"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, May 14, 2021

Don't Punish the Students - Reposted

UPDATE: Got another email. They made a mistake, though they didn't admit it. The email said that they "have re-evaluated the post" and it has been reinstated. You can see it at Don't Punish the Students!.

For some reason, Blogger considered this post Malware and has deleted it. Luckily I have a mirror blog at WordPress. You can find the post at:

Don't Punish the Students

Maybe it's time to move there permanently...

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Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football - Reposted

UPDATE: Got another email. They made a mistake, though they didn't admit it. The email said that they "have re-evaluated the post" and it has been reinstated. You can see it at Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football.

For some reason, Blogger considered this post Malware and has deleted it. Luckily I have a mirror blog at WordPress. You can find the post at:

Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football

Maybe it's time to move there permanently...


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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

2021 Medley #6 - We Slide into Superstition and Darkness

Mask misinformation, Climate change misinformation, Vaccine misinformation, Legislative ignorance

MASK MISINFORMATION

N.J. school nurse fails science, experts say, in comments about face masks.

Sadly, this nurse at the center of this article has failed to keep up with the science she (should have) learned in nursing school.

One of the arguments Nurse Pein gives for being against masks is that it causes damage to the mental health of children. More first-graders are suffering from anxiety and depression, she claims. She blames the masks but fails science in at least two ways.

Science lesson #1

First, her conclusion is based on a small sample size, just one school. Any good scientist will tell you that a large enough sample size is necessary before concluding that a hypothesis is correct. Small samples increase the margin of error and reduce the confidence level. Are the first-graders in her school representative of all the first-graders in the state...the country...the world? Obviously not. Perhaps there's something happening in her community that is causing stress among the population of young children -- something like a pandemic, for example. Blaming it on the masks alone is just plain ignorant.

Science lesson #2

Failure number two -- correlation does not imply causation. Nurse Pein blames the masks for the distress of the children in her school, but did she explore anything else that might be causing the problems? Are all the children who wear masks to school feeling anxious or depressed? Perhaps her attendance area has a large number of COVID cases and the students are worried about their family members or classmates. Perhaps the children have heard adults spout misinformation about the dangers of wearing masks! Whatever the cause, the conclusion that the masks are causing the negative feelings of the children is a conclusion without a basis.

Finally, it must be noted that she hasn't kept up with the changes to the science of the pandemic as we learn more about the virus. Early on we were told that masks weren't effective against the virus and were needed for medical professionals. However, as we have learned more about how the virus is spread the science has changed. We've learned more. We know more than we did in February and March of 2020. Now we know that masks are effective in preventing the spread of the virus. Similarly, we now know that children are more susceptible to coronavirus variants than they were a year ago (Northeast Indiana readers, see also here).

Science is not an unchanging truth. Science conclusions can and do change when we learn more.

Other objections Pein has for mask-wearing are debunked in the article.
After refusing to wear a mask herself, Erin Pein said she was suspended from her job in the Stafford Township school district.

Now her supporters are planning a rally and her cause has become an issue in the upcoming Republican primary for Hirsh Singh, who arranged and posted a widely shared video interview with her and argues that no one should be forced to wear masks — calling it “a matter of personal freedom.”

But epidemiologists say such claims are little more than “inflammatory rhetoric” and at odds with the science that has repeatedly shown that face masks are highly effective in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. At the same time, they said as new variants of the virus develop, the wearing of masks has become more important than ever.

CLIMATE CHANGE MISINFORMATION

Making the Grade? How State Public School Science Standards Address Climate Change

Are you surprised that Indiana didn't get an F in its state standards addressing climate change? The fact that there's some hope raised the grade to a D.

