What did I talk about in St. Paul this weekend?

This was kind of a lost weekend for me — Darwin Day on Thursday, Columbus on Saturday, St. Paul on Sunday, with all the flitting about through the air and on freeways in between, so I’m a bit swamped now on Monday morning, struggling to catch up with all the real important stuff that I get paid for in my job, and that I usually get done on the weekend. So no, Greg, I don’t have much to say about our panel discussion on evolution/creation education on Sunday — you’ll have to do it for me!

It was a good discussion, though, with a whole gang of UM educators up front talking about our diverse strategies for dealing with creationism in the classroom. The one thing I think we missed, and that Greg brought up several times, is more input from high school teachers. What we can do in a university and what others can do in a public school are very different, and I actually think the high school experience is more formative and more important.


  1. IST says

    PZ> I’m not certain how dealing with creationists works in a HS classroom in Minnesota, but I know that in NC there is little that can be done. I distributed the refutations to the “Ten Questions to ask you Bio Teacher” to the other bio faculty, so at least they have that (one of them doesn’t need it, the others aren’t as sure of their material. Sad but true). Any other confrontation has to be along the simple lines of “that discussion has no place in a science classroom.” I’ve personally had parents screaming at me in my classroom, during the day, because natural selection was a topic covered in our curriculum. (This woman actually brought her preacher to a conference with me and the principal about it).

    I would hope MN is a bit more progressive than NC.. perhaps a request to your state affiliate of NSTA would get you some input?

  2. Greg N. says

    I teach 12th graders in a public school in Florida. I teach economics and government, not science, but I rely on a bunch of the evol. psych literature to tie my curriculum to teaching evolution and natural selection (think Paul Rubin), about which my students – who have grown up in a backwards, religious area of North Florida – know very little. I spend three days teaching the material.

    Day one covers the basics of Darwinism, day two covers the implications of Darwinism for economics and government, and day three is a general discussion of evolution (where most of the religious/creationist students throw out their objections).

    By the end of the three days, most of my students have a much firmer grasp (which is to say “any grasp at all”) of natural selection, and they understand its importance in today’s world. One of my students – who grew up in a hyper-religious family and whose parents adamantly reject Darwinism – even wrote a thank you letter to Charles Darwin and posted it on her Myspace page. She’s requested that I bring in some more material so she can continue her education on the subject.

    Some retain their skepticism, but not a single one rejected Darwin in principle after learning about the theory (and what “theory” actually means) from a non-religious source.

    Dawkins says evolution deniers are ignorant, stupid or insane. Most are ignorant, but my students can no longer claim that defense. I think they’re all better off for it.

    I should add that my school’s administration completely supports my teaching Darwin in social science.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  3. Prof MTH says

    A big complaint we collegiate educators have is that we must force students to unlearn what they were taught in K-12 and then re-teach them material correctly. For example, most high schools still teach Bohr’s planetary model of the atom. Students get totally confused when we try to teach them the correct atomic model.

    Adding or allowing creationism in the science classroom just further confuses what constitutes science. We don’t have time at the collegiate level correctly teaching K-12 material.

  4. Templer says

    “For example, most high schools still teach Bohr’s planetary model of the atom.”

    In what states? I am a HS biology teacher in TX, and the curriculum here teaches Bohr’s model as part of the history of science, in the same vein as teaching spontaneous generation in HS biology.

    I’m surprised to hear that “most” high schools teach the planetary model as accurate.

  5. Boletus says

    I’ve had the pleasure of teaching the basics of evolution to mixed audiences of arts and science students several times now. Not all of the students come in convinced that evolution takes place. One approach that I find works extremely well comes straight out of Dennett’s “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.”

    First, I explain that evolution is a substrate independent process that takes place whenever some basic conditions are satisfied. That is, it takes place whenever you have high-fidelity replication, random mutation, and a selection function. The first half of the lesson is devoted to explaining how evolution works in computer programs. I use examples from evolved genetic algorithms. Since such examples can be demonstrated right there, there’s not much to argue about. The facts speak for themselves. Nor does a discussion of evolved algorithms raise anyone’s theological hackles.

