Posts Tagged ‘teaching’
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 19, 2015
A recent article posted by skeptical writer Greta Christina titled No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus over at Freethought Blogs caught my eye. In it, she makes a compelling argument for why it is that children should be skeptical of some adults’ attempts to hoodwink them…
… You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that you’re a bad person for not believing things you have no good reason to think are true. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that, in order to experience love and generosity and devotion, you have to believe in Santa Claus, or any other mythical being there’s no good evidence for. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that “childlike faith” — i.e., believing things you have no good reason to think are true — is somehow in the same category as poetry and romance. You should be extremely suspicious of anyone who tells you that the world would be dreary without Santa Claus: that without Santa Claus, the light of childhood would be extinguished, we would have no enjoyment except in sense and sight, and existence would be intolerable. That is one seriously messed-up idea.
Adults know that there is no Santa Claus. If they tell you otherwise, they are lying to you. That’s okay: some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real as a sort of game, and there’s no evidence that this does any real harm. But if anyone keeps lying to you — about Santa Claus, or anything else — when you ask them a direct question and explicitly ask them to tell you the truth? That’s a problem. And if anyone tries to make you feel ashamed, or inferior, or like your life will be dreary and intolerable, simply because you don’t believe in this lie they’re telling you… you should be extremely suspicious. They are trying to manipulate you. It is not okay.
I agree wholeheartedly with Greta’s thoughts on this matter, and I recommend that you read her entire post on the topic. That said, I’d also like to take this opportunity to share (or re-share) some of my previous work on the entire matter of skepticism, education, Santa Claus, and the Holiday Season in general.
1. If Santa ever existed, he didn’t live for long
This is perhaps what I’m most famous (or infamous) for on this topic: I use physics to kill Santa Claus; to be more accurate, I use physics to kill the idea of Santa Claus (because it’s impossible to kill something that doesn’t exist in the first place). Originally, I made a post years ago outlining how, assuming the jolly old elf existed in the first place, Santa would be simultaneously fried to a crisp and squashed into jelly in his attempts to deliver presents on Christmas Eve.
Then, last year, I decided to up my game a bit. I got commissioned to write an article for a UK Education periodical on the topic, and I went so far as to perform the explicit calculations showing that not only would Santa have to absorb the equivalent energy of 20 Tsar-Bomba nuclear weapons every second due to air drag, but he’d also experience roughly 192 million g’s worth of acceleration in the process – more than enough to make short work of him!
Now, I’d like to share with you the specific PowerPoint I use to annihilate the Santa Claus myth. Feel free to download and use it as you will :)
2. The Santa Myth isn’t all bad and can serve a skeptical purpose
I’ve argued before that I think the myth of Santa Claus can actually be a very useful tool to promote skepticism and critical thinking in young children. Please note that my argument here is not in any way, shape, or form in opposition to Greta Christina’s well reasoned post above; I simply think that it is good for children to work out for themselves that Santa isn’t real, and once they’ve done that they should give the stink-eye to anyone who tries to give them grief or make them feel bad for not believing in the fairy tale. Even better, once kids figure it out, they should go forth and argue with their peers about the existence of Santa; what could be better than skeptical children promoting critical thinking to other kids?
3. It isn’t all about Santa
While it is perhaps true that Santa Claus is the most popular aspect of the Holiday Season, it certainly isn’t the only myth of the Holiday Season. Once children become skeptical of the existence of Santa Claus, then why not encourage them to ask questions and become more critical of other aspects of the season? For example, they can take the following myths and misconceptions quiz on the issue, examining everything from the more pagan aspects of Christmas to blatant falsehoods regarding the Gospels in the Bible. After all, once one starts to question one myth, then why not another?…
Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo, religion | Tagged: 12-25, 12/25, article, belief, Bethlehem, Bible, birth, books, Christ, Christ myth theory, Christian, Christianity, Christmas, Christmas Eve, critical thinking, Dec 25, December 25, education, faith, fantasy, fundamentalist, gifts, God, Gospels, historical, holiday, Holidays, humor, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus myth theory, Jesus of Nazareth, kill, lesson, make believe, miracle, myth, mythology, Nativity, Newtonmass, physics, Physics of Santa, quiz, reindeer, religion, Santa, santa claus, skeptic, skepticism, teaching, Ultimate Christmas Quiz, Virgin birth, wise men, X-mas, Xmas | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on February 25, 2015
I’ve been teaching physics, astronomy, and math at both the high school and college level for about 18 years. And in that time I’ve made a number of contributions to the intersection of skepticism and education. I’m proud to say that one of them is a my part in a new ebook published by the James Randi Educational Foundation, available for free download. Please pass this along to any educator whom you know is interested in preserving and encouraging scientific and critical thinking in the classroom🙂
The JREF is pleased to offer a new eBook for educators
Magic in the Classroom is a collection of essays by educators across the curriculum who are using extraordinary claims to teach critical thinking. Editor Robert Blaskiewicz gathers the contributions of fourteen authors from the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift Blog who write on topics ranging from popular culture, psychology, linguistics, evolution, exobiology, history, folklore, and many more. Together these essays represent the work of a vibrant skeptical culture in education that is bringing critical thinking skills to students across the curriculum.
