The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘school’

Skeptical Lesson Plans from the JREF!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 13, 2013

Over the last few years, one of the things I’ve done is to work on the Educational Advisory Board of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).  One of this board’s functions is to help assemble a variety of lesson plans and modules which emphasize skepticism and critical thinking that can be distributed to teachers everywhere.

I am happy to pass along to you some of the latest lessons from our work at the JREF.  Please feel free to share these as you see fit :)

New “JREF in The Classroom” Lesson Plans!

The James Randi Educational Foundation is pleased to announce the release of four new additions to our JREF in the Classroom offerings:

New JREF in The Classroom Lessons

Pareidolia: Do You See What You Think You See?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]

Illusions: Our Visual System
Teacher Edition [PDF]

Cognition: Are You Rational?
Teacher Edition [PDF]

Power Balance: Sports Enhancement, or Placebo?
Teacher Edition [PDF] | Student Edition [PDF]

These are downloadable lesson plans for use in high school and junior high school science and psychology classes that use topics in pseudoscience and the paranormal to teach critical thinking, skepticism, and scientific inquiry. Each lesson is designed to expose students to concepts identified in the National Science Content Standards and AAAS science literacy benchmarks.

These free lesson plans for teachers (and parents) are additions to JREF’s growing catalog of grade-specific standards-focused resources including lesson plans, activity guides, multimedia materials, and more. JREF’s aim with these free resources is to inspire an investigative spirit in the next generation of critical thinkers, providing the intellectual toolkit needed to navigate a life full of difficult decisions, confusing information, and conflicting claims.

Teachers can contact education@randi.org for a free printed classroom kit for any of the eight topics available so far, and to get more information on ways to incorporate JREF’s critical thinking materials into their classrooms.

More information on these and other classroom resources can be found here ≫

And don’t miss JREF President D.J. Grothe’s appearance on the syndicated radio show America Weekend where he discusses JREF’s new free classroom resources. Listen now ≫

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Trio of Good News in the Battle Against Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 12, 2013

I am happy to report to you that there have been three really good developments in the scientific and skeptical battle against one of the worst bug-a-boos: creationism.  Rather than go into a huge amount of detail about each one, I’ll give a few of my own comments and link to the original sources on each.  Read on to the end – the best one is last :)

1.  Ball State University Takes a Stand for Science and Kicks “Intelligent Design” to the Curb

In this article from Inside Higher Ed, a very positive development is outlined wherein the university made a very strong statement against the inclusion of so-called “intelligent design” as science under the auspices of academic freedom.  I think this was so well done on the part of the university leadership that it should serve as a template for other institutions to follow.  In part, the article states:

In what First Amendment watchdogs called a victory, Ball State University’s president on Wednesday spoke out against intelligent design as a viable scientific theory. At the same time, the university announced that a professor accused of proselytizing remained part of the faculty but was working with administrators to ensure his courses aligned with Ball State’s view that science instruction should be about science and not religion.

“Intelligent design is overwhelmingly deemed by the scientific community as a religious belief and not a scientific theory,” President Jo Ann Gora said. “Therefore, intelligent design is not appropriate content for science courses. The gravity of this issue and the level of concern among scientists are demonstrated by more than 80 national and state scientific societies’ independent statements that intelligent design and creation science do not qualify as science.”

The question is not one of academic freedom, but one of academic integrity, she added. “Said simply, to allow intelligent design to be presented to science students as a valid scientific theory would violate the academic integrity of the course as it would fail to accurately represent the consensus of science scholars.” … [emphasis added]

Read the entire article here

2. Christian Publisher Removes Loch Ness Monster From Biology Textbook

You may recall that some time ago, I reported about how some creationists were going to such ludicrous lengths to undercut the teaching of evolution that they were actually selling textbooks which taught that the Loch Ness Monster was real and evidence against evolution.  Apparently, the publishers of those same textbooks are now omitting any mention of dear ol’ Nessie since it seems that would be a claim too outlandish even for reality-challenged creationists.  Here’s more:

A Christian education publisher based in Tennessee has removed references to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster from a biology textbook.

