Posted in Anti-Intellectualism, climate change, environment, Science, Trump, Tyson

Standing in Denial, Rising to Power

IGNORANCE OR PROFIT

Is it just ignorance, or the quest for profit, that has made the Trump White House (with help from the Republican Congress) one of the most anti-science administrations ever?

Just this past week, the United States was the only one of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations to reject the Paris Climate Accords. Even the worlds largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, and the world’s largest natural gas producer, Russia, supported the Accords.

The Energy 202: Trump stands alone at G-20 on Paris climate accords

But at the end of what observers deemed the “G-19 1” summit, the balance of that equation stayed the same. Nineteen of the 20 attendee nations at the annual Group of 20 meeting reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord. The United States stood alone in abandoning it.

The U.S. stands – almost – alone.

The only other nations who have refused to sign on to the Accords are Nicaragua, because the accords aren’t strong enough to fight the danger of climate change, and Syria, which is in the midst of its civil war.

The President, however, has made it clear that he sides with the “science-deniers” and against the rest of the world.

DISSING EDUCATION

The assault on science is felt in education, too. Aside from the cuts to education programming proposed by the U.S. Education Department under school privatizer, billionaire Betsy DeVos, there is growing antagonism – even more than before – towards those who are educated.

The Pew Research Center recently released results of a survey showing that a majority of Republicans think post-secondary education (colleges and universities) has a negative effect on the country.

Sharp Partisan Divisions in Views of National Institutions

While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

Furthermore, the number of foreign students entering our colleges and universities has dropped, possibly due to more stringent restrictions on visas, or perhaps a more derisive attitude towards intellectuals.

The rise of Trump has given renewed power to this anti-intellectual attitude, under the encouragement of the anti-science blathering of someone who claims to be a “really smart person” (See Dunning Kruger Effect).

Know Nothings: On the Road to Taliban

Two years ago, 54 percent of Republicans said colleges had a positive impact on the country’s direction, with 37 percent rating higher education negatively. That ratio shifted to 43 percent positive and 45 percent negative last year.

IN THE SWAMP WITH THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY

Perhaps the issue is one of greed, after all. Trump has given power to the denial of science by appointing unqualified, pro-energy industry people to head the science-based cabinet departments…people like Rex Tillerson, former head of Exxon-Mobile, who was appointed Secretary of State with zero government or diplomatic experience. There’s Scott Pruitt at the EPA, for example, who has sued the EPA 13 times and has 8 cases still pending because they dared to fight his pro industry policies in Oklahoma. And Rick Perry, who, when he began as Energy Secretary, thought that his job required him to be a

…global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry.

Other members of the administration’s teams are equally ignorant, inexperienced, or entangled with the fossil-fuel industry.

The Deep Industry Ties of Trump’s Deregulation Teams

One such appointee [to Trump’s Deregulation teams] is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation team at the E.P.A., who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association. Ms. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental regulations.

The Republican association’s work has been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations. Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.

The Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Ms. Dravis worked for that group as well, which recently identified regulations it wants eliminated. Among them are E.P.A. rules relating to clean-water protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. [emphasis added]

The anti-science crowd has been waiting patiently for someone like Trump and his followers to welcome them into power and reverse the progress we have made against climate change. The current administration is not the first to fuel resentment and suspicion of education among those who have not had advanced training. The U.S. has always had a strong anti-intellectual undercurrent. Trump is just the most recent of a long line of manipulators bent on dividing the people.

Manufactured Illiteracy and Miseducation: A Long Process of Decline Led to President Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship.

TIME TO CHANGE DIRECTION

Is there any way to reverse this trend, short of waiting until the next election? What can we, as educators do? There are no easy answers, but I’ll share some thoughts next time.

In the meantime, spend the next 5 minutes listening to Neil deGrasse Tyson tell why science, and truth, are important…

When you have an established, scientific, emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.

🏭💰📈
Posted in climate change, Curmudgucation, David Berliner, Dewey, Pence, Preschool, Public Ed, Quotes, Trump, Tyson

Listen to This #7

PRE-SCHOOL

Building a Better Pre-School: Finding the Right Balance

Russ Walsh looks at two recent studies of preschool instruction, one focusing on academics in preschools, the other on social and emotional learning. The unsurprising results of the research? Developmentally appropriate instruction. [emphasis added]

From Russ Walsh

“In order to ensure that our pre-schools are finding the right balance between academics and play, we need to be sure that we are employing the best teachers available and we need to make sure that these teachers are getting the finest, best informed professional development possible. No program, no research, no policy can come close to matching what the well-informed, well-prepared teacher can provide for children in the classroom.We cannot do pre-school on the cheap just because the children are small. We cannot run pre-school, as is often the case now, with poorly trained, poorly compensated para-professionals. The answer, ultimately, is not in the false dichotomy between academics and play, but in the will of our policy makers to make sure that every child has access to teachers who are prepared to do the job well and who are compensated appropriately for it.

