Friday, April 11, 2008

Worlds Are Colliding

Specifically my blog world and my part-time academic world.

Up until now I haven't told students about the Pages, nor have I written much here about teaching. It's hard to explain why, except that I'm big on strongly, consciously policing boundaries because I don't seem to have good natural instincts for them. There have been some impressive boundary-crossing screw ups in my past. Add to that a couple of academic friends who do or have blogged anonymously because they want to keep their politics neutral in the classroom.

So I've kept the two worlds separate. Like in other areas of life, Pho blogs here and that Scott Piepho guy does the other stuff. One of the advantages of having a nom de blog.

But this week the inevitable happened. Someone got wind and asked in class about the blog. Because of my jacked-up URL I generally tell people to find their way here by Googling Pho's alter ego and some have done so. (The first two hits came in during class. Nice to know my students are putting those laptops to good use.)

As I said at the time, the real surprise is that it's taken nearly two full semesters for this to happen. Just a few years ago someone would have Googled me the first week of class and that would have been up. The young adult online culture seems to have changed a bit. Less surfing, more chatting and social networking.

And of course the accursed texting.

Anyway, now some students are reading *waves.* So far I've gotten a very nice email and a Facebook friend as a result. The email was a revelation as it seems my politics were less than clear to the student. This is a good thing. My solution to the liberal professor thing is to consistently offer both sides of arguments, giving due respect to the position not my own. If my student's comments are an indication, the strategy works at least to an extent. And being a militant pragmatist helps.

As it happens, I've been thinking about posting bits from my lectures (I wouldn't blog anything about students unless I could be sure they would remain double secret anonymous and students swinging by here pretty much kiboshes that.) Partly it's because my business is to teach the law to laypeople and you can't have too much practics. Partly it's because there are things people don't know about the law and it really bugs me that they don't. And of course, it gives me material with little extra work.

Looking at the workload this weekend, I can't say that the first of these will go up any time soon, but it may become an ongoing feature.


Annie said...

I had a student drop my class today because "he was hungry"... apparently he couldn't bring a snack to class. But he takes the cake for lamest excuse EVER.

Eric said...

Speaking of "consistently offer both sides of arguments, giving due respect to the position not my own," has anyone at U Akron found a culturally sensitive way to introduce evolution in high school biology? Or will liberal elites dismiss 80 years of concern that public school eduators seek to mock religious conservatives as small town people frustrated with Clinton-era job losses?

Extra Credit: Compare/contrast the democratic merit of Jeremiah Wright and Michael Behe.

Anonymous said...

evolution = "change over time"

Note the theory of evolution (defining "scientific theory" vs "theory" is helpful when explaining why theory of evolution is accepted almost unanimously within the scientific community, though it's not considered "complete"), but use "change over time" throughout class discussion.

no one argues about that, it leaves God in or out of the equation as the student wishes, and is accepted by Texas and Kansas text book committees, so it passes the fundamentalist conservative sniff test (not all religious conservatives scorn evoution; CS Lewis never did, and he was an apologist extraordinaire).

Eric said...

Anonymous, I think your point is the conflict over evolution goes away if the "nature of science" is addressed in a manner that leaves room for religious belief. The philosophical term for knowledge produced by the scientific method is "warranted assertion."

Too bad faculty from Ohio's universities didn't make that very point to the State Board of Education when they had the opportunity. It just goes to show that if you're a religious conservative in small town America, "Nobody is looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you.."

Perhaps some understanding folks within the UUs and UCCs could help explain to elites why folks like me bristle at elites' apparent longing to spit on my neighbors.

Oh, by the way, didn't the Clinton administration's failure to meet the education reforms of Goals 2000 help create this economic mess?

Mencken said...

Eric, it would probably be considered bad form for a scientist to raise his hand during a church sermon and ask for equal time to challenge the religious tenets of whatever particular church he was sitting in. I can only imagine the gasps of the faithful if a scientist asked a priest to describe the methods and processes that allowed Jesus to walk on water, turn water into wine, or to rise from the dead. To ask would be considered rude at best and blasphemy at worst because religion is about faith and salvation, and its tenets are not provable by conventional scientific methods. (Take that anyway you care to).