According to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, Accelerated Christian Education, Inc. has opted to remove a statement from a textbook used in Europe and will likely do the same for American textbooks.

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland?” reads the deleted passage.  “‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Mark Looy, chief communications officer for the Young Earth Creationist organization Answers in Genesis, told The Christian Post that he approved of ACE’s decision.

There are just so many of these legends, like the dragon mentioned in Beowulf, the numerous accounts of St. George and the dragon, and so on, that they can’t be dismissed,” said Looy. … [emphasis added]

If the bolded statement above is any example of the shoddy standards of evidence adhered to by creationists, it is no wonder they don’t have a scientific leg to stand on.

3. Creationists and Climate Change Deniers Lose in Kentucky

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are going to push back hard against anti-scientists like creationists and global warming deniers.  Well, our friends from the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) are reporting that a significant victory has been achieved in a state that you might not associate with strong science standards: Kentucky!  A few weeks back, creationists and global warming deniers attempted to derail the adoption of the NGSS by the Kentucky State Board of Education, and they were rebuffed :)

The Kentucky Board of Education declined to make any changes to a proposed regulation that would enact the Next Generation Science Standards as Kentucky’s state science standards, despite the protests of evolution deniers and climate change deniers. In a lengthy document dated August 1, 2013, the Kentucky Department of Education summarized the thoughts of all who submitted comments on the regulation, and provided detailed replies. On the topics of evolution and climate change in particular, the department wrote (PDF, p. 139):

“The agency also received statements of support related to the inclusion of particular science topics such as climate change and evolution, stating that meaningful scientific debate on the validity of evolution and climate science has ceased. Proponents of the continued inclusion of evolution pointed to the overwhelming acceptance of evolution in the biological science community. Proponents of the inclusion of climate change education contend that Kentucky students deserve the most up to date science education, which includes climate change. [The department agreed with these comments: see, e.g., pp. 104 and 105 on evolution, and pp. 115 on climate change.]

Over one hundred substantially identical emails were received stating an opposition to the continued inclusion of evolution in the proposed standards, characterizing evolution as a theory and not a fact. These commenters asked that intelligent design be added to the standards. Other commenters questioned the scientific validity of evolution. The agency also received several comments specific to the inclusion of climate change in the proposed standards, including concerns that climate change science was overemphasized to the neglect of other science concepts or that climate change is not a settled issue in the scientific community.”

The three important antievolution goals — banning the teaching of evolution; balancing the teaching of evolution with creationism, whether in the form of “creation science” or “intelligent design”; and belittling evolution as controversial — were in evidence. So were all three of the pillars of creationism — arguing that evolution is scientifically controversial; arguing that teaching evolution is linked with negative social consequences; arguing that it is only fair to teach “all sides” of the supposed controversy. The same themes were also reflected in the comments about climate change.

The Kentucky Board of Education approved the department’s report on August 8, 2013, so, as WPFL in Louisville, Kentucky, reports (August 8, 2013), “The regulation now heads to Kentucky’s Administrative Regulation Review Committee. If approved in the Kentucky General Assembly, the new standards would go into effect during the 2014-2015 school year.” Kentucky would join Rhode Island, Kansas, Maryland, and Vermont as the first five states to adopt the NGSS — unless the legislature, which includes vocal critics of evolution and climate change, refuses its approval. [emphasis added]

I want to jump on the bolded part above; the battle in KY still isn’t finished.  It will require people to lobby their state legislators in Kentucky in order to encourage them to accept the NGSS.  No doubt the anti-science lobby will pull out all the stops to derail this process, but we have to speak up and encourage the legislature to accept the NGSS as written.

And think of this: if the NGSS is accepted in Kentucky, then it will be a huge defeat for creationists and climate science deniers all over the nation.  That’s because if a religiously conservative state like Kentucky can do it, then any state can do it.

Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education, global warming denial, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them :)

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children

conv

“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

SkepticalTeacher.org

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (news.discovery.com)

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books

Mythbusters

Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast)

BrainsOn.org (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Zuniverse.org

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

CoolTools.org

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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The Real Meaning of Grades and the Importance of Standards

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 4, 2013

*Sigh*… at the end of nearly every single semester that I teach, be it high school or college level, I have to deal with the same thing over and over again: grade grousing.  After grades for the semester have been posted, it is inevitable that I have to address some kind of request from a (former – note the semester is concluded) student asking me to increase their grade.  Most notable are the requests from students who missed an excessive number of classes, failed to turn in the required work, or who performed abysmally on exams (or a combination of all of the above) – yet they feel they deserve a better grade anyway.

Rather than go on in my own words, I would like to pass along the wise words of Prof. Kurt Wiesenfeld, a physics professor at Georgia Tech (at the time the article was written) back in 1996.  These words are just as important now as they were then, and for those of us who consider ourselves skeptics and hold to high standards of evidence when confronted with extraordinary claims, I think the connection is obvious…

MY TURN

MAKING THE GRADE

© Copyright NEWSWEEK Magazine, 1996

Many students wheedle for a degree as if it were a freebie T shirt

BY KURT WIESENFELD

Kurt's PictureIT WAS A ROOKIE ERROR. AFTER 10 YEARS I SHOULD HAVE known better, but I went to my office the day after final grades were posted. There was a tentative knock on the door. “Professor Wiesenfeld? I took your Physics 2121 class? I flunked it? I was wonder if there’s anything I can do to improve my grade?” I thought, “Why are you asking me? Isn’t it too late to worry about it? Do you dislike making declarative statements” After the student gave his tale of woe and left, the phone rang. “I got a D in your class. Is there any way you can change it to ‘Incomplete’?” Then the e-mail assault began: “I’m shy about coming in to talk to you, but I’m not shy about asking for a better grade. Anyway, it’s worth a try.” The next day I had three phone messages from students asking me to call them. I didn’t.

Time was, when you received a grade, that was it. You might groan and moan, but you accepted it as the outcome of your efforts or lack thereof (and, yes, sometimes a tough grader). In the last few years, however, some students have developed a disgruntled-consumer approach. If they don’t like their grade, they go to the “return” counter to trade it in for something better.

What alarms me is their indifference towards grades as an indication of personal effort and performance. Many, when pressed about why they think they deserve a better grade, admit they don’t deserve one, but would like one anyway. Having been raised on gold stars for effort and smiley faces for self-esteem, they’ve learned that they can get by without hard work and real talent if they can talk the professor into giving them a break. This attitude is beyond cynicism. There’s a weird innocence to the assumption that one expects (even deserves) a better grade simply by begging for it. With that outlook, I guess I shouldn’t be as flabbergasted as I was that 12 students asked me to change their grades after final grades were posted.

That’s 10 percent of my class who let three months of midterms, quizzes, and lab reports slide until long past remedy. My graduate student calls it hyperrational thinking: if effort and intelligence don’t matter, why should deadlines? What matters is getting a better grade through an undeserved bonus, the academic equivalent of a freebie T shirt or toaster giveaway. Rewards are disconnected from the quality of one’s work. An act and its consequences are unrelated, random events.

Their arguments for wheedling better grades often ignore academic performance. Perhaps they feel it’s not relevant. “If my grade isn’t raised to a D I’ll lose my scholarship.” “If you don’t give me a C, I’ll flunk out.” One sincerely overwrought student pleaded, “If I don’t pass, my life is over.” This is tough stuff to deal with. Apparently, I’m responsible for someone’s losing a scholarship, flunking out or deciding whether life has meaning. Perhaps these students see me as a commodities broker with something they want – a grade. Though intrinsically worthless, grades, if properly manipulated, can be traded for what has value: a degree, which means a job, which means money. The one thing college actually offers – a chance to learn – is considered irrelevant, even less than worthless, because of the long hours and hard work required.

In a society saturated with surface values, love of knowledge for its own sake does sound eccentric. The benefits of fame and wealth are more obvious. So is it right to blame students for reflecting the superficial values saturating our society?

Yes, of course it’s right. These guys had better take themselves seriously now, because our country will be forced to take them seriously later, when the stakes are much higher. They must recognize that their attitude is not only self-destructive, but socially destructive. The erosion of quality control – giving appropriate grades for actual accomplishments – is a major concern in my department. One colleague noted that a physics major could obtain a degree without ever answering a written exam question completely. How? By pulling in enough partial credit and extra credit. And by getting breaks on grades.