DOWNLOAD FOR FREE!
Posted in creationism, education, skeptical community | Tagged: articles, book, creationism, critical thinking, digital, download, ebook, education, educators, essays, evolution, free, James Randi, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, public schools, Robert Blaskiewicz, school, teachers, teaching | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on January 25, 2015
I just got done participating in a wonderful panel on teaching critical thinking via the online FtBConscience3 event. On the panel with me was Jason Thibeault (who moderated), Chana Messinger, and Dan Linford. The panel was recorded and the video is now posted on Youtube. Enjoy!🙂
How can teachers use their role as educators to instill critical thinking and ideas like rationalism and empiricism? Are such approaches intrinsic to teaching or separate? We could also go into the ethics of where to draw the line between instructing and “preaching” but I’d actually prefer to stick to the praxis and methodology of bringing critical thinking into the classroom. How do we adapt assessments and assignments? How do we model thinking behaviors we’d like to see?
Panelists: Chana Messinger, Hiba Krisht, Matt Lowry, Dan Linford
Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: academic freedom, Chana Messinger, critical thinking, Dan Linford, education, Freethought Blogs, FTB, FtBCon, FtBConscience, Jason Thibeault, methodology, online, panel, school, teachers, teaching | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on December 20, 2014
Years ago I posted here about how I kill Santa with science, and it goes without saying that doing so can get quite a reaction out of people. Some reactions have been negative, but a surprising number of people have contacted me actually thanking me for killing the Santa myth. In fact, I was recently commissioned to write a formal article on killing Santa with science for TESConnect, an educational magazine and networking organization centered in the UK. I am happy to share with you the full article in all of its colored glory, along with explicit physics calculations, below… Happy Holidays!🙂
Posted in education, humor, physics denial/woo | Tagged: article, Christian, Christmas, Christmas Eve, critical thinking, education, fantasy, gifts, Holidays, humor, kill, lesson, make believe, myth, mythology, physics, Physics of Santa, presents, reindeer, Santa, santa claus, skepticism, teaching, TESConnect, X-mas, Xmas | 2 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2014
I just wanted to pass along the news that registration has opened for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in Las Vegas this July. This year’s theme is “Skepticism and The Brain”, and it promises to be an educational and enlightening experience. Read on for more…
We are thrilled to announce that The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) returns in just a few months: July 10-13, 2014 at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.
Our theme this year – Skepticism and the Brain – is focused on the cognitive and brain sciences and how they inform the project of skepticism. Keynote speakers include the acclaimed philosopher, cognitive scientist, and best selling author Daniel Dennett and Scientific AmericanEditor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina. Other speakers include neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland, Australia’s Dr. Karl, Evolution & Human Behavior Editor-in-Chief Robert Kurzban, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience authors Scott Lilienfeld and Sally Satel, M.D., influential memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, clinical neurologist Steven Novella, M.D., immunologist Paul Offit, M.D., National Center for Science Education’s Eugenie Scott, Skeptic Editor-in-Chief Michael Shermer, psychologists and best selling authors Carol Tavris and Richard Wiseman, and many, many more!
The inimitable George Hrab returns as our Master of Ceremonies. As Pacific Standard magazine recently described, Hrab’s “vaudeville-style” has set the tone for “what is perhaps the world’s preeminent gathering of self-proclaimed skeptics.”
This annual celebration of critical thinking is an unparalleled opportunity to make like-minded friends, enjoy some of the brightest minds on issues important to skeptics, and leave with tools for spreading a helpful and educational message to those who might be hurt by charlatans and unfounded belief. TAM has become the must-go-to event for skeptics and science advocates.
Join James Randi and over a thousand other like-minded folks for four days of fun, friendship, and critical thinking!
Posted in skeptical community | Tagged: 2014, brain, conference, convention, education, educator, James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, Las Vegas, meeting, money, neuroscience, science, skeptic, skepticism, Skepticism and The Brain, TAM, TAM2014, teachers, teaching, The Amaz!ng Meeting, The Amazing Meeting | Leave a Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on September 28, 2013
Have you ever heard that phrase: truth can be stranger than fiction? Well, the topic of this blog post seems to fit that statement. In the history of creationism vs. evolutionary science, there have been all kinds of shenanigans played by creationists in their attempts to promote their religion as science; in the beginning, this often took the form of outright bans against the teaching of evolution. In fact, it was just such a state ban in Tennessee that led to the now famous Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925.
Well, here we are nearly nine decades after that opening salvo in the creationist/evolution battles, and creationists in Kansas are taking a page from the old (and I mean OLD) playbook… they are filing a lawsuit to stop the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (since the NGSS promotes the teaching of evolution, which they claim “promotes atheism and materialism”). Read this report from the National Center for Science Education for more details:
Are the Next Generation Science Standards unconstitutional? A complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas on September 26, 2013, alleges so. The complaint inCOPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al.contends (PDF) that the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (on which the NGSS are based) “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2). The plaintiffs ask for a declaratory judgment in their favor and for an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the NGSS in Kansas or, failing that, an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the sections of the NGSS to which they object.
NCSE’s Joshua Rosenau told the Associated Press (September 26, 2013) that it was a familiar argument, but “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.” He added, “They’re trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” and dismissed the argument as “silly.” Steven Case, director of the University of Kansas’s Center for Science Education, concurred, citing previous court rulings as evidence that the new lawsuit “won’t hold up.” “This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get,” Case told the Associated Press. The Kansas state board of education voted 8-2 to accept the Next Generation Science Standards on June 11, 2013, as NCSE previously reported, and the lawsuit is evidently attempting to undo the decision. … [emphasis added]
I would like to speak to Josh Rosneau’s comment that I put in bold above; this really is the kind of thinking employed by creationists. They believe that you’re either with them or against them, and there’s no such thing as a grey area within their black and white thinking. Therefore, if you are not actively promoting their religious beliefs, then you are by default promoting the opposite of their religious beliefs which is atheism. Never mind that one can hold religious beliefs, even adhere to Christianity, and still accept evolutionary science; these creationists think that there can be no room at all for modern science within their belief system. So, if they view science as the enemy – as arch-creationist Ken Ham and his followers appear to believe – then science must be fought at every turn. Hence stupidity like this lawsuit…
Of course, I have no doubt that this lawsuit will go down in flames, as it should. And I have no doubt that it will prove to be yet another embarrassing blow to the creationist movement, maybe becoming as famous as the Dover vs. Kitzmiller trial a few years ago. But I also have no doubt that these creationists will not stop there; they will attempt to thwart every effort to teach good science in our public schools. And because of that fact, we must be ever vigilant.
Posted in creationism, education | Tagged: atheism, COPE, courts, creationism, education, evolution, Kansas, lawsuit, materialism, Monkey Trial, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, pseudoscience, public, schools, science, Scopes, standards, teachers, teaching, trial, United States, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 2 Comments »
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: academic, academic freedom, Accelerated Christian Education, ACE, Ball State University, biology, board of education, BoE, BoEd, Christianity, climate change, content, creationism, cryptids, cryptozoology, curriculum, denial, deniers, dinosaur, education, evolution, freedom, fundamentalist, global warming, government, ID, intelligent design, Kentucky, KY, Loch Ness, Loch Ness Monster, National Center for Science Education, NCSE, Nessie, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, politics, pseudoscience, public, school, schools, science, standards, teachers, teaching, theory, United States, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | 3 Comments »
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 14, 2013
The state of Kansas has been a high-profile hotbed of creationist activity for quite some time, with battles over state science standards including (or not including) even a mere mention of evolution and, in recent years, climate change. The strategy on the part of creationists goes as follows: if we aren’t allowed to teach creationism, specifically one brand called young-earth creationism, then we’ll make it so that nobody can learn evolution, either. Global warming deniers are also employing a similar strategy in many states.
