Babel from The Right: Truth, Justice, & Which Way

There are millions of people who deny the scientific truth that the Earth is 4.55 Billion years old.   They insist that it no more than 10,000 years old.  In poll of U.S. adults, 40% did not accept the theory of evolution as a valid explanation for the creation of life on earth.  Instead they believe in creation myths, or intelligent design.  Many people claim that climate change is a hoax.  Others reject the link between HIV and AIDS.  Still many others spread fear that vaccinations with harm their children.  And there are others who believe the Holocaust did not happen. And, still there are millions who think President Obama’s birth hospital is not in Hawaii.

Jon Huntsman sent a Tweet while running in the Republican Primary for President that many people heard, loud and clear.  He Tweeted:

For a Republican running for President, this was like saying he agreed with President Obama.  For Hunstman, this was a reflection on his character and courage to go against the grain of his political party.  Most Republicans, when asked about the topics I mentioned above (age of earth, evolution, global warming etc.) would NOT accept and trust the work of scientists.  In their public appearances, they do their best to spread doubt, claim outright denial of the scientific facts, and reject the methods that scientists use to do science.  See this paper by Joshua Rosenau, of the National Center for Science Education.

Why can’t we simply tell these people that they have their facts wrong?  Why can’t they just be told the truth?  It’s  not that simple as we will see ahead in this post.

The Effect of Correction on “Truth”

In a study that I reported on here, entitled When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions, Brendan Nyhan, University of Michigan, and Jason Reifler, Georgia State University  suggest that beliefs about controversial factual questions are closely linked to one’s ideological preferences or partisan beliefs.  The study is important at several levels.  For those of us who are teachers, their study might be disheartening.  Even after providing “corrective” information on a contemporary problem, subjects in their study didn’t necessarily change their views, opinions or concepts.  In some cases it hardened their belief.  For those who are trying to figure out why so many people deny the facts of science, as well as historical and current events, read on.

In their study, three hypotheses were investigated about how the effectiveness of corrections will vary by participant ideology (liberal, centrist, conservative):

Hypothesis 1: An ideological interaction
The effect of corrections on misperceptions will be moderated by ideology.
Hypothesis 2a: Resistance to corrections
Corrections will fail to reduce misperceptions among the ideological subgroup that is likely to hold the misperception.
Hypothesis 2b: Correction backfire
In some cases, the interaction between corrections and ideology will be so strong that misperceptions will increase for the ideological subgroup in question.

The researchers investigated three areas from contemporary politics: the war in Iraq, tax cuts, and stem cell research). This brought more realism to the study and not using hypothetical situations and questions. The war in Iraq focused on the risk associated with Saddam Hussein passing weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks. Subjects read a news article that included remarks made by President George Bush that defended the Iraq war, and that there was a real risk that Saddam would pass on weapons or information. Some respondents were given correction which discusses the Duelfer Report, which documents the lack of Iraqi WMD or active production program prior to the U.S. invasion.

After reading the article, respondents were asked to state whether they agreed (on a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (5) with the following statement:

Immediately before the U.S. invasion, Iraq had an active weapons of mass destruction program, the ability to produce these weapons, and large stockpiles of WMD, but Saddam Hussein was able to hide or destroy these weapons right before U.S. forces arrived.

In this 2005 experiment, the results supported the “backfire” hypothesis. For very liberal subjects, the corrective information made them more likely to disagree that Iraq had WMD. For liberal and centrist people, the corrective information had little effect. But for those that were to the right of center (ideologically conservative), the correction backfired—that is conservatives who received the corrective information that Iraq did not have WMD were more likely to believe that Iraq had WMD. One explanation was that conservatives tended to believe Bush and not the media, thus resulting in the backfire effect.

The researchers conclude that their study seems to support the idea that citizens engage in motivated reasoning. Their studies support the notion that using corrections on factual beliefs shows that responses to the corrections about controversial issues vary systematically by ideology.