    Next, I point out that since the process is substrate independent, it can take place in physical stuff too. We talk about DNA. Finally, I ask whether there is any reason to suspect that a general process like evolution might *not* place place in hominids. The anti-evolutionist is invited to offer reasons for supposing that, somehow, humans are special and outside the natural order. I have yet to hear a good, non-miraculous argument.

    The lecture works nicely every time. I bet it would work in high-school too if you spread it out over a week or so. Thank you Dan Dennett!

  6. Dior says

    PZ here in Utah I get flack on Evolution. As a 9-12 teacher I use the stealth method. I start out on Ecology, students get that training from grade school, then I move on to populations and adaptations. By the time I use the word EVOLUTION students have already learned half of it. I then proceed to teach natural selection and change over time and by then 99% of my students get evolution, and realize I am not challenging their faith, but educating them. I go on to viral evolution and link it to STDs (if you can link any high school curriculum to sex they will remember it). BTW, Tim at Aferensis has been a great help to me. Go see him!

  7. Valis says

    I remember back in the 70s when I was in Primary (grade) school, our science textbook stated that the Sun and stars revolved around the earth. When I pointed it out to our teacher I was told; “If it says that in the textbook it must be right”. And no, I don’t live in Texas :-)

  8. Ouchimoo says

    Templer # 5
    What is the current model? I typed in Bohr’s model on google and I got loads and loads of pictures and info that I think was what I was taught in highschool. :(

    No wonder carbon 14 didn’t make sense when I first read about it.

    I am so glad to hear your comments on how you get evolution across. When I was at Darwin Day at the Bell Museum I over heard one guy thank August for getting a large number of people there. He then adds “I’m NO ATHEIST” as some sort of non sequitur defense. *sigh* So the general population you have to deal with thinks that in order to accept science you have to be an atheist. No wonder the ID movement is so powerful.
    Keep up the good work everyone and hopefully one day we’ll clear up this cloud of ignorance!

  9. pogo says

    Anyone else notice how President Hope jumped up and down in public for days for the Bicentennial of Abe Lincoln…

    …but was studiously silent on Bicentennial of Darwin?

    Oh yeah. Race is dead alright!

    Darwin did more to liberate humans than any politico who ever lived. Maybe that’s why politicos are so afraid of him.

    Pogo Possum

  10. Janine, Ignorant Slut says

    Pogo, go back and read the transcripts of Obama’s Lincoln Day speech. He stressed the importance of Darwin and evolution. Know what you are talking about before you show off your ignorance.

  11. llewelly says

    Templer | February 16, 2009 12:37 PM:

    Prof MTH | February 16, 2009 11:52 AM:

    “For example, most high schools still teach Bohr’s planetary model of the atom.”

    In what states? I am a HS biology teacher in TX, and the curriculum here teaches Bohr’s model as part of the history of science, in the same vein as teaching spontaneous generation in HS biology.

    In both my middle school science class, and in my first HS physics class, (both of I which took in Utah during the late 1980s) Bohr’s model was in the book and in the syllabus as part of the history of science, followed by the modern model of the atom. But both cases we ‘ran out of time’ shortly after completing the lesson on Bohr’s model. So the modern model was not covered.

    So I am wondering if Prof MTH’s experience is affected by students who were schooled where the modern model of the atom was in the curriculum, but was not covered, poorly covered, or forgotten, due to lack of resources on the part of either the teacher or the student.

  12. Rick Schauer says

    …”What we can do in a university and what others can do in a public school are very different, and I actually think the high school experience is more formative and more important.”

    I agree 100%, and think it’s high time (not that kind of high time, however) that school boards, elementary and high school educators “get with it” more and attempt to teach kids something akin to what they’re going to find in real life and at the college level regarding evolution and its prominant place in science.

    With that thought in mind, one of THE keystones to teaching evolution, IMHO, is through encouraging these young learners to make accurate observations about life and that which is alive…as compared to that which some believe through hocus-pocus, faith and second-hand accounts of biblical mularky.

    In summary, teaching learners to make observations based on that which is observable AND trusting those observations is one pivotal issue lacking from a REAL (not faithfully imagined) elementary and secondary education.

