"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, September 25, 2020

A Note to My Leaf-Burning Neighbors

This post was first published on November 2, 2017. Some links have been edited/corrected.


Ah...who doesn't love the nostalgic scent of burning leaves in the fall?

Answer: Anyone with lungs!

It's Autumn in Indiana and my woodsy neighborhood is filled with fallen leaves. Many of my neighbors are recycling them by mulching them into their lawns or gardens or hiring crews to pick them up. Some others, are piling them up and setting them ablaze, and by doing so filling the air with poisonous toxins and choking ash.


What damage can one little fire cause?

It's not just one little fire...it's several since we live in an addition with dozens of houses and hundreds of leaf-dropping trees. The point is that "multiple fires in one geographic area can cause concentrations of air pollutants that exceed federal air quality standards" – at least until the current EPA decides that the right of citizens to breathe is just not a priority.

And, about those lungs...
Besides being an irritant, leaf smoke contains many hazardous chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzo(a)pyrene. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream and thus reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and lungs. So carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for young children with immature lungs, smokers, the elderly, and people with chronic heart or lung diseases.

Benzo(a)pyrene is known to cause cancer in animals and is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke and coal tar as well as leaf smoke.

[Full disclosure: The above paragraph is about me. Burning leaves make me sick. I have some serious lung issues and, while I hate to use the term elderly when talking about myself, I'm 72, so I'm there...assuming I last through the leaf-burning season!]


That benzo(a)pyrene stuff is a big deal. It can negatively affect your nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, it messes with your DNA, and it's a carcinogen. Why would anyone do that to themselves and their families...not to mention the little children who live next door or two houses down...or the old folks on the corner...or everyone else in the neighborhood?

My neighborhood (Google Earth).
Note the dark green...trees.


So, you live in the woods...what do you do with all the leaves?

Some cities (such as Fort Wayne) provide curbside pickup of leaves. Pay attention and make sure you get them to the curb in time for pickup.

Or, instead of setting them on fire, follow the recommendations of Rosie Lerner of the Purdue Extension Service.
You could compost those leaves yourself. Dry leaves alone will break down slowly over time, but you can speed that process by mixing the leaves with green plant materials, such as grass clippings, garden discards and produce scraps. Or you could add a source of nitrogen, such as livestock manure or commercial fertilizer. Mix (turn) the pile occasionally to keep a good supply of air in the compost. A good-sized compost pile should be a minimum of 3 cubic feet. The compost will be ready to use as a soil conditioner in several weeks to several months, depending on size and management techniques.

Shredded leaves also can be used as a mulch around garden and landscape plants. Mulches provide many benefits, including weed suppression, moisture conservation and moderation of soil temperature. Leaves can be applied to dormant plants in winter to prevent young plants from heaving out of the ground. Leaf mulch can help keep soil cooler in summer. No more than a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves should be used around actively growing plants. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help prevent them from matting down and preventing air from reaching roots.

Directly applying the leaves to a garden or unused area of soil is another option. Try to spread the leaves over as large an area as possible, then till or plow them under. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help them to break down faster.

My personal favorite option is to simply shred the leaves through my lawn mower until the pieces are small enough to just leave them right there on the lawn! Dry leaves are much easier to handle through the mower than moist ones. If possible, remove the bagger so all of the leaves are deposited right back onto the lawn as they shred.

Click this image for information on how to use leaves in your garden.

My lungs thank you.


Monday, September 21, 2020

Listen to this - 2020 #4


Children Are Born Scientists. What If School Encouraged That? (Kristina Rizga)

Standardized tests are generally a waste of time and money, but they do show what states require schools to emphasize in daily instruction. It's no surprise that there's been an "overall decline" in the time spent teaching science...which is not tested to the extent that reading and math are.

In Indiana, for example, all children in grades three through eight are tested every year in English/Language Arts and Math. Science is tested only in grades four and six, and then not again until subject area tests in high school (Social Studies is tested only in grade five before high school). Students in grade three have an additional reading test tied to a grade-level promotion.

There are standards for science in every grade, of course, and teachers are required to teach those standards every year, but the fact that they're not tested tells the teachers and the students that they are "not important" and are often relegated to the position of "fillers" and taught "when there's time" during the school week.