For the last 2000 years religion has gotten a free pass from scientists, leaving faith and miracles to the religious. I wish I could say religion was as generous to science. Feel bad about Michael Behe's treatment? Ask Galileo, who's only sin was to say that the Earth orbited the sun and not the other way around. Ak yourself why that fact would have threatened the church then, and why evolution threatens you now. The answer is not about what's fact and what isn't, it is about the self-professed infallibility of faith, doctrine, and authority.

Science is only a method of description and testing of processes, materials, physics, etc. Why that threatens you, only you can answer.

It seems reasonable to me that religion and science can reach some sort of detente with each side respecting the other's turf. But when evangelicals delve into the disciplines of science, to try and prove the unprovable, they shouldn't expect their theories to go unchallenged. No other legitimate scientist would expect to escape peer review and nor should guys like Behe.

Extra Credit: Tell us why evolution threatens the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Guy said...

I think having you post things about the law that the general public doesn't know sounds like a wonderful idea. I look forward to them.

Anonymous said...

mencken -- I'll give a partial answer...
the theory of evolution does NOT, in my understanding, challenge Christ's teachings in any of the four Gospels. However, evolution does challenge the literal interpretation of the Old Testament. It also has implications for the "humans as stewards of God's creation vs humans as lords of God's creation" argument.

Such antagonism between science and religion is not new, but most scientists and religious persons have no problem entertaining both concepts in their lives.

Perhaps, Eric, teaching the lives of scientists and philosophers who embraced both religion and science would assist students (and their parents) to see that there is no need for either/or attitudes.

And, BTW, I agree with Guy about legal info/education being posted...

Ben said...

It is surprising to me that it took them that long to figure it out.

Eric said...

Pho, this thread begs for an explanation of how first amendment jurisprudence helps ACLU arguments despite the lack of evidence that reasonable accommodation of religious belief poses any threat to science.

Anon writes, "teaching the lives of scientists and philosophers who embraced both religion and science would assist..." Yes. That would be one of about six ways to avoid pitting science against religion. However, teaching Behe, Damadian, Lejeune, etc. won't motivate their co-religionists to become scientists.

All this raises concerns about how Obama might repay his base when conciliatory talk isn't his top priority. Of course, if Obama's supporters demonstrated genuine "respect for positions not their own," then we could have more faith that Obama and his supporters have the intellectual capacity to deliver on his words. But they seem to be intent on using public schools to deliver their own mythical system of "enlightened" beliefs.

When my neighbor leaves his children to go to war, and his neighbors bring his remains back in a coffin, it falls to the neighbors of the neighbors of the neighbor to ensure academic theorists don't betray his sacrifice by disparaging his religious beliefs in his children's schools. One might think that presidential education platform advisers would be sensitive to community values like love of neighbor or sacrifice for country. But there's little evidence of academics mustering the undergraduate knowledge of philosophy (or history of science) necessary to make that happen.

Pho said...

Hey all.

I've been working on other stuff all day. This certainly has been an entertaining thread to catch up on.

Eric, I think a threshold matter is whether anti-evolutionists want a reasonable accommodation. At this point I'm not at all convinced that they do. From the slight-of-hand of the Discovery Institute to the outright mendacity of Expelled, they seem happier pitting their religion against science than attempting to find common ground.

Mencken said...

Exactly Pho. Scientists are not about the business of trying to discredit religion any more than a math professor or mechanical engineering prof would or could do. The evangelical gambit of trying to discredit science with science is proving to be as effective as a defendant representing himself in court. He's much more vulnerable to cross examination, discovery, and has a fool for a client.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, the vast majority of scientists do not seek to overthrow religious beliefs; there is no need or desire to do so.

However, I do see fundamentalist members of certain faiths -- and here I refer to the three "Book" religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- that desperately try to discount science that says something "other" happened.

I find it disturbing that you defend improper education -- and presenting religious beliefs as scientific theory is improper education -- by saying that your neighbor died in warfare, and therefore we should teach his children religion masquerading as science. I say that we owe his children knowledge of the difference between science and religion.

Science= If the theory/belief does not match the most verifiable facts, then the theory/belief is thrown out.

Religion= If the theory/belief does not match the most verifiable facts, then the facts are thrown out.

Faith cannot be proven by facts. That’s why it is called Faith.

I think that religious beliefs should be taught in social studies and comparative literature classes where children learn to discuss what it is to be human. That would be no dishonor to your neighbor, and a service to his children.

Mencken said...

"I think that religious beliefs should be taught in social studies and comparative literature classes...."

Anon, While I agree with much of what you say, try Googling "Akron Ohio Area Churches" and you'll find that there are about 900 listings. One search I did came up with 4,500 but we'll stick with the lower number for the sake of argument. I think you can guess my point is that there is no shortage of outlets for religious information in the area, and as far as I know there is no cover charge ( not sure if that still applies at The Chapel )

I have no problem with comparative religion courses as an elective in high school and college, but based on the resumes I read at my office, I'd hate to see religion cutting into the basics.

Eric said...

Anonymous writes, "I say that we owe his children knowledge of the difference between science and religion." OK, now, being careful to not disparage religious beliefs, complete the following: Ohio public schools will impart knowledge of the difference between science and religion through the following means: ________________. (Or was your best and final answer in your post? That one failed to demonstrate comprehension of the rubric: F)

The stated purpose of this exercise is to give Obama supporters opportunity to demonstrate genuine "respect for positions not their own." That would preclude unilateral declaration regarding the best interests of other people's children.

Finally, as I said earlier, "there's little evidence of academics mustering the undergraduate knowledge of philosophy (or history of science) necessary to make that happen."

Mencken said...

So Eric, why are the 900 or so religious outlets in our area incapable of delivering your message? Why do you want people for whom you have so little respect to deliver that message?

Pho said...

Eric, we flunk according to the rubric. But now let's consider whether it was worth taking the course in the first place.

At some point it becomes difficult to refrain from disparaging religious beliefs when those beliefs are demonstrably wrong. Or perhaps it's more accurate to say, if we discuss scientific principles and some in the audience happen to believe that those principles contradict their religious beliefs, what is to be done.

I certainly respect someone's right to believe what they believe, even if it has been demonstrated wrong. Up to a point anyway (I see no need to be culturally sensitive about burning brides or stoning apostates, for example.)

I agree with you that Dawkins, Myers et al. have taken science teaching a step too far in stridently insisting that their science proves believers delusional. If it is simply a matter of avoiding their errors, we could write the rublic to include "don't be an asshole." But when people cry "disparagement" about nothing more than the presentation of evolutionary theory and the evidence in support, I am at a loss.

Eric said...

let's consider whether it was worth taking the course in the first place

We're trying to maximize religious freedom and participation of students in science. We're trying to reduce the indidence of scientists being perceived as a**holes. We're demonstrating that Obama supporters will invest the intellectual effort required to embrace American pluralism.

On the other hand, maybe we aren't. Maybe we should just let small town folks cling to their guns and religion, knowing that the Harvard elite (or at least their supporters) were bluffing all along.

Your call.

Eric said...

"I think a threshold matter is whether anti-evolutionists want a reasonable accommodation."

I'm willing to take at face value the concern that public education poses a threat to some schoolchildren's religious faith. We ought to explore what it means to generously accommodate those concerns. The DI crowd doesn't seek accommodation because Seagraves showed just how stingy accommodation can be ("Heh, we're scientists; we're dogmatically non-dogmatic. Now sit there and watch Inherit the Wind.")

But a large majority of Ohioans expect public schools to deal respectfully with religious belief--hence their support for teaching ID. The fact that those concerns go unaddressed suggests that Obama is fronting for a house of cards.

Now, I like Obama. But I suspect he's promoting an inclusiveness that his supporters aren't prepared to create.

Anonymous said...

I am crushed, Eric, that I failed "to demonstrate comprehension of the rubric." Perhaps my dismissal of your disingenuous and disgraceful attempt at using your neighbor's death to promote Intentional Design (ID) touched a nerve.

I did not choose to constrain myself to your "stated purpose of this give Obama supporters opportunity to demonstrate genuine 'respect for positions not their own';" I chose to respond also to your unstated purpose of promoting ID as the required demonstration of "respect" and democracy in science.
Well, science is not democratic. Nor is religion. And neither should be democratic; it really does not matter what "the majority," "the minority," or I think on these topics. What is, is, whether it is recognized or not. If "the majority" did not approve of gravity, would that make gravity any less. If "the majority" did not believe in God would that make God any less?