  13. says

    The United States education system is one of the most well-funded in the world, yet it is behind the education systems of many other nations. What is up with that?

  14. Kirk Hansen says

    Why is anti-Catholicism the only form of hatred and bigotry still accepted/tolerated in this country? It has nothing to do with evolution as the church does not condemn evolution. Why the hate?

  15. rob says

    Ouchimoo #9:

    check out the wikipedia entry for Quantum Mechanics.


    figure 1 shows some probability densities for an electron in a hydrogen atom.

    the electron should not be thought of as having a definite position (like a planet in an orbit). instead you can imagine the electron as “smeared out” in a cloud around a nucleus.

  16. says

    Ouchimoo (#9):

    I wrote an essay on what quantum physics tells us about the atom here. Of the various popular books I’ve read on the subject, I rather like Gonick and Criddle’s Cartoon Guide to Chemistry (2005).

  17. Janine, Ignorant Slut says

    Posted by: Kirk Hansen | February 16, 2009

    Why is anti-Catholicism the only form of hatred and bigotry still accepted/tolerated in this country? It has nothing to do with evolution as the church does not condemn evolution. Why the hate?

    Ooh, poor little baby. Nothing in this thread about Catholicism but Kirk feels so oppressed. Speaking as a dyke, I just want to point out all the love that I get from everyone. I live a privileged life.

    Just so you know, I hate all other religions just as much as Catholicism. You are not special. Go howl in the wilderness.

  18. Aquaria says

    I don’t know what to recommend for better education, but I can remember how I wish things would have been done.

    The big one was having high school be more like college, MWF and TTH classes, rather than cramming all six or whatever classes into one day. If we’d been able to spend90 consecutive minutes on biology, we would have actually learned more, and been able to do more with things like experiments. Also, it seems like the “ramp up” to get a class going, and the “ramp down” to get students to the next class, chews up an already short 55-minute class, never mind the shuffling between classes–ugh. What a waste!

    The other thing I would have done differently was let students have a little more experience with independent study, in the last two years of school. This would be great for gifted kids; I know I did better the one time I had a history teacher who let me work independently.

    Maybe if things like I listed had been done, I wouldn’t have thought school was so fucking boring.

  19. says

    Kirk Hansen:

    Why is anti-Catholicism the only form of hatred and bigotry still accepted/tolerated in this country?

    Let’s see. The United States had a Catholic president more than forty years ago, but only one openly atheist person has been elected to Congress — Pete Stark (D-CA) — and in various polls, more than 50% of respondents say that they would not vote for an atheist. Cases of discrimination against atheists — in the workforce, in the military and so forth — exist in lamentable profusion.

    I hate to be judgemental in such affairs, but I think you’re arguing from a false premise.

    It has nothing to do with evolution as the church does not condemn evolution.

    The official position of the Catholic Church is, indeed, relatively evolution-friendly. However, an acquaintance with such statements as the directive Dignitas Personae reveals that the Church is still not willing to understand what science tells us about our own species, preferring an indefensible “ensoulment” doctrine with implications which are, at best, morally dubious.

  20. E.V. says


    It has nothing to do with evolution as the church does not condemn evolution. Why the hate?

    Okay we’ll dismiss the centuries of torturing and burning heretics, the religious wars and the unfathomable stance on sexual prophylactics.

    Any adult who still believes in ACTUAL TRANSUBSTANTIATION has been so brainwashed by indoctrination into convoluted flimflammery (Thanks, Barb!), that the the authorities responsible should be made to wear dunce caps (oh, maybe that’s what the pope’s mitre really is).

    I get celebrating communion symbolically, I have no problem with that. I even get the church’s stance on abortion, although I disagree, -but rubbers? Hello?!!! AIDs or any STD for that matter besides family planning. Children are a blessing from God. (Yeah? Just where does the Church stand on “Octamom” and her fourteen offspring?)
    When you counter empirical evidence with magic and fear mongering, you need to rethink your position and update your data. It’s time for the Church to stop saying saying “yeah, we support science, except when it counters our teaching or disproves a widely accepted “miracle”, or generally exposes that the laws of physics cannot be broken.