Kindergartens, which have transitioned from developmentally appropriate activities to the "new first grade", rarely allow students time to study science through free play at water tables, sand tables, building blocks, and other natural explorations.

Our students should start preparing for a science and technology-based society. Carl Sagan reminded us in 1990 that we live in a society dependent upon science and technology, yet too few of us understand science and technology.

From Kristina Rizga
Studies that have looked at time dedicated to science in elementary grades since the mid-’90s, have found variation between states, but generally show an overall decline, especially in schools serving high numbers of low-income children. Meanwhile, jobs in the STEM-related fields are now projected to be among the fastest growing in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Political storms: Emergent partisan skepticism of hurricane risks

From Elisa F. Long, M. Keith Chen, and Ryne Rohla

That Americans don't understand or trust science is reason enough that we need to teach it. As a nation, we are ignorant of science-based problems like climate change, toxic and radioactive wastes, and ozone depletion. When someone raises an alarm about a looming scientific crisis there is widespread denial that it's happening.

A significant number of our citizens distrust scientists and science, and sadly, science distrust and denial are tied to one of our political parties. Proof of that can be seen in the study below, where people from the science-denying political party were more likely to ignore warnings about dangerous hurricane forecasts.

Exposing students to good science beginning in early childhood is a way to make sure that they grow up to be science-literate citizens.
Mistrust of scientific evidence and government-issued guidelines is increasingly correlated with political affiliation...Combining GPS data for 2.7 million smartphone users in Florida and Texas with 2016 U.S. presidential election precinct-level results, we examine how conservative-media dismissals of hurricane advisories in 2017 influenced evacuation decisions. Likely Trump-voting Florida residents were 10 to 11 percentage points less likely to evacuate Hurricane Irma than Clinton voters (34% versus 45%)...The rapid surge in media-led suspicion of hurricane forecasts—and the resulting divide in self-protective measures illustrates a large behavioral consequence of science denialism.


‘The failures of everyone else get passed to the schools’

America's public schools have been charged with fixing societal problems for decades. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the problem in 1967 remarking that
...we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.
There are still those who think that "fixing" the schools will fix society despite the fact that it has never worked. Politicians, pundits, and policymakers have, for years, passed the buck to the schools. Maybe it's time for them to accept some of the responsibility. Schools can help, of course, but can't do it alone.

From Middle school teacher, Braden Bell
Whenever society has a problem and those in charge can’t resolve it, the problem gets punted to the schools, which simply must deal with it as best they can.

Hunger. Lack of reliable child care. Gun violence. Pregnancies and STDs. Students who are abused or vulnerable in any number of ways...In all these cases, society is conflicted or at an impasse. As politicians and ideologues argue, schools have to address the problems encountered by the students who show up each day. Schools can’t punt. And because this exceeds what schools were designed for, they are often not well equipped to take on these challenges.


Gene Roddenberry Quotes That Inspire a Great Future

No matter how hard the current occupant of the White House and his followers try to deny and prevent it, the US is a diverse country. That diversity is a net positive for our growth as a nation.

From Gene Roddenberry
Diversity contains as many treasures as those waiting for us on other worlds. We will find it impossible to fear diversity and to enter the future at the same time.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg says this is the secret to living a meaningful life

From Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The myth of the American "rugged individual" has been taken to the extreme. We have become a tribal nation focused on getting benefits for ourselves only. Unfortunately, we live in a community of people...and a community of nations. We need to understand that "we all do better when we all do better." The late Justice Ginsburg understood that.
...to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you. That's what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself, but for one's community.

Reimagine Schools after Covid-19? Bring Children Together!

Thurgood Marshall said,
...unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together and understand each other
From Nancy Bailey
Public schools can bring us together. When children learn to care for each other with tolerance and understanding, they will grow to respect one other as adults...

Vouchers and charters divide. Private schools and charter schools segregate. Remote learning, or learning at home or anyplace anytime, does little to bring students together.

This country needs strong public schools that unite students and families.


Saturday, September 19, 2020

Patriotic Education

The current occupant of the White House claims that American schools are teaching "a twisted web of lies" about systemic racism in America. He says that parents are going to demand that their children are no longer "fed hateful lies about this country."