But what happens once she or he graduates and gets a job? That’s when the misfortunes of eroding academic standards multiply. We lament that schoolchildren get “kicked upstairs” until they graduate from high school despite being illiterate and mathematically inept, but we seem unconcerned with college graduates whose less blatant deficiencies are far more harmful if their accreditation exceeds their qualifications.

Most of my students are science and engineering majors. If they’re good at getting partial credit but not at getting the answer right, then the new bridge breaks or the new drug doesn’t work. One finds examples here in Atlanta. Last year a light tower in the Olympic Stadium collapsed, killing a worker. It collapsed because an engineer miscalculated how much weight it could hold. A new 12-story dormitory could develop dangerous cracks due to a foundation that’s uneven by more than six inches. The error resulted from incorrect data being fed into a computer. I drive past that dorm daily on my way to work, wondering if a foundation crushed under kilotons of weight is repairable, or if this structure will have to be demolished. Two 10,000-pound steel beams at the new natatorium collapsed in March, crashing into the student athletic complex. (Should we give partial credit since no one was hurt?) Those are real-world consequences of errors and lack of expertise.

But the lesson is lost on the grade-grousing 10 percent. Say that you won’t (not can’t but won’t) change the grade they deserve to what they want, and they’re frequently bewildered or angry. They don’t think it’s fair that they’re judged according to their performance, not their desires or “potential.” They don’t think it’s fair that they should jeopardize their scholarships or be in danger of flunking out simply because they could not or did not do their work. But it’s more than fair; its necessary to help preserve a minimum standard of quality that our society needs to maintain safety and integrity. I don’t know if the 13th-hour students will learn that lesson, but I’ve learned mine. From now on, after final grades are posted, I’ll lie low until the next quarter starts.

WIESENFELD, a physicist, teaches at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

From NEWSWEEK JUNE 17, 1996

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Follow Up to Religious Fundamentalists’ Reaction to Sandy Hook Massacre

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2012

As I recently blogged, there was the all-too-predictable nutty and inhuman reaction to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School from the religious zealots in our nation in the past few days… it’s the fault of gays and atheists, don’t ya know!  Thanks to all who have reblogged (thanks to Phil at Skeptic Money :) ), tweeted, commented, and emailed me with feedback about that blog post.  I wanted to share with you all a really good bit of correspondence I got from my online friend “Other Jesus”, because it goes to the root of some deeper questions related to religion and how people do/don’t think about it.  Read on…

I liked your article. I was actually waiting for these groups to emerge. Most of the responses on all sides of the background debate have responded in predictable manner. I know the main characters are the anti- and pro-gun groups, the “more mental health” people, and the “we need more God in school…” religious folks. But some of the most annoying folks are the “prayers and hugs” crew in the periphery. Every tragedy like this evokes a “hug your kids and pray for the family of the victims”. How’s that working? (Don’t quote me on the above!)

The Huckabee premise deserves a more blatant study and response. So Mike thinks we need more God in school for protection. Meanwhile, some folks are calling for full-time armed security in schools (Sean Hannity, eg.). So what if God applied for the security guard job at a school? Well the principal would need to review His resume and he/she might ask for more explanation about the following:

1) Where was God during the murder of Able? Was it preventable?

2) Where was God during the murder of the Egyptian first born in the 10th Plague? What about His alleged
ties to the Angel of Death?

3) Wasn’t God in the land of His “chosen people” during Herod’s “murder of the innocents”? Did He take any steps to prevent the slaughter?

4) During the Great Flood, what did God do to protect the babies and young innocent children? Did he have any role in the cause of the flood?

Now these are events from long ago, so the principal might accept God’s excuse that “that was then, this is now”. So how about a more modern example? A school like Huckabee wants: With God fully in-place. Maybe God’s checkered resume can be redeemed.

5) Where was God on December 1, 1958? Was he watching a student play with matches in the basement of Out Lady of Angel’s Catholic school in Chicago? What did he do when the young man ignitee a trash barrel? Did he take any action to stop the fire before it killed 92 kids and three nuns?

