Just Plain Foolish

Just a chance for an old-fashioned, simple storyteller to say what needs to be said.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Basic Education

What kind of education are we giving ourselves and our children? There have, of course, been many complaints about the way that education funds have been allocated, essentially ensuring that poorer districts will have poorer educational opportunities, *even in grade school*. But what about the basic content?

The scientific education we are giving our children is pathetic and that problem goes far deeper than whether we teach evolution or not.

Story 1


Blogger Little Black Car said...

I hope this is the blog entry about which you asked me last night. You're much nicer than I would have been; I was tempted to blog something but it would have turned into a mouthy, obnoxous, rave.

I almost wrote a nasty email to our local PBS station this past week. They were doing a fund drive and one of the "filler" programs was a demonstration of how to make slime out of glue and cornstarch or something. The hosts kept yammering about how it was a science experiment, and I finally had to yell at the television that it was not a science experiment unless the kids learn why it happens.

There was no discussion of the chemistry behind it, which I don't know and I'm certain the hosts didn't, either. No discussion of scientific process. Just pour some stuff in a bowl and stir until it gels, and it's a science experiment. It was a total waste of time and taught absolutely nothing. I don't even like chemistry but I would never, ever, have presented this to children as scientific without being able to demonstrate the processes that caused it.

No wonder people think science is this scary, mysterious, random process. Shameful.

8/16/2006 8:55 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

I wrote it anyway. I was nice, though.

8/16/2006 9:06 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Aaaargh! Oooh, I hate that! Or when you go to buy a kid a "science set", they're so pre-packaged, it's not funny. I remember the one my dad got me when I was a kid. Well, actually, we got lots of them, but one in particular stands out, in part because he liked it so much that he sort of took it over...

Anyway, it was a 3-in-1 science set: chemistry set, microscope, and geology set. Dad totally glommed onto the chem set and ran me out of supplies by Christmas afternoon, the pirate. He did let me keep the microscope (though I'm convinced only because he had a nicer one at the clinic) and we shared the geology set - essentially a set of hardness plates and a field guide to rock classification. Armed with these and a field guide to fossils, we went out and actually *gasp* observed the world around us.

I found out that my favorite outcropping was limestone, that the seasonal trickle of water had formed the gorge in our back yard, and that that seasonal trickle was alive with protozoans. By reading the manual to the chem set, I found out that I could cause an exothermic reaction by combining an acid (say, vinegar) and a base (say, sodium bicarbonate). By experiment, I found out that while my folks were glad I was learning, they didn't want that mess in the kitchen. I even convinced Dad that it was only fair that he should get me a bunch of litmus strips to replace the ones that had originally been in the kit.

One reaction "science" kits bite.

8/16/2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Two of my most treasured childhood possessions were a magnifying glass (Christmas 1981) and, later, a hand-lens. Mom gave out hand-lenses for Hallowe'en one year at our meeting camp-out and not only did the kids love them, but the parents came begging for the extras.

Kids love to learn stuff. I don't know where people get off thinking that kids don't want to learn. Kids just don't want to be bored, and school saps most of fun out of that stuff.

When I was in kindergarten, at the end of the school year we had a week of Pioneer Days. We all came to school in "pioneer clothes" (well, overalls and calico dresses, since this was still pretty close to the heyday of the Little House TV show), packed our lunches in tins and baskets since it was a private school with no lunch facilities, and did "pioneer" stuff. We square-danced, made apple pies, and went to the Littleton Historical Museum. That was twenty-two years ago and I can still remember what I wore and that my mother brought home seven extra vegetable peelers on apple-pie day. Kids LOVE that stuff, and they remember it if it's interesting and if it's real.

8/16/2006 10:06 AM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Oh, and my parents are both geologists by trade--Dad in glacial geology and Mom in crystal physics--so I grew up scratching glass slides and the unglazed sides of tile shards with unidentified rocks. Ha ha. Seems perfectly normal to me.

8/16/2006 10:08 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

To be fair to Dad, he did let me use the clinic microscope when he was convinced that I knew what I was doing and wouldn't ruin slides or the optics. He even showed me how to count cells, and I would listen to his heartbeat training tapes with him on the way to school, and we'd quiz each other on them, just like I'd talk family dynamics and group relational theory with Mom. What can I say? My whole family is seriously geeky.

And Dad's the one who taught me to recognize edible plants and to distinguish them from poisonous plants common to our area. I didn't have a magnifying glass, but I did have 9 acres of total freedom, and a further many acres to explore with adult supervision.

And two parents who'd never give a concrete answer if they could say instead. "Hmmm. Let's figure that out." Sometimes, that would mean hitting the books, and sometimes it woul mean adjourning to the family room or the back yard with an odd assortment of items to set up an experiment to test whatever hypothesis we'd decided to aim at.

And I'd sometimes come into school the next day with questions that wierded out the teachers. There were no teachers indifferent to our family. Either you loved the interest we brought to learning, or you met with fear and loathing the interruption of the standard class day that we essentially were.

Unfortunately, fear and loathing has become the policy standard. That is a problem.

8/16/2006 12:10 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Your parents sound a lot like my parents.

Our school district in Denver was completely out-of-control. Our school district here was completely hide-bound and unimaginative. Sigh. And I went to good schools by the standards of the American public education system . . .

8/16/2006 1:54 PM  
Blogger Little Black Car said...

Okay, guys, if the water stops when the water company shuts down the pipeline, it's not a miracle.

Not saying there aren't miracles. Miracles aren't my area of expertise. I'm just saying that this isn't one of them.

8/17/2006 10:21 AM  
Blogger Lorcan said...

I have to chuckle over thy comments on Astrology, I agee... there are several, actually alot of New Age Friends in our meeting who are rather convinced of Astrology as a science... and are too emotional about that belief to have a reasoned conversation about it... BUT, my favorite comment was from a dear an late old Friend named Peter Fingestien, who once saw me, as a young boy, with a book on Terot... and he said, (with his wonderful Viena accent... "My dear young Friend, There are many roads to God... that... I am afraid... is not one of them."

8/22/2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger Plain Foolish said...

Frankly, I see more value in tarot, which pretty much comes out as storytelling, than I do in astrology, but that's me. Maybe I've just met more tarot readers, or maybe it's that I've read too much Jung.

8/23/2006 3:02 PM  

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