AMERICA’S SCHOOLS ARE NOT FAILING

The purported failure of America’s schools, and ways to make them better by David C. Berliner

I posted twice in the last couple of months about the lie promoted by politicians, privatizers, and “reformers” which claims that America’s schools are “failing.”

David C. Berliner, Education Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, writes that real improvement will cost money. He wrote, paraphrasing Dewey –“What the best and wisest (among the wealthiest) parents want for their children, that must we want for all the children of the community. Anything less is unlovely, and left unchecked, destroys our democracy.” [emphasis added]

From David C. Berliner

…“fixing” the schools, about which so many of our editorialists and political leaders talk, needs deeper thinking than a knee-jerk reaction to our mean score on any international test. That mean score hides the diversity of our scores by social class and housing tract, and easily misleads us about what solutions might exist. When our leaders say teachers are not good, we need to point out to them how well some of our students are doing, and that a recent Mathematica report for the U.S. Department of Education states that the quality of teachers working in low-income schools is about the same as the quality of teachers working in high income schools. So blaming teachers won’t fix schools that need fixing!

A PLACE TO VENT

Angry (tl;dr)

During the second half of my teaching career one of my roles was that of (co-) test coordinator for my school. It didn’t take long for me to realize that classroom teachers were being forced to spend more and more time “teaching to the test,” a practice which had previously been avoided.

Each year more tests were added, taking up more and more instructional time, with less and less diagnostic information returned to the teachers. Each year it took longer and longer for the information to be returned to the classroom so that, by the time the results came back, the students had moved on.

I complained loudly…bitterly…obnoxiously. Other teachers agreed with me…even the principal agreed with me, but there was nothing to be done. I complained to the administration, who passed the buck to the State Department of Education…who passed the buck to the State Legislature…who passed the buck to No Child Left Behind.

In 2006 I decided that I needed a place to vent, so I started this blog.

If I were a better writer I could have written this post by Peter Greene.

From Peter Greene

My colleagues at school were, by and large, not interested. They complained when we were gored by the tip of the iceberg that passed by us, but they had no particular interest in finding out what the tip was attached to, or how big and wide the iceberg really was. And I was turning into the staff crank. So I turned to the outlet that has always served me in the past– writing– and for a number of reasons (mostly admiration of the bloggers already out there) I turned to blogging.

It did not occur to me that anybody would read my stuff. My goal was to vent, to rail about policies and articles that struck me as foolish, destructive, blind, ignorant.

POLITICS

Trump dumps Paris climate deal: reaction

The first two quotes need no comment…

From Dave Reay, chair in Carbon Management and Education at the University of Edinburgh

“The United States will come to rue this day,” said Dave Reay, chair in Carbon Management and Education at the University of Edinburgh, in a statement. “President Trump has argued that his decision puts economic interests first, that it will cut out interference from foreign bureaucrats and help U.S. business. In fact this move puts all business and economic interests at much greater risk. Climate change knows no borders, its impacts are blind to national flags. If global efforts to limit warming fail then we are all in trouble. From climate change, Mr. President, you can run but you can’t hide.”

We Aren’t Number One…Not Even Close

From Sheila Kennedy

It’s enough to make you think American policymakers put a higher priority on the bottom lines of Big Pharma and Big Insurance than they do on the health of average citizens.

But then, what do we expect when we elect people so corrupt and self-serving they don’t even care about the health of the planet their children and grandchildren will inherit?

MIKE PENCE – OBTUSE AND IGNORANT

Mike Pence: ‘For Some Reason’ Liberals Care About Climate Change

Is Vice President Pence really this obtuse?

From Mike Pence

“For some reason or another, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left in this country and around the world.”

It seems that Vice President Pence hasn’t heard anything about climate change. He doesn’t seem to know why it’s an issue for “the left,” which in this case means anyone who wants to prevent the catastrophic destruction of the earth’s ecosystem by global warming. He hasn’t heard that, with the rise of greenhouse gasses,

  • the earth gets warmer,
  • the oceans get warmer,
  • the ice at the poles melts,
  • the life in the ocean is at-risk,
  • the sea-level rises threatening coastal cities,
  • more moisture is in the air making storms wetter and stronger,
  • causing flooding and more…

The Vice President has apparently not talked to the Secretary of Defense who believes global warming is a threat to national security…or the former Secretary of the Navy…or the U.S. Army…See also, the planet Venus.