As the researchers point out, their study did support the hypothesis that conservatives are especially dogmatic, but they also pointed out that liberals and Democrats also interpret factual information in ways that are consistent with their political world views.

This important study reveals that conservatives are more dogmatic than others, but we all “filter” information to fit our particular views.  But this does not explain the outright denialism that is rampant in the right-wing of the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

The Republican Brain

For decades empirically based scientific theories and ideas have been deliberately denied by primarily conservative males.  A reality exists that science writer, Chris Mooney explains in his book The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality.  One of the characteristics of the Republican Brain, according to Mooney, is how the science of denial has become a political force in affecting the minds of many people, especially the media on significant science related social and economic issues of the day.

The field is very young, according to Mooney, but scientists are already showing that average “liberal” and “conservative” brains differ in suggestive ways.

Mooney shows us in his research that the science of denialism is practiced by more Republican and Tea Party members than not, to the bewilderment the rest of us.  He is helpful in putting this in perspective on two issues, global warming and evolution.  He writes:

In a nationally representative survey released just as I was finishing this book—many prior surveys have found similar things—only 18 percent of Republicans and Tea Party members accepted the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans, and only 45 and 43 percent accepted human evolution.

In other words, political conservatives have placed themselves in direct conflict with modern scientific knowledge, which shows beyond serious question that global warming is real and caused by humans, and evolution is real and the cause of humans. If you don’t accept either claim, you cannot possibly understand the world or our place in it.

The evidence suggests that many conservatives today just don’t. (Mooney, Chris (2012-03-22). The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science–and Reality (pp. 6-7). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition)

The lies, distortions, and the denials that we see and hear everyday by conservative politicians , right-wing talk show hosts, Fox News, and right-wing editorials, as Mooney says, “drive us crazy.”  In the midst of this babel of unreason has emerged an ideology in which one systematically reacts by refusing reality and truth (Didier, F., 2007).  Some of the babel includes statements about global warming from Senator James Inhofe: “the second-largest hoax ever played on the American people, after the separation of church and state,” or better still, Representative Paul Broun’s (Georgia) opinion that “All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell” (from a published talk he gave at a church in Georgia).

As I indicated in the first section, “convictions,” especially involving feelings and attitudes, are difficult to change.  Teachers who embrace the learning science of constructivism know this.  Initial ideas or prior conceptions that students hold about ideas in math, science, social studies, literature are not changed directly, but require an environment of open inquiry and discussion, and the movement on the part of the learner that they want to learn something new or they are willing to consider ideas different from their own.  This is not an easy matter.  As teachers we bang our heads against the wall trying to come with novel ways to engage our students so that they have a chance in the game of school.

Now, I want you to think about adults who would look you in the face and deny facts presented that support the theory of global warming and its effect on climate change.  Some of them will try and dredge up one of the few scientists (typically ones who have not done research in the area of global warming), and say, “See, here’s a scientist who does not believe in global warming.  Even scientists can’t agree.  The science is not settled on global warming.  We need to hold off doing anything until all the facts are in.”  Or something like that.  You get the idea.

Even with evidence that global warming effects are getting worse as reported in a New Scientist, climate change article, deniers are teaming up to fight efforts to increase funding for renewable energy sources and projects.   Increasing renewable energy project and research is one way of reducing global warming.  According to an article on Climate Progress, the Heartland Institute (climate change denier organization) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (a right-wing group of nay-sayers made up of Republican representatives) are teaming up to kill clean energy projects.

At the individual level, its the brain, as Mooney suggests, that determines our actions.  Mooney, citing modern neuroscience research, tells us that “thinking and reasoning are actually suffused with emotion or affect.”  Indeed, many of our reactions to stimuli and information are not reflective, but emotional and automatic, and set in motion prior to conscious thought.  When people who have been harboring the idea that global warming is a hoax are presented with facts and research results that show how global warming is affecting, say glaciers, the denier simply goes into automatic and selectively looks at the information, or questions it, or the authors.  No facts, no evidence will change the denier.  However, Nyhan and Reifler found that “corrective” information (facts) produced a “backfire” effect for ideologically conservative people.  That is, the new information tended to make them deny the idea even more.