I am amused by your waving of the "religious freedom" flag. I haven’t read any posts in which you promote teaching Chi, or other religion- or philosophy-based theories of life. Just ID. Religious freedom has nothing to do with having ID in the science classroom. That is a lovely canard promoted by ID supporters, and it can work, as long as one's audience doesn't think about it too much. But the preponderance of facts available do not support ID; therefore it should not be taught as science. As part of a class in scientific philosophy, perhaps, but not science.

There are some a**holes who claim to have "disproved" God. They merely highlight my earlier point; those scientists can have disproved nothing, because the basis of religious faith is not provable by science. Such scientists are a tiny minority, but ID supporters point to them as if they are all science educators. Again, disingenuous.

As for your statement "That would preclude unilateral declaration regarding the best interests of other people's children..." Nonsense. I hereby state that the following things provide for the best interests of all children: Sufficient and nourishing food;
People they can trust and love; Adequate shelter; Exercise; Education that stretches their minds and offers them the best information available within each discipline, such as demonstrable facts in science and mathematics; and religion within the humanities.

Mencken -- I agree that individual churches should be responsible for teaching their specific cannon. I’m not sure they’d offer overall coverage of the major religious movements which have played such a visceral role in humanity’s evolution.

Mencken said...

Listening to Eric is like dealing with tech support in India. No matter what you ask or how you phrase the question, he either can't answer the question or gives you a response off of one of the eight 3"x5" index cards he has in front of him.

Yes Eric, the machine is plugged in.

Eric said...

Mencken, anonymous, I apologize. Clearly I have failed to motivate your best efforts. Please reconsider the merits of this exercise.

I was hoping you might create portfolio-worthy evidence of authentic learning demonstrating mastery of the high school social studies and English language arts indicators from Ohio's Academic Content Standards. Something that meets the "compelling governmental interest in educating all of our children to function effectively in a multiracial, democratic society and realize their full intellectual and academic potential."

You might consider how to build on common ground, demonstrate knowledge of government institutions and the responsibilities of office-holders, use problem-solving skills, analyze a text for evidence of bias, understand points of view, understand the role of nongovernmental organizations in governance, read critically and respond to prompts, demonstrate critical thinking and 21st century skills, etc.

On a scale of PK to 20, scoring in the teens would vindicate money spent on secondary and higher education.

You might also consider some extra credit. Given your (apparent) uncritical acceptance of plaintiffs experts in Dover, why not follow up Brian Alters' study Bible reviews with some work of your own: The Judge Jones Study Bible. For example, you can explain why you apparently want to apply "don't ask, don't tell" to Romans 1:20: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made ..."

Anonymous said...

Mencken -- thank you for that explanation. It clarifies a few things.

Eric –Maintaining the honesty of academic disciplines does educate “…all of our children to function effectively in a multiracial, democratic society and realize their full intellectual and academic potential.” Such disciplinary honesty is maintained by not, among other things, giving in to the tantrums of people who insist their beliefs be taught as facts, yet scream when those beliefs are tested as facts.

You may be interested in the Pew Research report on Dover, but I doubt that you will appreciate it. Your final paragraph indicates that you are fading into the trap of trying to prove the truth of something (biblical literalism) by saying that portions of the Bible prove that the Bible is true. Such an argument does nothing but prove that you are not qualified to offer me extra credit.

Shall we move on?

Eric said...

Anonymous writes, "You may be interested in the Pew Research report on Dover, but I doubt that you will appreciate it." How about a link or perhaps a title? What I found with Google falls short of the mark--published before Kitzmiller was decided and omitting Seagraves.

Shall we move on?

Sure, it's a free country (for the time being). I suggest you avoid authentic assessments to world-class standards and find a presidential candidate who supports "multiple measures," though.

However, I am still looking for an answer to the original question: Has anyone at U Akron found a culturally sensitive way to introduce evolution in high school biology?.

Anonymous said...

Eric -- Begin here
The rest of the site has later articles and commentary.

I didn't think you'd like it. It isn't supportive of your "Dover plaintiff's 'experts'." (Second set of quotations mine.) Nor does it rely on self-references to prove itself. Your "experts" might take a lesson there.
As to the report's not covering Kitzmiller, well, you raised Dover in your previous post, not Kitzmiller. It's no use trying to switch ground when you find you have no foundation. But then, you will always face that problem when trying to support ID.

While we're making suggestions, I suggest that YOU not make any assumptions about which candidate I prefer for President. Your ideological blinders have left you...blinded. A clue: Which party USED to stand for less interference in private life? Which party has been hijacked by self-appointed religious police? Which party -- but not all of its membership -- has lost the concept of fiscal responsibility?

I'm not really sure what you meant by "...avoid authentic assessments to world-class standards..." I suspect the you are not quite clear as to your meaning there, either. I am sure the phrase world-class standards did not cross my keyboard until this paragraph.

Finally, my response to your carefully weighted question (Has anyone at U Akron found a culturally sensitive way to introduce evolution in high school biology?) is:
Scientific theories are not the products of cultural whimsy. The fear of scientific theories may be, but not the theories themselves. Therefore, scientific theories should not be censored by cultural whimsey. Would you try to grow a seal as you would an apple tree? The question doesn't really make sense, does it? Nor does treating scientific theory as if it evolved from untestable cultural beliefs -- the next step from that is that each theory is as good (proven) as the next. Which is, of course, what you are angling for. But they are not all equally proven.

Short answer: A "culturally sensitive" approach to science is inappropriate and harmful to the discipline. We cannot promote unprovable beliefs as best- verified facts.

You will find this response unacceptable. You will cry into the wilderness that you are truly trying to find a middle ground...But your definition of a common ground appears to be something that allows the teaching of ID as science, without subjecting ID to the rigorous testing of true science. In other words, your definition of middle ground is the place where you may impose your religious beliefs on others.

You should be ashamed of that intention, sir. It is a most anti-American stance.

And now, since I do not think we shall be able to find that middle ground, I shall move on. My apologies to others on this site for my long-windedness.

Eric said...

Anonymous writes, "A 'culturally sensitive' approach to science is inappropriate and harmful to the discipline." Guess those (Harvard-educated?) anthropologists were just having fun with us all along...

American Anthropological Association Statement on Evolution and Creationism:

An anthropological understanding of religion would be helpful in resolving some of the perceived conflict between creationism and evolution; ... Therefore anthropologists are encouraged to use their knowledge both of evolution and of human social and cultural systems to assist communities in which evolution and creationism have become contentious. Anthropologists should help the public and public officials understand that good science education requires that evolution be presented in the same manner as other well-supported scientific theories, without special qualifications or disclaimers, and that an understanding of religion and other cultural systems should be part of the education of each child. ... Anthropologists study human beings both at the present time and as they were in the past, therefore the creationism and evolution dispute is of particular interest to members of the American Anthropological Association. We are sensitive to social, cultural, religious, and political differences among citizens, and we also appreciate (and contribute to the understanding of) the long evolutionary history of our species. Anthropology's cultural, biological, linguistic, and archaeological perspectives are especially relevant for helping to understand this controversy. Anthropologists are aware of diversity within cultures, including our own. It is empirically incorrect to describe creation and evolution controversies as simplistic dramas of fundamentalism versus atheism. ...

Questions: How do educators simultaneously "assist communities" with "understanding of religion and other cultural systems," "diversity within cultures" and sensitivity "to social, cultural, religious, and political differences among citizens" while presenting evolution "in the same manner as other well-supported scientific theories?" Which of the nation's 16,000 school districts have found "anthropological understanding" helpful? Which of Ohio's 50 schools of eduation have leveraged "anthropological understanding" to improve student outcomes in science?

historymike said...

I wouldn't worry too much about the blogger-versus-academic dilemma, Pho. I have blogged for three years while simultaneously teaching at the university level. Most students are curious to know more about the instructors who teach them, and I have found that students sometimes read my blog to learn more about the way I think.

As you know, the real issue is what happens in the classroom. When I have a strong political opinion about a topic, I make sure to identify the items that are my opinions, and I strive to provide ideological balance for the sake of discussion and edification.