  21. Aquaria says

    As a religious nutcase, I don’t know why I bother replying to the likes of Kirk, but I’ll take a go at it myself:

    Criticism of your woo-addled “belief” does not equal hate.

    If you want to believe in a warmed over Bronze Age goatherder fantasy, that’s your right. Just don’t expect to have everyone think you’re just peachy for it. Or not to laugh at you for being so gullible.

    And don’t even get started on hate. You want hate? Go see how many death threats PZ got over your idiotic cracker. Go see how many Richard Dawkins gets just for calling your delusion what it is.

    You Christians make me sick. I wish your sky buddy would rapture you all forthwith, so the rest of us could have some peace and quiet. Your relentless persecution complex whining is beyond tiresome.

  22. Aquaria says

    Argh. First sentence should have read, As he’s a religious nutcase and etc.

    This is what I get for trying to type after lifting mail tubs all day…

  23. E.V. says

    Unfortunate typo (I just had to giggle), but you still get a sincere “poor baby” for having to do the mail tub monotony.

  24. says

    Kirk, what persecution? Why don’t you check out what the word actually means before crying that you are undergoing it? Christians in Iraq = persecution. Christians in the United States = not persecuted. Persecution is the Christian call cry of people who have their minds wrapped around a martyr. get over your Jesus idolatry, you aren’t him and you are not being oppressed…

  25. pkiwi says

    Teaching in High School, good, but what about earlier learning? Exaplanatory learning needs to start early, before any supernatural stuff can take pre-eminence (as it is progressively hard to shift). My 7 year old and I just had a good 1 hour chat that started with her asking “Ok we are related to monkeys, but what are monkeys related too?”. This seemed to cement the common descent idea with her. Our Primary school does some ok ecology but could really push the underlying drivers much harder.
    There really shouldn’t be any but the most backwood home-schooled who should turn up at College and not know the basic fundamental explanatory principle of biology.

  26. Holbach says

    Kirk Hansen @ 16

    My comments are along the line with Janine @ 20, and I can add that I also do not show any more or less repulsion to any religion; I despise all of them no matter what degree of nonsense espoused or however they may think of themselves as the more moderate, which has been shown to be of little consequence and perhaps more threatening in the long run. It’s not that we are anti-catholic, anti-Jewish, or anti-any religion of any crap. Religion is the greatest perpetrator of insane nonsense and killing that has ever been produced by the human mind, and if there was no religion the world would be better off. We hate all religions and any form of nonsensical belief because they just are not true and will never be demonstated as such no matter how hard you believe or pray to your imaginary god.
    You hate atheists because we refuse to believe in your insane crap and show the guts to let you know that you are irrational. You will never find your god, even when you are out in the wilderness howling your brains out for it to make an appearance and prove us wrong. This is all you have to do. Prove it.

  27. Jadehawk says

    The Bohr model is completely outdated? no one told me!

    anyway, we were taught the planetary model sometime in 7th grade, and then later another with…umm… concentric spheres/energy-levels within which the electron “moves”. we were also taught what a “model” is, i.e. that it’s not the real thing but a simplified representation, and different models can be used depending on the purpose of the modeling (kinda like the wave/particle thing for light). certainly no one told us that the Bohr model is completely outdated now :-/

  28. says

    The Bohr (planetary) model of the atom is intuitive. The quantum mechanical model is not. Students are likely to default to the former unless they have extensive exposure to the latter.

    In similar fashion students are likely to be troubled by probabilistic aspects of evolution (and of radioactive decay) and to default to deterministic models.

    What’s concrete to us is often abstract to students.

  29. 'Tis Himself says

    Why is anti-Catholicism the only form of hatred and bigotry still accepted/tolerated in this country?

    If you want to see hatred and bigotry try being an atheist in Mississippi or East Texas.

  30. Aquaria says

    Yeah, my hands are really sore. For about twenty minutes after I left work, I couldn’t feel my middle finger at all on the left hand. And that really sucked, because how the heck am I supposed to point out the idiots on the freeway without it???

  31. Allen N says

    Holbach @30

    Setting all these non-believers in their place would be sooooo easy. One regrown leg; one easily documented intervention in an air accident; the list is endless. Oh wait…god does not have to prove he/she/it exists for to do so would remove the need for faith and without faith, god is nothing (Douglas Adams).