Science denial appears to be a special ability practiced by Republicans, some industry CEO’s.  It has a long history in American society.  When Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring, she was not only attacked at the personal level, but her research and findings were ridiculed (even up to now), especially by the chemical and pesticide industries. When health organizations began to cite research showing the link between smoking and cancer, the tobacco industry went to war against anyone who supported the scientific support of the link.  More recently the rampant denial that AIDS is caused by the virus HIV, and that vaccinations cause autism.

Although we can’t blame the Republican brain for all of these denials, the pattern of denial is there.  The pesticide, and tobacco industries poured millions of dollars into campaigns to disgrace and besmirch the research by scientists to further their own interests.  Right wing groups, to be sure, were involved in these actions.  Fundamentalists groups clearly played a role in the AIDS/HIV and vaccination denials.

In an article, Science denial: A Guide for Scientists, Joshua Rosenau suggests that its important to find out what are the underlying reasons for people denying scientific findings and theories.  He writes that:

Although science denial claims often seem absurd to scientists in relevant fields, they make sense when viewed from an insider’s perspective. For example, creationist journals run their own version of peer review, but require identity of a social group.

As Mooney points, we are not giving the snake eye to those who honestly lack information, but we must push back against those who run campaigns of misinformation.

If you listen to right-wing talk radio, or Fox News, especially after the election, the distortions and misinformation continues.  The Republican brain is active and alive.  All you have to do is switch on your radio, read Tweets from Bortz, Limbaugh, or Hannity, or watch Fox News.

Blue and Red Morality

In my view, the most relevant theoretical explanation for Mooney’s assertion that the Republican brain (read conservative) is different from the brains of progressives and liberals is the work of George Lakoff.

According to research by George Lakoff and the Rockbridge Institute, the moral world-view of either conservatives or progressives can be understood by using the conceptual metaphor of Nation as Family. Using this idea, ones political beliefs tend to be structured by how we think of family, and our early experiences in our own family which contribute to our beliefs. Thinking of a nation as a family is a familiar notion, as in phrases such as Mother Russia, Fatherland, sending sons and daughters off to war, the founding fathers, Big Brother (see Joe Brewer, Rockbridge Institute, discussion here). In Brewer’s thinking, the conceptual metaphor of nation as family organizes our brains in this way: homeland is home, citizens are siblings, the government (or head) is parent, and so forth. The diagram below shows the organization of schooling according to a conservative world-view.

The world-view of conservatives can be explained using the conceptual metaphor for Nation as Family. Lakoff would say that a conservative family would be based on authority, and would be represented by the “Strict Father Family”. In the Thinking Points Discussion Series published by Rockbridge, the conservative family can be characterized as follows (from Brewer, Conservative Morality):

  • The Strict Father Family is the traditional family with a father and mother
  • The father is the head of the house
  • The mother is supportive and upholds the authority of the father
  • A hierarchy exists and is never to be questioned
  • Children are weak and lack self-control
  • Parents know what is best
  • Children learn right and wrong when punished by doing wrong
  • When children become self-discipline, respect authority, and learn right from wrong they are strong enough to succeed in the world.

This list of characteristics helps us understand a conservative family’s world-view. As we look around us, and especially when we look at schooling today, we see the influence of the conservative world-view. Indeed, the fundamental values of the conservative world-view shape most aspects of public schools today.

In their book, entitled, Thinking Points by George Lakoff, and the Rockbridge Institute, the core conservative values are:

  • Authority: assumed to be morally good and used to exert legitimate control (it is imperative that authority is never questioned)
  • Discipline: self-control learned through punishment when one does wrong (it is understood that failure of authority to punish for wrong doing is a moral failure)

The right-wing babel on any issue (global warming, evolution, school choice, AIDS/HIV, contraception, etc.) can be understood by using Lakoff’s concept of cascading, a kind of sorting that goes on in the brain.  Look at this diagram from Lakoff.  When the brain is activated by any issue, ones response is related to frames and values higher up in the hierarchy.

