Call to arms, Minnesota!

I got a letter from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association. It seems there is some skullduggery going on to undermine our state science standards, from the Minnesota Rural Education Association. Well, cool: I’m an educator in rural Minnesota, but I know nothing about the MREA. I’m sympathetic to the idea of an organization that opposes/complements those elitist tyrants of the Twin Cities <shakes fist eastwards>. So what does the MREA want?

Minnesota Science Teachers and Citizens:

Science education in Minnesota is at a crossroads. As the Science Standards Revision Committee works to produce a new set of state science standards, the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) is going to the state legislature this session in an attempt to reword statute 120B.023 thereby diluting the quantity, quality and rigor of the state science graduation requirements. Their proposed wording to the statute would still require biology and either chemistry or physics, but would reduce the current third science credit to a set of electives that does not require that “all academic standards in science” be met. This essentially removes earth and space science standards as part of the graduation requirements already in state statute 120B.024 (4) (ii.) and would allow districts to choose what science standards they will or will not teach.

If we, as science educators and citizens, want our students to receive a balanced, comprehensive background in all science disciplines, i.e., be scientifically literate, it is essential that you act now.

Below are samples of letters/emails that can be reworded or used as is and sent to your state representative and state senator. (These letters are also attached as a Word doc to this message.) Your voice must be heard or our new state science standards will be reduced in rigor and merit. Hand-picking which benchmarks will be taught in our schools harms science education for all students. A strong response from science teachers and citizens will tell the Legislature that our students deserve the best science education possible.

Go to to find the names and e-mail addresses for your state representative and senator.

Please e-mail your state representative and senator as soon as possible. Be sure to include “Don’t Cut Science Education Standards” in the subject line. Thank you for your continuing efforts to provide our students with a quality, comprehensive science education.

Shorter version: they want to change the standards to allow high school students to focus narrowly in meeting their science requirements, and also want to open school districts to allow them to decide what science to teach. The first part I’m already disinclined to support because public school educations are already general enough — I’d rather they get a solid overview of multiple disciplines, because I care more about a broad background than that students get to ignore geology or chemistry if they want. As for the second part…I don’t trust rural school districts that much. State standards are there to make it harder for schools to compromise.

But OK, let’s be fair. What does the MREA say about their own plan?

MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan encouraged the state to amend the benchmarks statute 120B.023 that states, “Schools must offer and students must achieve all benchmarks for an academic standard to satisfactorily complete that state standard” by adding that high school students must meet the benchmarks in biology, physics or chemistry, and one elective set of benchmarks from the following: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences or engineering, or technology and the applications of science. Schools must offer at least two of these elective sets of benchmarks.

So currently, high school students should take biology, physics, and chemistry, and one of a defined set of electives. The MREA would like to change that to an or, and let the schools decide what the additional science elective ought to be. Why? They don’t do a good job of justifying the change.

Minnesota faces a well-documented skilled-worker shortage and Minnesota Academic Standards currently hold high schools back from providing the education and training needed to effectively prepare students for their future jobs. Today’s system operates on a one-size fits all approach for students no matter their plans after graduation.

Ugh. