letter to your friends to convince them of all the reasons they need to buy one of these maps. Instead of writing a letter, you may give a speech.
A good letter/speech will
• explain what the map tells you [Level I]
• explain the reasons for the war shown in the map [Level II]
• explain the connection between the Constitution’s “3⁄5 rule” and the map [Level II]
• explain what good the money will do [Level I]
• explain how the map made you feel and why you bought it [Level III]
Use the front and back of the next page to write your letter or to organize the notes for your speech.
Results were varied, as you might imagine; this is not an easy assignment, to translate all the things we learned into a personal narrative. But it’s the kind of assignment that schools should have been doing and should be doing: it’s not just a creative writing exercise, it’s an assessment. The student demonstrates what he/she understands about the map in a rather complete way. Yes, I had an objective test that I gave students as well, but that was just a formative assessment to double-check their knowledge/understanding before they wrote the letter. Yes, the lesson took longer and was more involved than simply standing in front of a class and telling them what the map meant. But it allowed the learners to construct knowledge, and in my charter school that will be the name of the game.
By the way, this is what my 21st century media center looked like:
UPDATE: Since there’s been some interest in this post, I thought I should circle back and include the “checbric” we gave the students. (“Checbric” is one of those ugly coined terms from back in the day, a combination of “checklist” and “rubric.”)
Your letter/speech describes
____ when and where you bought the map
____ why you bought the map
____ why your friend (the reader) should buy the map
5 You’ve made the reader believe that this a real letter from a real person in 1861. You are utterly convincing with your reasons and personal details.
4 Your descriptions are often and sharp and complete, giving the reader details that make the letter come alive.
3 Your descriptions have enough details that the reader has no problem understanding who wrote this letter and why. Your arguments are convincing.
2 Your descriptions allow the reader to see that a person has written this letter, but there are not enough details for the reader to get an idea of who you are, and you don’t really convince the reader to buy a map.
1 Your descriptions are missing. The reader can’t tell who you are or what your reasons are for writing the letter.
Your letter/speech contains an explanation of
____ what the map tells you
____ the reasons for the war shown on the map
____ the connection between the 3/5 rule and the map
5 Your explanations are unusually thorough and inventive. They are fully supported and justified by evidence. They go beyond the information given in class.
4 You explanations are revealing and thorough. They are well-supported by evidence. You make subtle connections that we didn’t talk about in class.
3 Your explanations give some in-depth or personal ideas. You make the lesson your own, but you don’t use enough evidence to back up your explanations completely.
2 Your explanations were incomplete, even though you used some of what we learned. Your explanations only had limited evidence.
1 Your explanations are more descriptive than analytical. You give only a fragmentary or sketchy account of the facts.
The book is aimed at the middle reader, but as far as I’m concerned every sentient being in this country should read it and discuss it everywhere. The authors are thorough, honest, and more than a little skeptical about the solidity of our governing document. They have reason to be.
A little background: back in 1987, at the bicentennial of the Constitutional Convention, the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society asked the Newnan Community Theatre Company to come up with some kind of presentation/performance for them that addressed this epochal moment in our history. It fell to me as artistic director at the time to devise the entertainment.
That summer, at GHP, I read the complete The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, compiled and edited by Max Farrand. Even though the delegates worked in absolute secrecy and the recording secretary burned all deliberations, James Madison kept copious notes (which he edited selectively later in life). To this document, Farrand added all other diaries/letters/correspondence that he could find, and the result is a fascinating read. Those men argued over everything: every word, every comma, every idea.
The point is that the Constitution we ended up with was by no means foreordained. In fact, the eventual performance piece NCTC came up with asked the audience members (seated in groups relative to the size of the thirteen colonies) to decide the nature of the Executive, and both nights they dumped our current arrangement in favor of a single executive elected for a single term of six years. Expecting a worshipful experience of a perfect document, they were surprised and delighted to be shown there was more to it.
Fault Lines covers this concept of argument and compromise brilliantly. Each chapter follows the same outline:
Introductory story of some recent foofaraw which illustrates a problem springing from the Constitution as written
“Meanwhile, back in 1787…”, in which the debate over the problem is discussed and the reasons given for the final decision
“So what’s the big problem?”, which details why the compromise has unraveled or caused problems, often because of vagueness in wording or the founders’ astonishing lack of prescience for 200 years in the future
“There are other ways”, outlining how the states and other countries deal with the issue (spoiler alert: there are other ways)
“The story continues” with the authors looping back around to the introductory story and giving us the upshot
The final section is the most agitating, in every sense of the word. The authors grade the Constitution and how well it has delivered on the promises in the Preamble. (It gets an overall C+.) Then the authors, responding to James Madison’s comment that “it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate it,” list some very uncomfortable ways we might go about doing that:
Change Senate rules (i.e., get rid of the filibuster)
Pass new laws (mostly about the structure of representation)
Develop work-arounds to the Electoral College
Amend the Constitution, with a long laundry list of items derived from the discussions in the rest of the book
Finally, the authors have a one-on-one debate as to the wisdom of going full Leeroy Jenkins with a Constitutional Convention to upset the entire apple cart. It’s enough to keep you up at night, which at this point in our history is saying something. (I should say that the book is very current, referencing the current administration and some of its actions. The section on the 25th Amendment is particularly pointed and reflects some of my own writing, here and here.)