Lakoff explains: When you mention a specific issue, all the frames and values higher up in the hierarchy are also activated. They define the moral context of the issue. Any discussion of a specific issue activates the entire cascade, strengthening all parts of the cascade in the brains of those hearing the arguments for the specific issue.

Understanding the babel from the right (and the left) requires a deeper understanding of the brain.  Lakoff has developed a model that we think is powerful.

We end with a quote from Lakoff and Wehling.

All politics is moral.

References

Please refer to: Lakoff, George; Wehling, Elisabeth (2012-06-19). The Little Blue Book (p. 13). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Didier Fassin, When bodies remember: experiences and politics of AIDS in South Africa, Volume 15 of California series in public, University of California Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-520-25027-7p. 115

What do think about the concept of a Republican brain?  Do you think that we can use the work of Mooney and Lakoff to understand the babel that permeates the discussion of important issues?

Is the Monster Storm, Sandy, Connected to Global Warming?

The Superstorm that is slowly moving toward the Middle Atlantic and Northeast states appears to be an anomaly by most weather standards.  Or is it?  Could this superstorm be related to Global Warming?  More specifically, could it be related to the the melting of the the arctic sea ice?

Climate change, according to some, has conveniently been left out of the 2012 Presidential election.  ScienceDebate dot org, and the AAAS tried to get the candidates to discuss climate change along with other top American science questions including how innovation impacts the economy, energy, basic research, education, water resources.

And here is a very odd coincidence.  On November 1, at The Mott House, Capitol Hill, Science Debate dot org and ClimateDesk will sponsor a debate between Obama campaign surrogate Kevin Knobloch and former Republican congressman and Delaware governor Mike Castle.  The debate that ScienceDebate and AAAS wanted to have will come on the aftermath of what is turning out to be a Monster Storm that is affecting not only 60 million people in the Mid-Altantic and North East States, but the 2012 Presidential election.

The event is called:

The Debate We Should Have Had: Science, Climate and the Next Four Years

The latest position of Sandy, the Monster Storm is shown in the map below and as you see is off the coast of New Jersey, and is moving NNW at 18 mph, with sustained winds of 90 mph.  We will experience gusts of 115 mph.  Sandy is classified as a category 1 hurricane, but is one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes on record.

According to the NOAA and NWS, Hurricane Sandy will evolve into a Post Tropical Cyclone, and will be known as “Post-tropical Cyclone Sandy.”  In this scenario, Sandy as a hurricane derives its energy from the ocean, whereas cyclones, which Sandy will become, derives its energy from temperature contrasts in the atmosphere.  As hurricane Sandy turns slightly left and heads inland, it will meet up with cold polar air, and this convergence will result in a catastrophic storm with high winds, ocean surge and inland water flooding, lots of rain, and enormous amounts of snow further to the west in the Appalachian Mountains.

Hurricane Sandy at 1:55 P.M. from CNN website

 

 

Climate Change Connections

Climate change, especially with respect to global warming, raises the shackles of many right-learning politicians.  Climate change, global warming, the Big Bang, birth control, theories of the origins of the universe are linked together with evolution as ideas that are frightful, and therefore, must be considered very carefully in the classroom.

Climate change is one of those ideas that gets the gander up with a lot of people, and as a result, legislatures around the country have passed laws to “protect” those teachers that might discuss such ideas critically.  So, the latest ploy of suggesting that some scientific theories need to be analyzed and discussed critically is simply another way for creationists, and intelligent design advocates to enter the realm of science education. The National Center for Science Education keeps a watchful eye on these kinds of events, and has made recent posts regarding the goings on in Florida and Missouri.