Of course, in the budding 21st century, if enough states in the United States allow creationists and global warming deniers to drive the discussion, then this is a recipe for disaster in terms of our nation’s capability to generate well-educated young students who are ready to tackle the looming scientific and technological challenges of our age.
Enter the Next Generation Science Standards, which Kansas has recently adopted (mostly because they helped to actually write the standards), that mandate the teaching of both evolution and climate change in a manner which is broadly interwoven into the curricula of public school science classes…
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – The Kansas state school board Tuesday approved new, multi-state science standards for public schools that treat both evolution and climate change as key concepts to be taught from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The State Board of Education voted 8-2 on for standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council. The new guidelines are designed to shift the emphasis in science classes to doing hands-on projects and experiments and blending material about engineering and technology into lessons.
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“I can concentrate on teaching processes — teaching kids how to think like scientists,” said Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, who teaches physics at Hays High School and traveled to Topeka to publicly endorse the new standards as vice president of Kansas Citizens for Science. “I’m more concerned whether they can design and analyze an experiment. That’s what science is all about.”
Past work on science standards in Kansas have been overshadowed by debates about how evolution should be taught. The latest standards were adopted in 2007 and treat evolution as a well-established, core scientific concept, but Kansas law requires the academic standards to be updated at least once every seven years.
Though the new standards drew some criticism over their treatment of evolution, it wasn’t anywhere as vocal or public as in the past. Together, Democrats and moderate Republicans control the board, and social conservatives wanting to inject skepticism of evolution into the standards were likely to have found little support.
The same political factors blunted criticism of the standards’ proposed treatment of climate change as an important concept that should be part to lessons in all grades, rather than treated separately in upper-level high school classes…
There has been some pushback from certain political quarters, which tend to be ideologically aligned with creationists and climate change deniers, that these standards are taking away states’ rights. Nothing could be further from the truth, seeing as how the NGSS are NOT a federal mandate because they were written by states who volunteered to put them together. So, if anything, the NGSS is actually strongly in favor of states rights!
Looks like public science education in the United States might just finally be evolving🙂
Posted in creationism, education, global warming denial | Tagged: Carnegie Foundation, climate change, content, creationism, denial, deniers, education, evolution, federal mandate, global warming, Kansas, national, Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, public, schools, science, standards, states rights, teachers, teaching, United States, YEC, Young Earth Creationism | Leave a Comment »
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…
© Copyright NEWSWEEK Magazine, 1996
Many students wheedle for a degree as if it were a freebie T shirt
BY KURT WIESENFELD
IT 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
Posted in education | Tagged: college, education, engineering, grades, grousing, grubbing, high school, Kurt Wiesenfeld, learning, Making the Grade, Newsweek, physics, professor, school, standards, students, teacher, teaching, university | 1 Comment »
Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2013
I am very pleased to announce that the James Randi Educational Foundation is now accepting applications for educators to attend The Amaz!ng Meeting 2013 in Las Vegas this summer. I have been involved in many previous TAMs on the educational outreach side, and one thing I can say is that we need to get more teachers, at all levels and from both science and non-science backgrounds, to events like this as much as possible. So, if you are interested or know someone who is, please spread the word and take a look at the information below; alternately, you could also consider donating to the educator grant fund.
TAM 2013 EDUCATOR GRANTS
Are you an educator who would like to bring more skepticism and critical thinking into your classroom? Would you like to be inspired, energized, and informed? The Amazing Meeting is a great place to meet and network with other educators, get educational resources (including printed copies of the JREF’s education modules for classroom use), pick up tips, and be inspired.
In addition to three days of superb talks and panel discussions, TAM 2013 offers a full day of workshops, including one which will focus on incorporating skeptical thinking lessons into non-science classes.
The Amaz!ng Meeting is attended by people from all walks of life and all over the globe. Speakers include scientists, philosophers, journalists, educators, activists, and even entertainers. Simply put, TAM is the James Randi Educational Foundation’s yearly celebration of science, education, and critical thinking.
Veteran TAM goers know the feeling of community and inspiration that a weekend with skeptics provides. The yearly meeting recharges our batteries and sparks new ideas for projects to promote skepticism and scientific thinking.
Educators are in a unique position to reach our target audience, but they need good resources, the opportunity to discuss methods, and the kind of inspiration that events like The Amaz!ng Meeting provide. Educators who attend TAM will be able to bring what they have learned into their classrooms.
Click here for more information
Donate to the Educator Fund here
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