Which lies does he mean...this one, perhaps?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

As Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote in the 1619 Project, it's an "ideal and a lie. "
The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.
Among those who signed the Declaration of Independence, nearly three-fourths were slave owners, thus negating the sincerity of the words, "unalienable Rights," and "...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

In 1830, President Jackson signed the Indiana Removal Act into law, which required the US government to negotiate for Indian land in the Southeast. Instead, Jackson ignored the letter of the law and drove the native people from their land, "relocating" them to Oklahoma. Was that "...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?"

After the Civil War, Jim Crow laws were established to keep Black Americans from voting, buying homes, and getting jobs. Was that "...Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?"

Is it patriotic to pretend that these and other examples of denying Americans their rights because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their ancestry, didn't happen? Or is it more patriotic to acknowledge the failings associated with our founding and development as a nation along with the powerful stories of those citizens who fought to make the words, "...Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" a reality?

How can we teach children about Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass without teaching them about slavery?

How can we teach children about World War II Japanese-American internment camps, Martin Luther King Jr., and John Lewis without teaching them about white supremacy and the KKK?

Do we just ignore slavery, Jim Crow, and internment camps?

Real patriotism doesn't ignore the past. Real patriotism doesn't claim that the country has been perfect since its inception.

Instead, real patriotism echoes the words of Carl Shurz, Civil War General and Senator from Missouri, who said,
"My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
Our obligation to the next generation is to teach them the truth about America and help them to "keep right" what is right and to "set right" what is wrong.

Our children deserve the truth
"It has always seemed to me that teaching the truth about America is the most American act we can commit. A great deal of our history is wonderful: freedom of religion, land of opportunity, great democracy, economic success. A great deal of our history is horrible: genocide of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, imperialism, economic inequity. In that, we are like every other civilization in history. Have we gotten more things right than many other civilizations? Perhaps. But that does not absolve us from those things we have gotten wrong." -- Russ Walsh


Thursday, September 17, 2020

We Must All Be Civics Teachers - Constitution Day, 2020

Reposted and updated from 2018.


A few days ago, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released its annual Constitution Day Civics Survey. The results of the survey suggest that the recent upheavals in the United States...racial protests, a pandemic-based health crisis, and increased political polarization...have provided Americans with the excuse to learn more about our form of government.

The survey found that Americans now know more about how our government works than in the last couple of years.

Asked to name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
  • 73% of Americans named freedom of speech, up from 48% in 2017;
  • 47% named freedom of religion, up from 15% in 2017;
  • 42% named freedom of the press, up from 14% in 2017;
  • 34% named right of assembly, up from 10%;
  • 14% named the right to petition the government, up from 3%;
  • Those who could not name any First Amendment right fell to 19% from 37% in 2017 (total of “can’t name any” and “don’t know”).

It seems obvious that daily newscasts and political pronouncements have helped to educate Americans on the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. The survey did not, however, explore the depth of understanding about the newfound knowledge or delve into such questions as...
  • Do Americans understand that Freedom of Speech does not mean that citizens can bully their way unmasked into businesses that require masks during the pandemic? 
  • Do Americans understand that Freedom of Religion does not mean that a business can discriminate based on the religious beliefs of their customers?


It's only slightly comforting that more Americans have learned about the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. On the other hand, it is disturbing (at least to me) that only about half of Americans surveyed can name all three branches of the government. That's up from about one-third a year ago, but given how important the system of checks and balances is to securing our democracy, it's not enough. It's also disturbing that nearly a quarter of our citizens can't name even one branch of the government!

Furthermore, the survey indicates that a even among those who know the three branches of government, there are a large number of people who are ignorant of the way the branches interact.

For example, almost a third of those surveyed (29%) thought that Congress decided whether the President's acts were constitutional. Half of the respondents knew that's the job of the Supreme Court, but that number (51%) is down from 2019. In addition, less than half of those surveyed knew how large a majority in Congress it took to override a Presidential Veto.

It's clear that many of our citizens still don't know enough.


On September 17, 1787, 233 years ago today, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, signed the Constitution of the United States. It was ratified nine months later and went into effect 18 months after that.

We all still need to be civics teachers!