    Keith and his fellow travelers are a great demonstration of the mind’s ability to edit reality.

    As for high school science,I’m glad I went from Biology to the Dark Side and spent most of my work in Physics. My biggest complaint about HS Bio. is that it tends to become a trivia bowl with little underlying organization. The BSCS series was one of the best, but the “need” to make HS bio as much like college bio is, I think, the wrong focus. Accurate, of course, but there seems a trend to focus on coverage as opposed to integrated understanding. Thus my preference for Hewett’s conceptual physics for the first year class.

  32. Jadehawk says

    actually something that I have to comment on re: high-school science

    the modular system of teaching anything seems rather awkward for secondary education in general. the thought of trying to squeeze all of basic chemistry/bio/physics into a single year (or even semester) seems to result in very superficial treatment of the subject, and seems to give the impression that if you passed chemistry, you know all the basics of chemistry. this impression of course could be wrong, since i’ve only spent a year in such a modular high-school, but that’s the impression i got.

    in contrast, i had less concentrated science, in the sense that from 7th to 13th grade, we had approximately 10 subjects per semester, but they were continuously taught for those 7 year (except for those classes you dropped after 10th grade to specialize your education somewhat). that also helped with having the concepts stick in my head longer, since they were reinforced continuously for 7 years rather than having to memorize all that stuff for 6 months and then not dealing with it again until college (if at all)

    anyway, my question is: what’s the reason for using the modular rather than a continuous system in High-School?

  33. Qwerty says

    I attended the event on Sunday. I am neither a scientist nor an educator but it was interesting to see the solutions educators used to resolve teaching biology to students who believe in creationism.

    If this is done again, I have one suggestion. The panel should include high school educators as I think all were from the college level.

  34. Allen N says

    Jadehawk @36

    A very good question indeed. Certainly part of the reason is that the system has hardly changed since the early 1900’s. The entire system revolves around credits, requirements, and seat time. Locally, a school district is going to experiment with doing away with grade levels which will be intersting to see how it works out. I expect there will be more depth of retention but less coverage of material.

  35. Jadehawk says

    interesting, though it’s not like the continuous system i described isn’t a relic in a way.

    for fairness sake i should mention that in the system i was in, failing 3 subjects meant you had to repeat the entire year, including the subjects you aced previously, which was a waste but there wasn’t a way to just have someone repeat the subjects they failed. in the modular system it’s at least possible for people to only have to redo the stuff they failed

  36. says

    The panel discussion was a fun event for our MNA meeting, we were really glad to have you there! Personally, my least favorite part was the man I’ve dubbed “Soul Man”… There always has to be one hanging around, though.

  37. says

    Why is anti-Catholicism the only form of hatred and bigotry still accepted/tolerated in this country?

    It’s not hatred, it’s ridicule. That’s a whole different vibe.

  38. E.V. says

    If you want to see hatred and bigotry try being an atheist in Mississippi or East Texas.

    Amen Brother, but add the Panhandle and West Texas, um, and throw in any town smaller than 100,00 population – no make that 250,000 population, and we’ll call it square.

  39. E.V. says

    Those poor, poor persecuted Catholics. Thank God they’ve never expressed hatred or bigotry over any other ideology. Wait, what?