I don’t think that the principal conducting the interview would have a hard time deciding whether or not God was qualified, despite the endorsement from Mike Huckabee.

(NOTE TO SELF: Be very skeptical of anyone Mick Huckabee refers.)

And here are some other good points brought up by various people who read my article:

What really irritates me are those who claim that shootings happen at schools because God is not allowed in schools. However, that does not explain why students at a Jewish school in France (earlier this year) were killed by a gunman. Does God only dwell in Christian schools? The point is, belief in God has nothing to do with these tragic events. Horrible things happen because horrible people cause them to happen – it is not the result of divine punishment.

… and…

So how is it that shootings have occurred in churches, religious schools and if no sin is greater than another; why all the child molesting and rape in churches?   Has God been removed from there as well.

… and…

Also, I’d like to know how Mike Huckabee explains the fact that slavery and segregation were legal while much of that praying was going on in schools.

Hmm, good questions.  Food for thought, folks… food for thought.

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The Real Cause of the Sandy Hook Massacre: Gays and Atheists, Of Course!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 18, 2012

You’d pretty much have to be living underneath a rock to not have heard about last Friday’s tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.  All told, 20 children and 6 adults were killed by the shooter, Adam Lanza, before he killed himself.  Understandably, people all over the nation are numb and puzzled about how something like this could happen.  I know that at the high school where I teach, it has certainly been a topic of much debate and conversation.  One of the most asked questions is “Are our schools safe?” – in general, the answer is yes.

In addition, at a time like this people are looking for answers and asking “Why?”  In answer, some are talking about the issue of gun control (the shooter had easy access to guns), while others are talking about mental health issues (society doesn’t pay enough attention to mental health); what seems to be common to these, and other, analyses is that they are based mostly upon media-fueled speculation at this stage.  Speculation runs rampant, and facts are frustratingly few and far between…

… Enter the God Squad.  These are the dim-witted troglodytes whom you could have easily predicted would crawl out of their caves spewing the usual disgusting, vile-filled claptrap about how this is all somehow “God’s punishment”, and how they know God’s feelings on the matter!  Here’s just a sample of the putrid idiocy pouring forth from the fundamentalist faithful…

MIKE HUCKABEE: Schools ‘Become A Place Of Carnage’ Because ‘We Have  Systematically Removed God’

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested Friday that the absence of God  from the nation’s public schools may have contributed, in part, to the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people,  including 20 children.

Appearing on Fox  News, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, was asked by host  Neil Cavuto how “God could let this happen.” Here’s his response:

It’s an interesting thing. We ask  why there’s violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from  our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of  carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about  eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability — that  we’re not just going to have be accountable to the police if they catch us, but  one day we stand before a holy God in judgment. If we don’t believe that, then  we don’t fear that. And so I sometimes, when people say, ‘Why did God let it  happen?’ You know, God wasn’t armed. He didn’t go to the school. But God will be  there in the form of a lot people with hugs and with therapy and a whole lot of  ways in which he will be involved in the aftermath. Maybe we ought to let him in  on the front end, and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up it’s all said and  done at the back end.

and…

School carnage: Blame church, not God or guns

… My mother, atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair, fought to make the public schools  the armed camps they are today by removing prayer, the recognition of the  authority of God. In 1962 and 1963, I was attending an all-boys public high  school in downtown Baltimore, Md. The school was a magnet school before the term  even existed and was intended to prepare young men for college, majoring in  science and engineering. There were 1,800 teenage boys in the school, and there  was not a cop in the building – ever. The doors were unlocked and often the  un-air-conditioned rooms had open windows. There were no metal detectors, no  picture IDs, and students went in and out the doors on the honor system.

What  happens when you’re raised by America’s most famous atheist? Read William  Murray’s riveting and redemptive new book, “My Life Without God”

The authority of God was present, even though I am very sure many of those  young men, including myself, had some pretty vile thoughts that were not in the  least way moral. The presence of the authority of God, vested in the teachers by  His recognition every morning, was reinforced by the churches and the families  of the students.