The state standards for science in Indiana, according to the report by the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, don't even acknowledge that the changing climate is a problem. Students graduating from K-12 schools in Indiana will hear pundits on TV raging about the dangers of climate change and will assume that it's not a problem we need to worry about. Graduates from Indiana will be unlikely to contribute to advances in climate science and other related fields. The right-wing myth that climate change is a hoax will continue to find a home in Indiana.
Indiana
Overall grade: D

Indiana earned a D, just barely escaping and overall failing grade. The state's approach to the reality and severity of climate change as well as the human responsibility for causing it is abysmal. One reviewer: "I must say [the standards do] not meet the needs of Indiana students in the process of learning their foundational understanding of the world they are inheriting and the promising careers and opportunities available to them; this is a disservice to them." Saving the state from an F were somewhat better -- but still poor -- marks for addressing the possibility of solutions to the problem, which is odd since the standards failed to make clear that the problem exists. One reviewer summed up thus: "These standards do a relatively poor job in meeting the four rubrics. They do not have a coherent learning progression or explicit information. Interestingly, there is a good deal of focus on science and engineering solution-oriented perspectives, and this is why I scored the 'there's hope' section higher. This...focus could be very effective if it was used to address and ideate climate adaptation and mitigation solutions." Not surprisingly, the state got failing grades for preparing students for studying climate change in higher education and for responsible participation in civic deliberation on the issue.

VACCINE MISINFORMATION

Why mRNA vaccines can’t change your genome: a lesson from Elmer Elevator
My last blog post, Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket, focused on science literacy, and the lack of it in American culture. I suggested that teachers connect to organizations to help bring science literacy to their students. One of those groups was the National Center for Science Education. In this post, Executive Director of NCSE, Ann Reid, debunks the conspiracy that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines alter a person's DNA. Hint: You should read the book My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, a 1949 Newbery Honor Book. Hint #1: mRNA vaccines won't alter your DNA.
Over the course of Elmer’s adventure, he uses each of these objects. For example, the toothbrush and toothpaste serve to distract a hostile rhinoceros that threatens to drown Elmer in the pool he weeps in because his horn (the book says “tusk,” but rhino horns aren’t teeth) has grown grey and ugly. Only the jackknife, which Elmer eventually uses to saw through the ropes holding the dragon, makes any sense in advance. But every object is used, and every one is essential; without each and every one of them, Elmer would never have reached and rescued the baby dragon.

All right, I can hear you saying: “What in the Sam Hill does this have to do with mRNA vaccines?”

Well, this. For an mRNA vaccine to alter your DNA, it would have to overcome a series of challenges, each of which requires specialized cellular components that would have to be in the right place at the right time. Just like Elmer Elevator, the mRNA can’t just show up in your cell and expect to get past all the wild animals between it and the baby dragon, as it were.

SCIENCE IGNORANCE CAN BE HARMFUL TO YOUR PUBLIC SCHOOL

A state legislator is howling indoctrination because my 7th graders are learning the ocean is polluted

A North Carolina representative wants to make sure that students aren't taught about climate change which he says is "indoctrination."

This is what happens when science is misunderstood, misrepresented, and then politicized.

What also scares me about this bill is that it would require teachers to spend an insane amount of time every day posting lesson plans online.
A member of the North Carolina House of Representatives held up my teaching as an example of harmful indoctrination of children this week as state legislators met to discuss a new bill which would require teachers to post their lesson plans online for public review.

The K-12 Education Committee approved HB 755, also known as “An Act to Ensure Academic Transparency.” It passed the House by a vote of 66-50 and now moves on to the Senate.

The legislation mandates that all lesson plans, including information about any supporting instructional materials as well as procedures for how an in-person review of lesson materials may be requested, be “prominently displayed” on school websites.

Iredell County Republican Representative Jeffrey McNeely gave the bill two enthusiastic thumbs up, pointing to my teaching as an example of the hidden indoctrination that will be exposed if the bill is passed into law

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Carl Sagan's 1995 book, The Demon-Haunted World, is prescient in its description of the world 26 years into its future -- superstition, lack of critical thinking, the inability to question, the inability to distinguish between truth and falsehood...
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

(c) Can Stock Photo / mheld
POLLUTION

I never wanted to be one of those grumpy old men who say things like, "The country is going to Hell in a handbasket," but it's getting harder and harder to control myself. We in the US have a serious pollution problem. It's not just air and water pollution, though those are certainly worth our attention.

Sadly an insidious form of pollution is spreading throughout the US. It's pollution in the form of increased science denial and conspiracy addiction.