  40. Holbach says

    Allen N @ 35

    Good remarks, and so apt of the existing phennomena that people will not just wake up and think and judge the reasons why they believe such insane nonsense in spite of all the overwhelming evidence against their irrationality. It’s almost too simple to say “just do it”. This is what I and many more have done and definitely reaped the benefits of a sound mind free of all insane crap. Yet so many will not even make an attempt to take that step and see if it turns out to be a sensible change. What are we to make of this illogical refusal to slough off that demented reliance on things that are just not true? We have done so, and it can be only initiated by those so strickened with the lunacy of religion. I am at the point and inclination where I don’t give a crap if they haven’t got the guts to clear their minds and lives of that irrational stricture. Good grief, when I sloughed off that insane nonsense, I was still able to brush my teeth, drive my car, and do all the things I currently do without any effects from an avenging imaginary god. I have tried with patience and all available sensible facts to instill in a person who has a modicum of doubt to take the next step and just do it. The majority of times it is a complete waste of time and effort, as their lives and minds are set, and no amount of intelligent prompting will persuade them to free themselves of that stultifying insanity.
    I agree with you on the trivia aspect of high school science and it is obvious that much of it does not remain with the student after graduation. I read a quotation of Mark Twain several years after I left high school, and this has guided and remained with me into my current life and demeanor: “My education doesn’t have to stop when I leave school”. I love to read, and because of this wonderful habit I am knowledgeable in many subjects, particularly science which I read with a fascination, and especially astronomy which enthralls me to no end. And history, art, architecture and many more pursuits which keep the mind open and on a high absorption. This is a free and pleasurable pursuit, and one which has lead to the eventual purging of religion and all matter of nonsense. One will never read all the books which interests him, but to have a knowledge of those subjects which have meant a dimunition of religion by their very veracity is a step to living a life free of all irrational crap, of which religion is the apex of the whole sorry and demeaning pile. It just boggles my mind with incredulity that religion has sustained it’s deadening hold on so many minds for such a long time. Sad.

  41. nick nick bobick says

    Could some current high school teachers comment on the following, please?

    When I was in high school, there were “tracks”: some people took sciences and math, but others (after 9th grade algebra and 10th grade geometry) never took another science/math class. Instead they took classes such as metal shop and wood shop. Has this completely changed?

    My own children were all in honors/AP classes and so took high school physics, chemistry and biology, and took math through at least pre-calc or calc (youngest graduated 2 years ago).


  42. Allen N says

    Nick @ 45:

    I think you will find that tracking or non tracking depends on which district and even which school. In my school, students were allowed to sign up for whatever they had the requirements for. Special cases were allowed, especially for transfer students. We did not have a college track per se, and with an interest could follow up as they wished. Some were light on math and heavy on Language arts classes; others chose every science class they could get and just met the basic requirements in other areas. There was the vocational school with it’s own requirements. Of course there was the sneaker brain curriculum which consisted of every P.E. class they could get and the bare minimum of everything else. In contrast, IB students had limited choices and the IB classes are like AP on ‘roids.

    Parents were expected to approve the choices for the next year’s registration, which happened far less frequently that it should have.The classes were there and it was up to the students to select what was necessary.

  43. E.V. says

    Actually Nick touches on something I’ve wondered about. Why have high school trade curricula vanished in the US? Not everyone is cut out for academics and bravo for the ones that are.
    There used to be a split at the freshman level so that those who weren’t on the University track wouldn’t screw it up for those that were.
    It’s a one size fits all, (whatever the current national testing acronym is) clusterfuck., even with AP or Honors classes and IB. Have we dumbed down colleges in order to accommodate all the kids who are pushed into going out of fear of being jobless without a degree?
    Granted strong basics should be taught regardless, but offering two distinct scholastic tracks seemed to offer better solutions, or am I completely mistaken? We still need need people for trades and labor who will never do well in 100-400 level courses beyond their specific trade discipline.

  44. Jadehawk says

    the “one size fits all” thing is being pushed in other countries, too. while the german system (3 levels after elementary school: basic, regular, and advanced) needed revamping for the modern era, they instead are thinking of dumping it and creating the kind of mega-high-schools I’ve heard about in the States, with thousands of kids attending :-/

    mass produced education = fail

  45. meh1963 says

    Back to the Bohr model for just a second – if I recall correctly, the reason they taught it (at least in US HS in the 70s) was that the Bohr model’s easily-remembered 2n2 model for the quantity of electrons per shell was useful for figuring out valences.

    (signed, not a chemist or physicist; I deal with bits)

  46. E.V. says

    I see so many kids who would do some much better in trade school than spending weeks preparing for the nationalized test because poor average score results in school losing $. It’s very brutal on the academically inclined kids as well, they get so bored with it all and it disrupts the flow of course work. No Child Left Behind is a failure, socially and academically.