That high school has since merged with a girl’s school in another location,  for purposes of political correctness. The last time I checked, the old building  itself was the headquarters of the Baltimore City Schools Police Force,  something that did not exist when Baltimore’s population was nearly  double what it is now. Every kid at every school now has a photo ID. All  the doors of every school are locked. All doors have metal detectors and  drug-sniffing dogs roaming the corridors. I am told that every school in  Baltimore has at least one armed “safety officer.”

In the vast majority of America’s public schools, the authority of God has  been replaced with the authority of the iron fist of government. Morals? Without  the authority of God, there are no morals, and none are taught in the public  schools today. The ethics that are taught are situational, perhaps the same  situational ethics that led to the logic that caused the tragic shootings in  Newtown. …

and (of course it wouldn’t be complete without these assholes)…

Westboro Baptist Church Says It Will Picket Vigil For Connecticut School Shooting Victims

The Westboro Baptist Church, the controversial group known for protesting outside funerals of slain U.S. service members, announced that it will picket a vigil for the victims of Friday’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the second-deadliest school shooting in American history.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, a spokesperson for the group and, like most members of the organization, a relative of the group’s founder, Fred Phelps, announced on Twitter on Saturday the group’s plan “to sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment.” …

So what are we to take away from this incredibly frakked up display of asshattery?  Apparently, we are to all repent and come to the realization that God’s pissed off at us (“us” being the United States) for not forcing children to pray in public schools (and by “pray” I mean “pray to Jesus Christ”, because that’s what these morons really mean), or because our nation actually has the audacity to recognize and respect the rights of atheists and gays, not to mention in the United States we actually acknowledge the separation of church and state.

Omaha, Neb., Monday, Dec. 10, 2007. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Yee-haw… Fun with Fundamentalism. Image Source

So what are we to make of this reaction on the part of the ultra-religious to the Sandy Hook massacre?  As I’ve noted before, the fundamentalist right-wing segment of our nation is starting to slowly dwindle, and there is a more secular demographic rising in this country.  I think part of what we may be seeing here is the gradual, but inevitable, unhinging of the religious right as they start to see their power over the rest of us who don’t share their twisted worldview slowly slipping away.  They cannot handle the fact that their worldview isn’t THE worldview which is forced upon the rest of society through the power of the culture and the government, and that is making them nuts.

I predict more of the same in the future: every time there is a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster; every time there is a man-made disaster (such as the Sandy Hook massacre); every time anything bad happens, these self-described servants of the Almighty (who, of course, have the message straight from God himself, you know) will scurry in front of the TV cameras to spread their message of doom and judgement in a vain attempt to appear relevant.  And as time goes on, they will get ever more extreme with their message, as they marginalize themselves even more.

And that’s the key thing right there… what these preachers, prophets, and fundamentalist believers really fear is exactly what’s happening to them: they are slipping into irrelevance.  Let them, I say, because civilized society has no need for their sociopathic mythologies.

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The State of Louisiana Comes Lurching into the 20th Century!

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 5, 2012

My friend and skeptical colleague Phil over at Skeptic Money has passed along some welcome news: the Louisiana private school voucher program has been found to be unconstitutional!  Whoo-hoo!!!  :)[**Aside: If you recall, the state of Louisiana has been a hotbed of creationist activity over the years; more on that here and here.  And yes, that fact is important.  Read on...]

This is news partly because the program was being used to funnel public school money to private religious schools which specialized in indoctrinating children into fundamentalist forms of Christianity which taught, among other things, creationism as “science”.  In addition, let us also not forget that this was the award-winning 21st century educational plan which would teach that the Loch Ness Monster was real as a way of supporting creationism.  Phil has some more interesting information on these developments:

Louisiana $11 Million Creationism Give Away 

News from the State of Louisiana today!

“A state judge on Friday shot down Louisiana’s sweeping school voucher program, ruling that the state could not use funds set aside for public education to pay private-school tuition…”

This is huge.  They were going to spend $11 Million to teach creationism.

“Louisiana is preparing to spend over $11 million to send 1,365 students to 20 private schools that teach creationism instead of science as part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s new voucher program.”

This $11 Million is to come out of the public schools.  According to a report from “American Legislative Exchange Council” Louisiana ranks 49 out of 51 (They also ranked the District of Columbia).  I guess they want to race to the bottom.

The governor is not happy about the ruling.

“Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who had championed the program, called the ruling “wrong-headed” and “a travesty for parents across Louisiana who want nothing more than for their children to have an equal opportunity at receiving a great education.” “

A great education?  These children are not being educated.  They are being thrown back to the bronze age.  We might as well teach them that 2+2 equals “fish”.

“While State District Judge Tim Kelley ruled the voucher program unconstitutional, he did not issue an immediate injunction to stop it. The 5,000 students currently receiving vouchers will be able to continue attending their private schools pending an appeal, state officials said.”

What?  The state creates a blatantly illegal program and a judge rules against it but yet it continues.  It looks like they are still going to spend that $11 Million on creationism.  I feel like we live in some kind of bizzaro world.

This is all promoted by a guy that wants to be the next President of the United States Bobby Jindal.

So… the program will continue for the immediate future (probably until the end of the current academic year), which will no doubt give Jindal and his political allies time to come up with another cockamamie scheme that will bilk the taxpayers and direct their money towards religious zealots who have no interest in teaching their kids (or anybody else’s kids) science.

I agree with Phil.  The irony here is that Jindal and his religious right allies go on and on about “giving the kids a great education” but it’s apparent they wouldn’t know good science education if it bit them squarely in the ass.  Remember folks, these are the same people who want to give public tax money to schools that teach the Loch Ness Monster is real.  Just chew on that for a bit, folks…

In conclusion, I think it is appropriate to end this post with the following clip from Bill Maher’s movie Religulous.  In it he is interviewing a U.S. Senator (Mark Pryor from Arkansas) who is trying to justify creationism.  When challenged by Maher, the Senator responds with the following, quite telling, line: “You don’t have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate…”

Yup, he really said that.  Watch for yourself (the dialog leading up to the line starts at 4:00):

Wow.

Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Private School Vouchers in Louisiana and the Dumbing Down of Curricula: Not Just for Creationism!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 8, 2012

This past June, I reported that the science curriculum in Louisiana was on its way to going down the proverbial tubes, and evidence of this fact was made available through the uncovering of a creationist curriculum which wants to seriously teach the “reality” of the Loch Ness Monster.  Well, as I predicted over a year ago, due to the stupidity of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law, the state will now be funding (with taxpayer dollars) private school vouchers which will be used to push all manner of nonsense, far beyond your usual garden-variety young-earth creationism, in Louisiana schools.  It seems that the door to all manner of flummery and idiocy has been thrown wide open, and the students of these Louisiana voucher schools will be subjected to some truly unbelievable “facts” in their education; just get a load of these (from Mother Jones)…

14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools

—By

Separation of church and what? Currier & Ives/Library of Congress

Thanks to a new law privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers’ dime.

Under Gov. Bobby Jindal’s voucher program, considered the most sweeping in the country, Louisiana is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars to help poor and middle-class students from the state’s notoriously terrible public schools receive a private education. While the governor’s plan sounds great in the glittery parlance of the state’s PR machine, the program is rife with accountability problems that actually haven’t been solved by the new standards the Louisiana Department of Education adopted two weeks ago.

For one, of the 119 (mostly Christian) participating schools, Zack Kopplin, a gutsy college sophomore who’s taken to Change.org to stonewall the program, has identified at least 19 that teach or champion creationist nonscience and will rake in nearly $4 million in public funding from the initial round of voucher designations.

Many of these schools, Kopplin notes, rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based “facts,” such as the existence of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience that researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have thankfully pored over so the rest of world doesn’t have to.

