Monday, October 31, 2005


Today I was trying to think of alternatives to drowning one's sorrows in the bottle. Nothing much came to mind. At first I came up with cigarettes and coffee, but that is less like drowning your sorrows and more like winding them up very tightly and injecting them with speed. TV and chocolate eating are other options, but I already employ those and they don't seem to be working.

Not very many kids came to school today because it was Halloween. Somehow I didn't think they were missing much. And it was sadly peaceful without them, as a disproportionate number of the missing kids were also the disruptive kids. Surprise, right?

I have nothing much of note to express today, except the sinking feeling that my indignation is slowly becoming resignation. Or, not so much resignation as boredom and desolation.

One strange thing was that I got a sample lesson plan I wrote back from one of my instructors. It was a lesson on human evolution and pre-history (ie Australopithecines, Homo habilis/erectus/sapiens, etc). She liked it, but said that in the lesson I needed to address the tension between evolution and creationism. I thought that was really weird. It's not even intelligent design. And creationism takes many different forms, depending on the particular belief system. I don't think I would feel comfortable bringing it up in class. Perhaps if a kid asks about it, we could have a discussion, but I think that kind of thing falls in the realm of the parents, not the teacher. I mean, we don't teach the many religious/social/ethnic/gendered/etc sides of all issues, so why this one? Personally I don't feel there's much of a controversy regarding evolution, if we're talking about science and generally accepted scientific fact, so I don't know why I would have to say there is one. Students can still believe whatever they want to, but it's not going to come from me.

I have also come around to the fact that, for the first time, I am an academic outsider. Socially, well let's just say I owned a shirt with giraffes on it. But that didn't really matter. It's so strange now to know that people see me as some kind of outcast, or malcontent. The whole thing just makes me so tired. And you know you're in trouble when you start identifying with Churchill's speeches from the late thirties.


At October 31, 2005 10:23 PM, Anonymous Chris C. said...

Well, much of science education has to do with challenging common misconceptions. For example, many kids (and adults, for that matter) think the phases of the moon are caused by the earth's shadow, clouds, etc. Addressing those misconceptions can go a long way toward developing a better understanding of the relationship between the moon, sun, and earth.

In the case of evolution, creationism seems like a pretty common misconception that might need to be addressed to develop a good understanding of evolution.

I don't know if that's what your instructor had in mind, but that's what came to mind when I read this.

At November 01, 2005 6:12 AM, Blogger HaloJonesFan said...

I have a feeling that it was more along the lines of "make sure that you trash creationism, because we wouldn't want kids to leave school without thoroughly indoctrinating them into the anti-religious mindset."

At November 01, 2005 6:41 AM, Anonymous A Reader from Quebec said...

And my interpretation was, "make sure you teach them evolution is 'just' a theory" and can therefore be easily disregarded. I'm not that familiar with the laws of different states, but there were/are two recent court challenges regarding intelligent design being taught in schools. One was decided against mentioning it and the other decision is pending. The way I understand it, courts have so far uniformly decided that creationism is NOT to be discussed in a science classroom because it is definitively not science. These recent cases deal with the pseudoscience of "intelligent design." I think you are well within the law to refuse to mention creationism. What that will do to your status as an outcast is another matter though. Don't give up! The kids need your enthusiasm and your ability to cut through the bull!

At November 01, 2005 2:27 PM, Blogger Ms. H said...

Funny about that not drinking thing -- I've been trying it out too. Coffee works for me if it's several shots of espresso before first period. Then I'm in such a damn good mood, it doesn't matter anymore that I couldn't erase yesterday's trauma with beer.

At November 01, 2005 4:20 PM, Blogger Mrs. Ris said...

I have been reading your blog with interest, and I am worried you are likely to burn out very quickly. You appear to hold tight to your "outsider-ness", and feeling resigned is a first step toward either leaving or floundering. Not a good combination, I think.

I work with teachers of many diverse professional backgrounds, who are passionate about various philosophies and strategies; even with the suspect conformity of ideas in ed schools, teachers are not cookie cutter molds of any one ideology. I guess my point is that there is room for all. Most school folks try to tolerate different ideas, even if they don't always agree.

In these situations, one just has to learn to manage the stress, AND embrace the opportunities that difficulty brings. Notice I said embrace, not just tolerate. That's the secret to longevity in this field.

Now, maybe because you use this blog to vent, it only looks like you are miserable. Maybe you really are finding some aspects of the teaching experience very satisfying and fun! Maybe, in that case, I just need to say....


At November 01, 2005 4:24 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

if you didn't care it wouldn't bug you, since it bugs you, try to do something about it. Yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of ignorance, we will fear nothing so much as our fear of giving in.