Yet we really shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same person who said

…”2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.”

and

“The truth is, [evolution] always was a theory, Mr. Speaker.”

A few years ago, when he was in the House of Representatives, Pence was scientifically ignorant about smoking…or maybe he was getting money from the tobacco companies.

His ignorance also showed in his use of the word theory when talking about Evolution. In science, a theory is an explanation of a natural process which encompasses facts, laws, inferences, and hypotheses. Pence, like so many other ignorant creationists, confuses the popular meaning of the word theory with its scientific meaning. For an explanation of why theory is not “just a guess” see, Definitions of Fact, Theory, and Law in Scientific Work.

«🎤»
Posted in Anti-Intellectualism, asimov, climate change, Personal History

Isaac Asimov, January 2, 1920

[NOTE: I originally wrote this post a year ago and decided to update it in order to add the quote from and link to Asimov’s article in the January 21, 1980, Newsweek, A Cult of Ignorance, which, with the current political atmosphere in the United States, is even more important today than the day he wrote it.]

Today would be Isaac Asimov’s 97th birthday.

When I was in middle school and high school, Asimov was one of my most important teachers. This isn’t to say that my Chicago Public Schools teachers didn’t do their best to get this difficult-to-educate student motivated to learn…but Asimov did it better.

It was his science, not his science fiction that started me on the road to Asimov fanhood. I began reading his science essays some time in the early ’60s.

I had discovered science fiction when I was in middle school and started buying pulp sci-fi magazines. One of them, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (which has been in continuous publication since 1949), had science articles by Asimov. After I read one I searched the magazine monthly for Asimov, not science fiction.

I learned science from this reading, and as the years passed, I also learned more about Asimov the writer, and Asimov the person. He was a Renaissance man…a voracious reader and writer, knowledgable in dozens of academic areas, not just science. He taught me sociology, psychology, literature, history, philosophy, and religion. His books and articles were the ones which kept my interest…not my textbooks.

When I took science classes, especially biology and chemistry, I remember thinking that I was a real scientist, like Asimov. It’s interesting that in my generally unsuccessful high school career, the science classes were the only ones I consistently did well in. [It’s also likely that my father, with his Ph.D in Chemistry from the University of Chicago, influenced my interest and ability in science as well.]