Here are some of my favorite lessons:

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: “Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary  interpretation.  Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at  the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few  thousand years.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

2. Dragons were totally real: “[Is] it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today  some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in  certain dinosaur skulls…The large skull chambers could have contained  special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals  out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and  produced fire and smoke.”—Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

3. “God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ.”—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

4. Africa needs religion: “Africa is a continent with many needs.  It is still in need of the   gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write.  In some   areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have   taken over the government.”—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004

[And, believe it or not, it actually gets worse from here... :( ]

Click here to read the rest of the Mother Jones article

Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Creationists Push for the Loch Ness Monster: How Pseudoscience Cross-Pollinates

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 25, 2012

I’ve written here before about the state of Louisiana’s so-called “academic freedom” law which is essentially a backdoor attempt to push creationism as science in public school science classes.  As many critics of the law pointed out when it was passed, this would serve to dumb-down science standards and inevitably harm the education of students in Louisiana by placing pseudoscientific notions such as creationism on an equal (or better) footing than accepted evolutionary science.  Well, as predicted, the consequences of this law are now becoming realized, and I’m sorry to say that things in Louisiana are getting even more stupid than I had predicted.  Read this article for more detail:

Christian fundamentalist textbooks touting the Loch Ness Monster as proof of Creationism

For the 2012-2013 school year, thousands of Louisiana students will receive state-funded vouchers to attend private schools, many of which hold religious affiliations.

One of these schools — Eternity Christian Academy, in Westlake, Louisiana — utilizes the A.C.E. Curriculum Program, a Christian fundamentalist course of study that teaches students to “see life from God’s point of view.” And unbeknownst to most theologians, scientists, and amateur monster hunters, the Lord’s viewpoint apparently incorporates Scotland’s favorite cryptid.

Herald Scotland reports that a certain textbook in the A.C.E. curriculum transcends standard Creationist teachings and instead informs students that the Loch Ness Monster is proof positive that evolution never happened. (And here I always assumed Nessie was The Great Beast from the Book of Revelations.) Explains Herald Scotland:

“One ACE textbook – Biology 1099, Accelerated Christian Education Inc – reads: “Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

Another claim taught is that a Japanese whaling boat once caught a dinosaur. It’s unclear if the movie Godzilla was the inspiration for this lesson.

Jonny Scaramanga, 27, who went through the ACE programme as a child, but now campaigns against Christian fundamentalism, said the Nessie claim was presented as “evidence that evolution couldn’t have happened. The reason for that is they’re saying if Noah’s flood only happened 4000 years ago, which they believe literally happened, then possibly a sea monster survived.”

The Loch Ness Monster as “evidence” of creationism?!!… Oh… my… FSM.

So it’s come to this, folks.  As a direct result of the “academic freedom” law in Louisiana, some versions of creationism which are probably even too extreme for many creationists are being seriously pushed as part of the “alternate science” curriculum available to teachers and students…

Apparently, this is the new cover for biology textbooks in Louisiana – image source

I wish I could say that I was surprised, but honestly I’m not.  This sort of development is the inevitable result of making science standards so loose (through the invocation of so-called “academic freedom”) that just about any kind of stupid, pseudoscientific nonsense which is completely unsupported by the scientific community can pass muster and be taught as if it were science.  As I wrote recently, perhaps this is just the kind of thing we need to have happen in states like Louisiana that try to give a thinly veiled wink and nod to creationists under the auspices of “academic freedom”; perhaps it is time to advertise far and wide that any kind of nonsense can be taught in Louisiana schools.  And perhaps there will be a point where the politicians in Louisiana may become so terribly embarrassed at what is passing for “education” (after all, one has to wonder how amenable they would be to Islamic creationism, for example) in their state that they might act to remedy the situation.

Until that day comes, however, I think we should be prepared for much more silliness to come out of Louisiana.  One thing’s for sure, it will be entertaining.

Posted in creationism, cryptozoology, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

“Educating/Debunking: What’s the Difference?” Video from Dragon*Con 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 24, 2012

This past September I attended Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and I participated in many events and interviews, etc.  However, in my role as both a skeptic and a teacher, one of the most fruitful things I did was to participate in the Skeptrack discussion of how to approach the question of debunking in the context of education.  The panel was an important discussion moderated by JREF President, D.J. Grothe on the topic of Education vs. Debunking, how they are different and when and how each should be used to the greatest effect.  The discussion dealt with the issue in the context of the classroom as well as beyond in the broader culture.  Below is the video footage of the discussion; I hope you find it useful…

Image and video footage courtesy of the fine folks at Skeptrack.org :)

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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