The storm that his bringing havoc to a huge swath of the U.S. mainland does have a climate change connection

Andrew Revkin, over on Dot Earth, explored the connection of Frankenstorm in the context of climate change in a recent post.  Revkin asks “what is the role, if any, of greenhouse-drive global warming in this kind of rare system?”  Rare system indeed.  Revkin reports that some climate scientists say that this the kind of storm that one would expect following a summer in which the Arctic was “open-water.”

As Revkin notes, it is not a simple implication to say that these monster storms are the direct result of the global warming.  Warmer ocean temperatures in the tropics seem to be related to more active hurricane seasons.  And here is this powerful statement from a paper Revkin wrote ten years ago about the Northeast and its stormy history:

Four times since the last ice age, at intervals roughly 3,000 years apart, the Northeast has been struck by cycles of storms far more powerful than any in recent times, according to a new study. The region appears to have entered a fifth era in which such superstorms are more likely, the researchers say.

So, is the hurricane Sandy one of these superstorms that Revkin speaks about.  Probably.

But another interesting aspect that Revkin brought into his blog post was research by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, who said:

The jet stream pattern — particularly the strongly negative NAO [North Atlantic Oscillation] and associated blocking — that has been in place for the last 2 weeks and is projected to be with us into next week is exactly the sort of highly amplified (i.e., wavy) pattern that I’d expect to see more of in response to ice loss and enhanced Arctic warming….It could very well be that general warming along with high sea-surface temperatures have lengthened the tropical storm season, making it more likely that a Sandy could form, travel so far north, and have an opportunity to interact with a deep jet-stream trough associated with the strong block, which is steering it westward into the mid-Atlantic. While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic.

You might also want to read Chris Mooney’s article over on ClimateDesk entitled, Did Climate Change Supersize Hurricane Sandy?  He explores how the following variables might be affected by climate change: precipitation, storm surge, ocean temperatures, massive size, & hybrid storm.

This is a devastating storm, and we hope that people take heed, and do all that is necessary to protect themselves from this Atlantic hurricane, turned super cyclone.

Are you in the path of superstore, Sandy?  What precautions have you taken?  What are the conditions right now?

Why is Congress Silent on Science Debates’ High-Stakes Science-related Questions?

According to Shawn Otto, U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives have ignored a request from Science Debate to answer eight science policy questions.  The questions were selected from hundreds submitted by scientists, engineers, educators, and concerned citizens.  Science Debate would like to know what elected officials in Washington think about science related policy issues facing the U.S. in 2012.  The eight Congressional questions, which were selected from 14 questions submitted to the campaigns of President Obama, and Governor Romney,  focus on topics such as innovation, climate change, education, energy and science in public policy.   Figure 1 is a “wordle” of the eight Science Debate questions.

Figure 1. Terms and Ideas in the Science Debate Congressional Questions

There are 535 members of Congress.  According to Shawn Otto, only two (or 0.37%) Congressional members have responded — Reps Henry Waxman and Chris Van Hollen.  Where is the other 99%?

Unlike students in K-12 schools and college, Congressional members have large staffs of paid full-time and part-time staffers.  Senators have on average 34 staffers, while members of the House have 18 or more.  No doubt neither Representative Waxman or Van Hollen will sit down and write the answers to the Science Debate questions.  Their respective staff will handle the job.  But what about the other 99%.

Why are they remaining silent?

Is Silence Golden?

It may be that most members of Congress believe  that “silence is golden.”  This really is a paradox, especially if you watch politicians compete for an office in either the U.S. House or  Senate.  Be that as it may, the Congress is stonewalling Science Debates’ attempt to engage them in a discussion of science related issues that face U.S. citizens.

Interestingly, many of the members of Congress contacted have strong opinions on many science issues.  For example, one of the questions submitted to Congressional members was this one on climate change:

The Earth’s climate is changing and there is concern about the potentially adverse effects of these changes on life on the planet. What is your position on cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, and other policies proposed to address global climate change—and what steps can we take to improve our ability to tackle challenges like climate change that cross national boundaries?