So, teachers, want a resource to celebrate our annual MANDATED CONSTITUTION DAY LESSONS COMRADE on Sep 17? Requisition a classroom set of this bombshell and watch the children’s minds crack open. And probably their parents’ heads explode.
 I am aware this does not include everyone in this country.
 I’m actually in favor of requiring the study of the Constitution, just probably not in the way that the über-patriots who have mandated it intended.
The conservative mind is a curious thing, divided against itself in so many ways. On the one hand, you have the “business interests” portion of the mind insisting that the schools must—absolutely must—graduate students who are incredible critical thinkers and problem solvers. On the other hand, you have the “god, guns, and gays” mindset that recoils at any suggestion that the ground on which they stand might not be as solid as they’d like to believe.
This conservative schizophrenia is now playing out in the Gwinnett County School System as the usual suspects pick up the screeching about the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, which was revised in part to challenge our top students to think critically about historical data. But Noooooooooo! scream the howler monkeys, It’s all radical liberal communist propaganda my country tis of thee american exceptionalism no exceptions!
Here’s the problem. There are two ways to frame education. One is that it’s a process of learning how to learn, of making sure the student is prepared to face the modern world with the proper skills and attitudes to be a productive member of our democratic society.
The other, alas, regards education as a set of facts and figures to be learned. And tested on.
I will now pause while you decide which framework is the one to which the GGG conservative mindset clings.
The problem is that the proponents of each framework will never agree on curriculum. They can’t; they don’t even see the goals as the same. One side envisions the best students as regurgitators of facts, essential facts, while the other sees them as problem-solvers who are able to evaluate data and propose solutions based on them.
Here’s why the GGG conservatives are wrong—and they are wrong—about the APUSH curriculum. Their cry that important stuff has been left out of the curricullum is misguided, mainly because it’s not so much the factoids as the mythic filter of those factoids that concerns them. “We’re teaching them that the U.S. has been wrong.”
Well, yes, we are because we were. These students, the top of the top, have already gotten the mythos in the previous years of their education, assuming their school system hasn’t shortchanged history in order to slam the students with MATH AND SCIENCE WHY WOULD THEY EVEN DO THAT EVEN?
These students already know that the U.S. is the bestest ever. By the time they enter APUSH, headed to college, they need to start examining more nuanced views of our history. What have we done right? What have we done wrong? Where have we learned, and where have we not learned? It’s questions like these that keep the policy makers in Washington up at night, and it’s a good thing, too. As H.L. Mencken (PBUH) said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” We don’t want people in our government who are so sure of the facts that they can’t see significant alternatives. Yes, I’m looking at you, Republicans. Dickheads.
Here’s why the GGG mindset about facts—just the facts, ma’am—is not only wrong, but stupid. Once you’ve decided that the curriculum is just going to be a Gradgrindian slog through all the essential facts, then you have to fight it out over which facts are essential enough to be slogged through. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article which prompted this post, the reporter slyly ended the article with a quote from a former Gwinnett teacher who is a lead howler monkey:
…Urbach, the former Gwinnett teacher, stuck to his claims about what not’s taught in the district.
“Over 200 years worth of European history is not taught,” he said. “I taught the course for six years, and we never made it to the 1970s. Only one, maybe two days teaching on the Holocaust.”
Such is the totality of the GGG’s un-self-awareness that Mr. Urbach cannot see what he’s just said: if all you teach is the facts, you cannot possibly teach all of them. I used to tell teachers all the time, if you make my son love history so much that he will continue to learn about it the rest of his life, I don’t give a crap whether you cover Jacksonian democracy or not. (Indeed, his APUSH history teacher was a Gradgrind of the worst kind, and not incoincidentally I think, was a conservative who brooked no discussion or opposition to the literally thousands of “facts” she required them to memorize.)
There is no solution. The howler monkeys will never shut the hell up, while their own corporate masters bemoan the fact that there’s no one they can hire because schools are not giving them the problem-solvers they need. No solution.
I was trolling through files on my hard drive, wondering what some of them were, when I came across a word processing document that impressed me. I was working on my specialist degree, five or so years ago now, and I think it was the piddling psychology class they make you take to give the psychology professors something to do. It was like the last class I had on my agenda, and like me, most of the students were old enough to be the professor’s parent. We were mostly amused by his efforts.