Here then, in honor of his 97th birthday, are some of Isaac Asimov’s quotes.

~~~

• A little less than two month ago, the United States ended it’s quadrennial Presidential election cycle. This particular campaign, and its aftermath (the election and subsequent cabinet appointments, for example), reminded me of Asimov’s article about anti-intellectualism called,

A Cult of Ignorance by Isaac Asimov. Newsweek, January 21, 1980

It’s hard to quarrel with that ancient justification of the free press: “America’s right to know.” It seems almost cruel to ask, ingenuously, ”America’s right to know what, please? Science? Mathematics? Economics? Foreign languages?”

None of those things, of course. In fact, one might well suppose that the popular feeling is that Americans are a lot better off without any of that tripe.

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

The complete article, A Cult of Ignorance, by Asimov, may should be read here.

• Even as a professional, Asimov knew that discovery did not always follow expected paths. New discoveries sometimes just happen. The “teachable moment” is not something teachers plan. It, also, just happens.

• In an interview with Bill Moyers, Asimov asserted that people think of education as something you finish. Good teachers understand that learning is something that needs to continue throughout one’s life.

Asimov made his statement as a criticism of the current education system. Graduation makes education a “rite of passage” and many think that once they graduate, they’re done. In contrast, Asimov considered learning to be a life-long pursuit.

• In 1989 Asimov spoke about the greenhouse effect and how it can have an impact on the Earth. Listen starting about 1:30…[to about 7:00]. If he were still here his voice would surely be raised in alarm. The idea that humankind (Americans, at least) is denying real science in order to add to the profits of fossil fuel companies is the height of folly. My guess is that he would have choice words for the ignorance that seems to have enveloped the nation.

We are facing problems that transcend nations…

• Asimov taught himself to read before he went to school…and he graduated from high school at age 15. He went on to earn a B.S., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University. He left us with more than 500 volumes filled with his ideas, imagination and knowledge.

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

• For more on Asimov…

My favorite non-fiction works by Asimov were his articles in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Those have been collected into quite a few books. My favorite Asimovian fiction writings are two short stories which later grew into novels: Nightfall, and The Ugly Little Boy.

###
Posted in Article Medleys, climate change, Lead, MLK, Teachers Unions, Testing

2016 Medley #2: MLK, Get the Lead Out, Testing, and the Earth

Dr. King, Lead Poisoning, 
Testing, Climate Change

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING

In honor of MLK Day I present this quote from Dr. King for the benefit of the Indiana General Assembly which is doing its best to “bust the union.” The legislators have already taken away most of teachers’ rights to collective bargaining, benefits based on seniority, due process in labor disputes, and have forced school corporations to use the junk-science of evaluating teachers using test scores. This year they have another collection of bills including one which would “[pit] teachers against one another in a bidding war” for salary dollars.

The plan is to further weaken the Indiana State Teachers Association because “UNION!”

Dr. King said,

Weekend Quotables

The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. — Speech given to the Illinois State AFL-CIO, Oct. 7, 1965

POISONING FLINT

Why is lead poisoning even an issue any more? We know the damage it does. We know how to get rid of it. We are just too focused on making money to spend what we need to spend to fix our problems.

The news about Flint Michigan’s lead-polluted water supply isn’t news any more. The damage however has been done…

Why should we care? Take some time to read about the risks of lead poisoning for our nation’s children and the damage it does.

Lead Poisoning Is Still A Public Health Crisis For African-Americans

Before Freddie Gray died of spinal injuries he received in police custody, sparking weeks of protest in his native Baltimore and around the country, he was a “lead kid,” one of thousands of children in the city with toxic levels of lead in their blood from years of living in substandard housing — and long-term health problems as a result.

“Paint was peeling off the windows,” recalled Gray in the 2009 deposition of a lead-poising lawsuit he and his siblings filed against the owners of the building they grew up in. For children like Gray, who was 25 years old when he died in April, lead poisoning can mean ADHD, behavior problems, and irreversible brain and central nervous damage.

Lead Poisoning

What’s the future of the children of Flint and other places where lead poisoning is prevalent?

Even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. At very high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust in older buildings are the most common sources of lead poisoning in children. Other sources include contaminated air, water and soil. Adults who work with batteries, do home renovations or work in auto repair shops also may be exposed to lead.

I’ve written about lead poisoning before. I’ll ask the same question I have on numerous occasions; When are we going to get serious about the health of the children in our nation?

From earlier this year…Poisoning Children, then Blaming Them: The Lead Connection

The World Health Organization (WHO) says of lead poisoning…

The consequences of brain injury from exposure to lead in early life are loss of intelligence, shortening of attention span and disruption of behaviour. Because the human brain has little capacity for repair, these effects are untreatable and irreversible. They cause diminution in brain function and reduction in achievement that last throughout life.

From April, 2013…Update to Poisoned Children and “Reform”

The Arizona School Boards Association has published a report (available in pdf) titled, A Strange Ignorance The role of lead poisoning in failing schools.. The executive summary contains the following.

Not all children can learn, not when they have been poisoned. If environmental lead, instead of calcium, is incorporated into a child’s rapidly developing brain tissue “between birth and age three,” those tissues will not function correctly. Ever. By the time children reach the public schools, the damage has been done, and it is irreversible.

Lead is an incredibly potent neurotoxin prevalent in older neighborhoods. It takes a surprisingly small amount of lead to damage developing brains, a few sand-grain sized paint chips will do it. Those children, in turn, will sustain brain damage that ensures both educational and social problems for the rest of their life. This early lead poisoning has been linked to:

  1. an inability to learn because brain tissues constructed of lead do not bind properly to form the neural learning connections,
  2. to attention deficit disorders because lead damaged brain tissues have a tendency to misfire and disrupt normal concentration,
  3. to violence because the careful balance of brain structures in the prefrontal cortex that inhibits impulsivity and violence is disrupted, and
  4. to drug use because untreated sufferers find illegal drugs help to medicate the agitation caused by lead damaged brain cells.

From May, 2011…No Excuses

Study links lead exposure, low student test scores

Children who ingested even small amounts of lead performed poorly later on school tests compared to students who were never exposed to the substance, according to a new study of Connecticut students.

The Duke University study also found that black children were much more likely to have experienced lead poisoning from paint residue, dust or other sources by age 7 than the state’s white children. Educators worry that factor might be among many contributing to Connecticut’s status as the state with the largest achievement gap between the races…

Several other government and university research studies nationwide over the years have found links between lead poisoning and delays in academic and cognitive growth, although the Duke study is Connecticut’s first research linking individual students to their test results.

TESTING

High Stakes Testing Doesn’t Protect Civil Rights – It Violates Them

NCLB was sold to the American people to fight the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” as if “expectations” alone were enough to increase student learning. The nation’s children are still waiting for its adults to invest in their children. Instead we have invested in testing companies and private corporate charter operators. Children are still not our nation’s priority…

Our school policies for the past few decades have been about denying the right to an equitable education to our poor and minority students. Though the ESSA holds promise to limit federal meddling, it does nothing to change that. And all these people who cry foul at a potential loss of federal power are either ignorant or crying crocodile tears.

It’s no wonder that hundreds of civil rights organizations oppose high stakes testing. Nor is it surprising that the media rarely reports it. And it shouldn’t be a shock to learn that the overwhelming majority of civil rights organizations who have suddenly began championing testing are those who get big donations from the philanthro-capitalists pushing this agenda.

How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers

The New York Times decries the test and punish culture, but they start with a false assumption. When “education reform” moved into full swing about 2 decades ago, our schools were not lagging behind those in other countries. What was lagging behind…and what still lags behind…is our ability to take care of our children. We still remain the nation with the highest child poverty level among wealthy nations in the world. Poverty and our neglect of poverty is what’s causing failure in our schools.

In education, it became clear that our schools were lagging behind those in other countries.

The times goes on to speak about the damage done to the profession of teaching by the test-and-punish policies of the last two administrations.

…the objections became harder to dismiss as evidence mounted that even superb and motivated professionals had come to believe that the boatloads of measures, and the incentives to “look good,” had led them to turn away from the essence of their work. In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.

We have ignored teachers’ voices.

Whatever we do, we have to ask our clinicians and teachers whether measurement is working, and truly listen when they tell us that it isn’t. Today, that is precisely what they’re saying…

Our businesslike efforts to measure and improve quality are now blocking the altruism, indeed the love, that motivates people to enter the helping professions. While we’re figuring out how to get better, we need to tread more lightly in assessing the work of the professionals who practice in our most human and sacred fields.

(h/t Cumudgucation)

Afflicting the afflicted

At least as important as protecting our students from the damage done by bad tests is that student test scores shouldn’t be used to measure schools or teachers to begin with. There is no basis it.

Steve Hinnefeld notes that in Indiana legislators are once again focusing the damage done by standardized tests on the schools trying to teach high poverty children.

Indiana schools that get successive Fs face increasingly severe state sanctions. Schools that reach six Fs in a row – and apparently there are three that could this year – face state takeover.

This doesn’t make any sense. The only reason for SB 200 in the first place is that the spring 2015 ISTEP tests were so difficult that it would be unfair to base grades on those results. But if that’s the case for schools that got an A, B, C or D in 2013-14, it should be just as true for schools that got an F…Schools that had been getting Fs may have made extraordinary efforts to improve. If ISTEP had stayed the same, maybe their grades would have gone up. But with the tougher 2015 test and the much higher bar for passing, they may have fallen short.

Many of these schools serve the largest numbers of poor children. For them, accountability can seem an affliction. And now the legislature is giving other schools a break but not them.

New Jersey Study Commission on Testing: Keep Weighing the Pig

Russ Walsh understands that you don’t improve learning by more and more testing. He asks three important questions…SPOILER ALERT: The answer to all three questions is NO!

Are standardized tests an effective way to hold schools accountable?
[…]
Are PARCC tests “high quality?”
[…]
Are standardized tests effective in narrowing the achievement gap?

…I have an idea. Instead of yearly testing, let’s all just stipulate that the achievement gap exists and that it is in reality an opportunity gap. Then we can do away with all the tests that keep telling us what we already know and focus our attention on things that are likely to reduce the opportunity gap like cleaner, safer schools, wrap around health and wellness programs, and attracting high quality teachers.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Your Participation is Not Optional

Aside from ignoring science when it comes to using high stakes tests for purposes other than that for which they were developed, we are a nation of anti-science anti-intellectuals. In the recent Republican debate we heard that we won’t ruin the economy in order to move to cleaner power (also read: we’re not going to disappoint my donors from the fossil fuel industry) and since we can’t solve the problem by ourselves let’s not worry about it.

I wonder if Trump with “believe” in science once his buildings on the coasts start taking on water…

Belief in global warming is optional, but participation is mandatory.

###