Don't do it.

At November 02, 2005 6:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think PZ Meyers has the best approach to addressing creationism as he explains in this blog entry. From the entry

1. Creationism isn't about whether a creator exists—it's intent is to undermine the authority of science in material matters. You can support science while still believing in a religion. I did mention that many scientists were atheists, but just as many were religious; there is no prerequisite for unbelief in biology.

2. I then discussed 3 creationist claims, emphasizing the scientific rebuttals to all of them.

A. The absence of transitional fossils; I described several examples of inarguable transitionals.

"faked" embryological evidence; I explained how an authority, Haeckel, could be wrong in his interpretation, while the evidence is sound. As an example, I discussed homologies between gills and parathyroid glands.
o Irreducible complexity. I borrowed an explanation from Lee J Rickard (who borrowed it from me!) and went over exaptation to show that complexity was an expected consequence of evolutionary processes.

3. I brought up the "Teach the controversy" nonsense, and gave examples of other creation stories that are just as deserving as Intelligent Design. I asked the class how we should decide what subjects should be taught in a science class, and they volunteered that it should be about the evidence (as I hoped they'd conclude!)

At November 03, 2005 8:16 AM, Blogger KF said...

as someone who has spent the past several years in boston public schools and also working with about 600 18-23 years olds who were products of BPS system, let me just say that i know where you are coming from...

here's some advice from one passionate activist to another:
1) being a leader and a change agent is hard, unglamorous, emotionally exhausting and underappreciated. Geoffrey Canada, head of Harlem's Children Zone said that educating our children, "is not rocket's harder than rocket science". You have to focus on what you can change today, and then think about what you can change in the future, and take systematic steps to do that. Otherwise you get completely overwhelmed by the incredible breadth of injustice that exists. (you know the whole, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon thing)
2) Leadership is lonely. Being an outsider is often the consequence of someone who is going to create change. You have to be okay not always fitting in and having people not always like you. You're a social studies teacher, think about all the great leaders who were opposed against, considered outcasts, and delinquents. I am sure they were not the "cool kids" in the room.
3) Sometimes you might never know you are making a difference. Listen, 5 years from now, that yo yo kid may come back and tell you that that moment was a watershed moment in his life, or he may not. The point is, you never know the impact you are making on a child's life. The one's you do know about and can witness, well, that's just lucky.

I have faith in you. Just keep your head up...ignore the ridiculous creationist arguments, and just continue doing what you do best....teaching kids

At November 05, 2005 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, I am so sick of this "debate" on evolution. I went to a science teachers' thing yesterday, and of course, it was all about that, with the loudest guy stating the politically correct "keep religion out of the classroom and save them and save the kids from the creationists" line. I'm not even religious, and I do believe in evolution, but I get so sick of the whole thing. It's like people with political agendas--on BOTH sides-- are trying to change the curriculum just to fight the culture wars.

Anyway, I believe that everyone agrees that the hominids you taught about existed--but creationists don't think they were our ancestors, just species of odd apes that became extinct. I would just say that scientists think we are descended from them, but some religions do not--if it even comes up. But turning every single class into evolution debate where it's not necessary--yuck.

At November 06, 2005 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new "teach the controversy" meme is truly idiotic. These kids don't understand basic FACTS about science, history, or mathematics. How are they going to understand a controversy?

I don't know what the teacher was getting at. Is it possible that he just had to find something to criticize, so he brought that up?

You are burning out on this education stuff. And that's okay. It's okay not to watch to ever ever ever teach in a school ever, even though you love teaching. There will be other ways to teach, other programs, other venues where you find students who are interested in learning.

At November 07, 2005 5:22 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

It's kinda like working in a public elementary or junior high. Folks who "call 'em like they see 'em are often labeled as "negative," "cranky" or, worst of all, "not a team player."

Many teachers simply walk about with fake smiles and try not to engage in anything by meaningless small-talk in order to avoid being labeled as such.

An unwillingness to engage in frank and intellectually honest debate is one of the more unfortunate aspects of many k-8 work environments.

At November 10, 2005 5:23 PM, Blogger Catherine Johnson said...

"teach the controversy"

Let's not, and say we did.

At November 21, 2005 11:14 AM, Anonymous ThunderRoad said...

Is it possible that the teacher asking you to "address the tension between evolution and creationism" was suggesting you anticipate likely resistence among some fundamentalist students to the lessons about evolution?

I think that's a realistic piece of pedagogical advice.

My ex-wife, a doctor, once recalled that in a pre-med biology class in a rural state university in the Midwest, the instructor dealt with exactly that resistence by telling students, "I don't care what you personally believe, but this is what you have to know to pass the test."


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