According to Think Progress and the Daily Kos, in nearly every state, there are members of Congress who question and challenge the scientific consensus of global warming. Many in Congress consider the scientific evidence is a hoax, scam or conspiracy.  They claim human’s  have had little influence on the climate, or at least they think the influence is unclear.  They deny that greenhouse gasses have any impact on global temperatures.  You would think that with such strong opinions, Congressional members would speak up on climate change.

Think Progress has documented that over half (56 percent) of the new Republican members of Congress deny or question the science of global warming.  Go over to this site to read the documentation.  Of the 47 Republicans in the Senate, 35 (74 percent) have publicly questioned the science related to global warming.  And more than half of the House of Representatives question the science.

Putting their views in writing to Science Debate might expose their political views,and it will show their lack of understanding and ignorance of basic scientific research.

For example, here are statements some representatives and senators have made.   Would they include statements like the following as part of their answers to the climate change question?

  • Climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been perpetrated out of the scientific community (Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA)
  • Climategate reveals a serious lack of integrity in the underlying data and models, such that it is doubtful that any process can be trusted until the data and models are validated and their integrity assured (Rep. Phil Gingrey,R-GA)
  • The EPA’s unilateral decision to regulate carbon dioxide would impose a de facto national energy tax on every sector of the economy and push our struggling job-creators off a cliff. This decision goes against all common sense, especially considering the many recent revelations of errors and obfuscation in the allegedly ‘settled science’ of global warming.(Rep. Tom Price, R-GA)
  •  I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” a statement that, to put it mildly, was not viewed kindly by environmental extremists and their elitist organizations.(Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK)
  • Bill Shuster (R-PA) offered a new reason not to take action on global warming: it’s cold in Copenhagen, where the UN Climate Change Conference is taking place.
Figure 2. Terms and Ideas about Global Warming from a Sample of Congressional Members

I would have included statements by Democratic senators or representatives, but I could find no documentation that they agree with their Republican counterparts. Please follow this link to read documentation showing what congressional members think about science.

A related issue here is if these members of Congress think this way about climate change and global warming, what are their views on the teaching of science in American schools?  Do they think that teachers who design activities and projects engaging their students in data collection, and theory building about global climate change are perpetuating a hoax with America’s students?  Or do they join with many state legislators who think ideas such as global warming, evolution, origins of life, and human cloning should be critically analyzed because they are mere theories, and all points of view should be considered by science teachers.  With the support of the Discovery Institute, various states have figured out a way to get creationism and intelligent design into the curriculum through stealth.

The academic freedom bills that have been passed in Louisiana (2008), and Tennessee (2012) disguise their intent of teaching creationism and intelligent design using clever and slick language that they are coming to the rescue of science teachers by passing a law that protects teachers’ academic freedom to present lessons questioning and critiquing scientific theories being studied including but not limited to evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. Kind of a poor “Trojan horse” scenario, don’t you think? Where is the theory of gravity, plate tectonics, and atomic theory on their to do list?

High-Stakes Questions?

Members of Congress  passed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, a law that required each state in the country to develop tests in mathematics and reading, but over time, the policy makers decided that science and history should also be tested.  On the one hand, we have elected officials telling schools that all students should be subjected to high-stakes questions and tests, but on the other hand when asked to answer a few questions about science, they remain silent.

Why don’t Congressional members respond to the Science Debate questions?  To most members running for office, science is a non-issue.  It may be that expressing an opinion that shows an understanding of the nature of science might not be good politics.

What do you think?  Why aren’t members of Congress responding to the Science Debate questionnaire?

 

 

A Letter from 2053 about High-Stakes Testing: 5’s Walk on Thursday

Note: This is a letter written by a teen living in Atlanta in the year 2053.  It is published here for the first time.  Although a work of fiction, it is presented here as a reminder of the consequences of making decisions based on faulty reasoning and ignorance.