  47. Jadehawk says

    wasn’t that one of the issues with NCLB anyway, that the kids who were gonna pass anyway were completely neglected, as were the kids who really really struggled, and instead rote memorization for the test was drilled into the heads of everyone, and those kids who were just at the border of passing were focused on especially (the rest being not worth the trouble)

    having a 2-track education would be beneficial to kids on either side of the issue, but only if both tracks are treated as equally valuable. there have been problems with underfunding the non-academic track, and of dumping all the crappy teachers and problem students into the non-academic track

  48. jj says

    RE:Bohr Model in HS Chemistry:

    When I was in HS chemistry (let see, that would have been 8yrs ago?) we were defiantly taught the Bohr Model as a way to understand the makeup of an atom. If I recall correctly, it was taught with the disclaimer of “We actually know this isn’t the correct model, it’s much more complex, but it will help you understand basic chemistry..” I took it as “well we arn’t going to take the time to really explain this, if you want to know the real expiation, take chemistry in college” which I did. Never really felt that being taught the Bohr model ever made anything more confusing by the time I was in college level chemistry, but that could be because I was aware that much of the science I was taught in high school was a dumbed down version, and that there had to be more to it.

  49. E.V. says

    True, Jadehawk, it is a tragedy when it becomes a caste system. There is honor in all honest work. No shame in being a plumber, roofer, mechanic etc.
    I think a great number of people who would naturally go the trade route have discovered cooking schools where it’s possible to retain dignity, as long as you’re not training under Gordon Ramsey or Anthony Bordain.; )

  50. says

    Venturing an opinion as a physics major and teacher:

    The Bohr model is a useful one, as long as the caveats are explained and it is contrasted with the de Broglie model.

    Once you include the concept that the electron shells and orbitals exist only in locations where the wave function can fit in without overlap or gaps, the understanding as to why the shells can only exist at certain levels comes in.

    It is not neccessary to understand how to calculate the wave function to know that it can dictate how the shells fall into place, although a more detailed discussion involving energy levels can be brought in. If the students already know how the Hamiltonian and eigenvalues work, then it becomes easy; otherwise, a brief discussion of the above should be sufficient, and is certainly about as far as you can go.

  51. llewelly says

    jj | February 16, 2009 7:06 PM:

    When I was in HS chemistry (let see, that would have been 8yrs ago?) we were defiantly taught the Bohr Model as a way to understand the makeup of an atom.

    I DEFY ANYONE to teach the de Broglie model of the atom …

  52. nick nick bobick says

    Thanks for the responses to my question @ 45. The reason I asked is because I wonder how many children in high school – or before – are actually exposed to evolution in any systematic way: as they might be in a biology class.

    If a significant number are not, then what hope do we have of decreasing the number of creation-minded people in our (U.S.) population? My assumption has been that the work going on in genetics might, within a hundred years (and I hope a lot less), make creationists a thing of the past. Without exposure to biology this seems a futile hope.

  53. Kausik Datta says

    Not having been educated at the school level in the United States, I am curious about the school system here.

    In India, we still have the old British system. At each class year, exams are taken on different subjects in the curriculum, the exam papers are scored with actual numbers (not just letter grades), and based on the cumulative scores at the end of the school year, the students are allowed (or not allowed) to move on to the next class. There are two State-regulated exams, a school-leaving exam (after the 10th grade/Standard) and a high-school leaving exam (after the 12th grade).

    Agreed that the Indian system does not offer the flexibility of choices found in the United States, nor does it place the due emphasis on gifted or advanced students. Despite the fallibilities, this system seems to work out pretty well, with the added benefit that religiously-inspired pseudo-scientific screeds do not largely enter into the educational curricula, which are fixed by State or National Education boards.

    If you want to look at the output, all the first-generation Indian grad-students and post-docs in your departments, as well as the Indian doctors and medical researchers in your hospitals have passed through this system.

    In what way, then, is the highly-funded US school system superior to similar systems in the rest of the world?

    I am curious.

  54. says

    Creationists. How can you be so stupid? They believe that the earth is only 10,000 years old because some Irish priest worked out the ages of people in the bible and then added it all up to age the planet. Read your bible more closely creationists! Mine clearly says published by Hodder & Staunton, 1985. Add seven days and you have a definitive date for the Creation. I steadfastly refuse to believe the earth is any more than twenty four years old and anyone who disagrees with this irrefutable fact makes me feel sick.