Anyway, there was some online discussion as part of the class, and this one was on Chomsky and others of that ilk. I had gone away for the whole week (could it have been that historical trip to the mountains that Thanksgiving?), and when I got back, I was bothered by the turn the conversation had taken. Most of the participants had taken “grammar” to mean “rules of speech,” and it took a pretty prescriptive turn. Silly.
This was my response, and I think it still reads well:
I notice there is some confusion in our discussion of Chomsky over the nature of grammar. “Grammar” is not that set of rules set up by the dominant power structure to govern our language, nor is it a set of exercises out of Warriner’s. Grammar, as Chomsky means it, is innate, that is, born with us, and it includes our ability to recognize and create sentences that no one has ever heard before nor ever will again. It is not literacy and it is not writing.
The comparison of transformational grammar to math [in the textbook] is interesting, since one of the biggest problems non-mathematicians have with symbolic logic is the idea that an argument/syllogism can be true even if the statements which make it up are false. To wit:
All women have three heads.
George W. Bush is a woman.
Therefore, George W. Bush has three heads.
The structure is perfectly valid, perfectly true, despite the fact that the premises are outrageous fabrications. This is grammar. The most famous example from Chomsky is the sentence, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” immediately recognizable as a correct sentence even though it makes no sense. In contrast, “Dog the his ate brown under food tree the” is not a sentence in any language. Innate transformational grammar is what allows any child in our schools to a) recognize those words in that order as gibberish; and b) rearrange those words into a real sentence. If literacy is removed from the equation, any child in the school can perform that task without any instruction from us.
A thought experiment: take the “dog” sentence, and consider how you would present those words on cards to a non-reading child and ask him to put them in some grammatical order. If you decided to start simple and then ask the child to add the remaining words one at a time, you’d probably begin with “dog the ate food his.” How did you know that? That’s Chomskian grammar. The kicker is that eventually you come up against “under.” Even a moment’s thought is enough to show you that you can’t hand the child just the word “under” and expect him to proceed. You would have to give him “tree under the” and ask him to put all three words in, which he would proceed to do after rearranging them into a prepositional phrase. Finally, the word “brown” can go in any of three places, but only in those three places. That is transformational grammar.
Our concerns over “street” grammar and “standard” grammar are misplaced in this discussion. Standard grammar is one of the tools used by the dominant power structure to cement its influence, and anyone who intends to live profitably within that power structure needs to know how to speak and write it. Indeed, one of our duties as educators is to provide students the opportunity to avail themselves of that knowledge. However, bemoaning the decline or absence of that structure in our students is trivial. One might just as well compare the writings of Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln with those of our current political leadership and conclude that we were suffering from a precipitous decay in the public arena.
So, how would I use Chomsky’s theories in my media center? If I were coaching a student in his reading, I would (and do) rest comfortably in the knowledge that the child is capable of recognizing the sentence on the page, whether or not he is currently capable of translating those squiggly black marks under the illustration. The words on the page are not arranged randomly, but in a pattern that is born in the child’s brain and already expanded by his experience in the world so far. This is a hopeful, and helpful, hook: whether or not the child says, “Bobby be’s riding his bike” in his daily life, he will not be puzzled by the sentence, “Bobby rides his bike” on the page. Whether we then correct the child’s daily speech is a political choice, and with Chomsky, it’s all political anyway.
I was appointed to be a member of the State Literacy Task Force. We are charged with developing a proposal for a long-term plan to improve literacy across the board in Georgia.
Our first task, which we’re already behind on, is to define literacy.
I am not being flippant when I suggest as a definition the ability to find and use information. Yes, it’s totally colored by my day job as a media specialist, but think about it. If we charged schools and communities to make sure their students and citizens could find and use information, then we don’t have to get into reading and technology and blah blah blah. Do what it takes to make it happen.
In chatting about this with Kevin on Saturday morning, I allowed as how, despite what you might think, I was not interested in including padding like “self-enrichment” in the definition, because that’s not something the state has any control over, or vested interest in, if I were to turn all Antonin Scalia on us.
Then Kevin said something that I though was very important and I wrote it down immediately to steal: “Sort of like a Maslow’s hierarchy for literacy?”
So whattaya say, dear readers? Help me develop said hierarchy, and we shall be as gods.
Yes, I finally got work done. I listened through Blake’s Wonderful Car Delivers Us Wonderfully Well and made a few tweaks. Pretty subtle, but they were necessary. I think it sounds marginally better.
In other work, I dug out my personality profile from when I was a student at GHP in 1970. I find that it is the Cattell 16PF Profile. We were given this test, and then called in by the counselor (Eddie Najjar, a theatre person actually, and kin to the Mansours here in Newnan) to discuss it. He would show us our score on each item, and then we got to choose which of the synonyms on that end of the scale we thought described us.
Looking at it now, I’m a little surprised to see that I was in the average range for Self-Assured. Geez, I was an insufferable little thing. I must have cheated on the test.
Anyway, I dug it out because I’m going to use its scales to give my little bloggers a handle on describing characters from their books. If they can see some contrasting personality traits, they can latch on to one or two to hang their writing on.
I was going to write about King Lear today, and I may yet, later. But in the meantime, eyes must be rolled and lips pursed over the state board of education in Kansas, hosting a little show trial for creationists before they vote to allow Genesis to become part of the state’s science curriculum.
But no, I hear them say, they’re not creationists. Oh, no, they’re proponents of intelligent design. G*d didn’t create the world… but it couldn’t have happened without him. Her. Them.
Honey, please. I am not about to get into arguments pro/con on this blog, because the whole thing is preposterous. But two comments made by the creationists testifying before the Kansas board bear examination.
One is the whole “teach the controversy” shibboleth. Charles Thaxton, creationist chemist and author of a book that says so, said, “There is no science without criticism.” He and his cohorts are described as arguing that Darwinism has become a dangerous dogma, and they are simply open-minded.
Fooey. Anyone who believes that Darwinism isn’t constantly examined and challenged by scientists of all stripes needs to vote Republican. All science is constantly critiqued. That’s what experiments are for. That’s what peer-reviewed journals are for. Biologists and their compeers have been bickering about the details of the evolutionary process since before Darwin sailed on the Beagle.
But suggesting that science should include ideas that cannot be tested is not open-minded, it is lame-brained.
Witness the other statement, by another chemist, one William S. Harris. He and his fellow travelers had been dazzling the Board with the complexities of RNA and all that jazz. “You can infer design just by examining something, without knowing anything about where it came from,” he said. Referring to the scene in The Gods Must Be Crazy in which the Bushmen marvel at a Coca-Cola bottle thrown from a plane, he said, “I don’t know who did it, I don’t know how it was done, I don’t know why it was done, I don’t have to know any of that to know that it was designed.”
Well. That was not exactly the Bushmen’s response, was it, Dr. Harris? If they had thought like that, they wouldn’t have assumed it was from the gods, would they? They would have realized it was a man-made object, albeit one from a society whose technology they could not fathom.
No, the Bushmen did not infer design. They inferred divine intervention, and that’s exactly what the intelligent designists want us to infer as well, despite their disingenuous pose.
Not only that, but while the complexities of life on this planet may cause some of us to infer an intelligence behind it all, they do not necessarily imply that at all.
One day an incident occurred in my elementary media center that put this in perspective for me. I was working at my table on my spiffy PowerBook laptop, using my graphics tablet pen as a mouse, when one of our special education students stopped by to watch in wonder as I worked. Finally she asked, “Mr. Lyles, is your computer magic?” I gently explained that although it looked like magic, it was just a very complicated machine, and demonstrated the tablet for her.
These people fall in the same category: it’s too complicated for us to explain, so it must be the work of powers beyond our comprehension. It is a lazy, intellectually dishonest way of looking at the world.
I hereby propose a moratorium on the word important in any GPS enduring understanding or essential question.
Today I attended a very good session for third grade teachers on “unpacking” a standard. When it got down to writing essential questions, it was amazing at the number of EQs that contained the word important. What got me to thinking about the issue was an EQ that my team wrote on the writing standard. We proposed, “Why is writing so hard?”, the idea being that we would tap into the students’ dislike/fear of writing and springboard into the various solutions as suggested by the elements of that standard.
The crowd reaction at first was one of excitement, but then it was suggested that the EQ was too “negative,” and the next thing we knew, the EQ had been amended to “Why is writing important?”
If the purpose of an essential question is to provoke discussion and exploration, and it is, then why in the name of all that’s engaging would we shy away from a provocative question like “Why is writing so hard?” and replace it with some teacher-talk like “Why is writing important?” There isn’t a kid on this planet who doesn’t see right through the “important” BS: it’s just a trap to enforce the student’s compliance with the teacher’s view of things. It is humbug of the most offensive sort.
I completely understand that not every teacher would want to lead off with such an in-your-face EQ, but honey, please. Most of the EQs were simply lesson plans in disguise. Do you really want to dig into whether “following the rules of grammar helps you understand written and oral communication?” ::yawn::
So we could have rewritten the question, “Are there ways to make writing easier for me?”, or “What can I do to make my writing better?”, or any other question that actually sounds like it might be asked by a student, preferably a question that produces some interest in seeing it answered.
Therefore, teachers, a new commandment: Thou shalt not write essential questions that merely embed thine unfiltered instructional agenda without any attempt to understand how a student in thy care might actually think.