Dear Friends:

I learned that in America, in the year 2001, the Federal Government enacted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that required each state in the country to develop tests in mathematics and reading, but over time, the policy makers decided that science and history should also be tested.  As you know, this annual testing event became known as “The Testing Games,” a kind of spin off of the 2012 movie, “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins.

It’s now 2053 and we’ve elected our first woman president, Maya Armstrong Fusaro, an independent candidate from Georgia. People are very optimistic because of President Fusaro’s political philosophy, especially with regards to economics, education and equity, and ideas about the environment.  Although we had another great recession eight years ago, we are on the road to recovery, much like what happened in your day.

But, right now things are much different than you might realize compared to 2012.

Life in 2053

Let me tell you a bit about my life in the year 2053.

Let me introduce myself.  My name is Skyler, and my number that I use for identification purposes is 897502415.    I am 14 years old and I live in the United States in a very large southern city.  It’s very crowed in the urban areas of the U.S., so much so, that parents have been asked to either home school their children, or enroll them in online schools.  There is simply not enough room in our schools.

I do most of my studies online from my room in our apartment, and my father also helps us (I have three brothers) as a home school teacher.  There are so many courses to choose from, you simply can’t believe it. But, as my father keeps reminding me, I have to take courses that will prepare me for high-stakes test, because—well, you know—politicians in the first decade of 2000’s decided that all kids needed to be tested to prove that that their teachers were good or bad, and that their schools were doing the job, not to mention to tell me if I passed or failed.

New Reform?  Things changed very fast during the second term of President Obama.  He tried to implement a new education reform agenda that would have eliminated high-stakes testing, and replaced them with low-stakes tests.  He also proposed that curriculum (the stuff we study and have to learn) would be developed by teachers at the local level and that teachers use formative assessments (weekly tests, projects, laboratory reports, portfolios, questions, participation) to determine how well students do in school.  End-of-year tests could be given, but they would be only used to see how the system was doing.  They were never to be used to evaluate teachers, or principals, or determine if schools were good or bad.
Continue reading “A Letter from 2053 about High-Stakes Testing: 5’s Walk on Thursday”

Extreme Earth: A new science teaching eBook

The second in a series of science teaching eBooks was published today on the Art of Teaching Science Website.  Entitled Extreme Earth, this eBook explores questions such as:

Are the extremes of weather related phenomena such as flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought and fires, as well as major and great earthquakes in heavily populated areas the new norm, or are these events part of nature’s cycles?

Based on blog posts on climate change, global warming, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanoes, Extreme Earth highlights the importance of the geosciences in science teaching.

The topics that are explored to our students in that they all relate to students’ lived experiences.  Helping students understand the nature of the Earth’s extreme weather around the planet is important to their science education, and to their life as citizens.  Not knowing the basis for these extremes puts our students and their families at risk.  Recent research in the geosciences suggests that these extremes in the weather—hot summers, drought, wildfires, flooding, hurricanes, extreme tornadoes—may be the norm, at least for a while.

Over the past decade, earthquakes and volcanoes have caused havoc for many nations.  The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami was caused by a great undersea earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter Scale.  The resulting tsunami killed more than 230,000 people.  The 2010 7.0 Haiti earthquake, the 8.8 Chile earthquake, and great Japan 8.9 earthquake and tsunami devastated these regions of the world.  The tsunami in Northern Japan caused meltdowns to three nuclear power plants on Fukushima Prefecture.  Why did the powerful earthquakes and tsunami’s occur in these locations?  Could these earthquakes have been predicted?  We explore these and other questions to help students understand the nature of plate tectonics theory, and an understanding the dynamic nature of the earth, especially along the edges of tectonic plates.  Although not all earthquakes occur at the boundaries of tectonic plates (recall the Virginia earthquake of August 2011), the theory of plate tectonics is a unifying geological theory, and important in understanding geological phenomena.

Extreme Earth explores these ideas.