Last week I read a Science news article about a private school in Florida (receiving voucher money, no doubt) that refused to allow any of their teachers to get the COVID-19 vaccine for fear that it is somehow dangerous to the students.
It is our policy, to the extent possible, not to employ anyone who has taken the experimental COVID-19 injection until further information is known. … It is in the best interests of the children to protect them from the unknown implications of being in close proximity for the entire day with a teacher who has very recently taken the COVID-19 injection.
Follow-up articles confirmed that those who ran the school were not just against the COVID vaccine, but vaccines in general, as well as conspiracies around 5G communications networks. One teacher, who has since quit teaching at the school, said that the atmosphere was "like a cult."

Closer to home, some local parents are up in arms because their kids are being forced to wear masks at school. "Kids don't die from COVID!" is the claim from parents. Apparently, these parents don't know anyone older than school age who their children might infect. So, the school system brought in medical professionals who explained that masks were effective. The board President, who is against mask-wearing and offering no scientific rebuttal, simply said that
...he was not “in full agreement” with the statements from health professionals.
On Thursday (April 29), the Board President's wife suggested that parents take action against a teacher who spoke
...positively about the COVID-19 vaccination.
She also suggested that parents participate in a student "sick-out" in the fall so the school system would lose "$5 million."

Why are she and her husband fighting against established science? Why not listen to actual medical professionals (who, by the way, talked to the school board)? Perhaps because they don't "believe" the science. They've likely been convinced by right-wing media that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax, or that the danger of the disease is exaggerated. My guess is that they refuse to believe the CDC's claim that nearly 570,000 American citizens have died from COVID. They believe their preferred media outlets over actual medical experts. When their child brings home the coronavirus and infects an elderly or at-risk relative will they ask the media outlets for help...or will they go to an actual medical doctor?

In cableland, white supremacist sympathizer Tucker Carleson has called on viewers to confront people and tell them that "your mask-wearing makes me uncomfortable. Take the mask off." He went on to claim that masks didn't prevent wearers from getting COVID. When the CDC responded that mask-wearing was more for the benefit of other people than for the mask wearer, Carleson ignored the response and replied that masks don't prevent wearers from getting COVID.

These are the same people who, I expect,
  • go to doctors and hospitals when they are sick
  • take prescription medications to improve their health
  • use computer technology for safety (in their cars, for example), entertainment, and convenience
  • use municipally cleaned water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning
  • live in homes heated and cooled by electricity
  • eat meals made with high-yield grain or high-yield grain-fed animals
  • use (or pay someone to use) fertilizers and plant foods to keep their lawns and gardens growing
  • watch television, or listen to the radio, whose signals are beamed from satellites
  • use other products, materials, and services improved by science in their daily lives

A SPUTNIK MOMENT

Unfortunately, these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. About half of all Americans reject the concept of evolution (because "it's just a theory"). More than a third of Americans are dismissive, doubtful, or apathetic about climate change. About one-fourth of all Americans are afraid to get the COVID vaccine putting the nation's herd immunity at risk. Beyond that, there's 1) the moon landing was a hoax, 2) the government has covered up aliens on Earth, 3) drug companies are hiding cures for diseases, 4) all vaccines are dangerous, 5) the Earth is flat, and numerous other conspiracies.

As a former science teaching elementary school teacher I feel discouraged. The nation's children, including those who attend Miami's antivax private school, are watching. A large number of them are being taught to ignore expertise and deny basic science. It's as if the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the last three hundred years of scientific learning never happened. The country is being polluted with ignorance.

Have we been so obsessed with teaching only reading and math over the last two decades that we've given science and other content areas short shrift in public school curricula? Is the current lack of scientific literacy in our citizens due to the cult of personality around the previous President (who is also a science denier and conspiracy theorist)?

Science literacy has to be taught, but, as we've seen, teachers willing to teach kids to be science-thinkers are often up against science-denying school board members. In order to combat this trend in usually Republican areas of the country, there are several science-teacher groups that provide help and support for classroom science teachers, like the Association for Science Teacher Education, the National Center for Science Education, and the National Science Teaching Association. It's up to teachers to choose to use the groups' resources, however.

We need a "Sputnik moment." In 1957, the Soviets beat us into space. The successful launch of their Sputnik satellite pushed complacent Americans into action...actions which included a massive investment in space science and science education. We need something that will spur the same sort of action now. The worldwide coronavirus pandemic might have done it if it hadn't been politicized, but it looks as if we'll need something else.

Maybe the Chinese will land on Mars...
Grumpy old man

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