  55. Allen N says

    Kausik @ 57

    Certainly, the education system in the U.S. needs work, but it does have a few things going for it.

    Perhaps the bet thing about it is the open nature of the system. In 10th grade, and again in 12th, students are not sorted into career and life tracks as seems to be the case in other systems. Students do not mature at the same rate and I can guarantee that late blooming students are every bit as capable of high level achievement in college. I also suspect that in more rural areas of India, the education lamp may not burn quite so brightly.

    As for a national curriculum, that is certainly appealing until you consider the last 8 years in this country. What would a national curriculum look like if the rethuglican party had their way with it? Americans have this thing about local control. While it can lead to Louisiana idiocy, it can also produce systems that are second to none.

    As for the output of India’s best and brightest, vs. other national groups, I note that these students are here, not in India. The quality of their work is neither better or worse than that of other groups. The numerical differences may reflect different career choices as opposed to some differential in ability.

    You are not only curious, you are also a smug piece of work. Hope I’ve been able to help you fix your cranial/rectal inversion.

  56. Amplexus says

    I graduated three years ago in minnesota and I was taught the Bohr model by a physical science teacher. I was lectured about creationism by several teachers.

    I remember being told once that the law of thermodynamics was “Matter can neither be created nor destroyed…(DOT DOT DOT). EXCEPT BY GOD!”

  57. Kausik Datta says

    Allen N at #59, I genuinely believed that you were trying to allay my curiosity about the difference in school education systems followed by two different countries. This is particularly important in view of the difference in overall wealth of the two countries, and the lamentable state of school education system in the United States.

    Until I read the last line, that is. Man, you have some serious issues! Grow up, will you?

    And your dig about the Indians being in the United States is way off the mark (or is this your latent xenophobia speaking?). In this thread, people have been talking about the school education system, not the college- or university-level education. Did that escape your attention?

    Most first-generation Indians in this country are working at a graduate or post-graduate level. Even the technology workers are employed about a certain academic level. It is accepted the world over that as far as higher education in the Sciences, Humanities and Technology goes, the United States is at the top.

    It is the school system that is a major concern, since it is important for the future.

  58. Allen N says


    No latent xenophobia – you were the one who started on the achievements of post docs, etc. Amazingly, these universities are largely staffed and populated with the products of the American school system.

    I would be interested in the source for your blanket statement about “most first generation Indians”. Citation?? I’ve also seen a fair number of Indians employed at something other than top academic levels. Some years back, Scientific American had an interesting piece on the role of family in academic achievement. Perhaps the issue is not the school???

    Now, as to the U.S. education system, you end with a remark which was, from you perspective, a rhetorical question with the answer being “it isn’t”. End with that, and you get snark back.

    I laid out ways in which US schools are superior or at least equal to any other but you ignored that. I would also point out the embrace of the International Baccalaureate program by schools across the U.S. In perhaps 1/2 of the districts, there is no screening to enroll, much like AP. Thus, students who find themselves a bit late can grow in ways that would not be available had they been tracked into trades or whatever as the result of a 10 grade test. Community colleges are a growth area for education for people going back to school as well as those having to ease into college. This would not be possible if college admission depended on a 12 th grade test.

    Most school districts are financially strapped to a greater or lesser extent. One of the reasons is that one goal is to educate every student. This includes even very low functioning students. Having had my classes next to such a class in which each student had their own aid to help them, I can attest to the very hard work put forth to maximize the gains for these students.

    Look up IEP – individual Education Plan – set up for every special needs student. That’s something you will not find in India, I’m willing to bet. Do deaf students get their own sign language interpreter in India? I’ve had deaf students in physics and the IB program, as well as my special needs class. What provisions do schools in India have for teen parenting students? I’ve had them as well in both physics and special needs classes.

    As you can tell, I’ve spent a bit of time working with students at both ends of the academic spectrum. No fair throwing rocks at the U.S. system and comparing it to the model you approve of without first knowing what really happens in American schools. Get out, visit a school or two and find out just how broadly we cast the educational net.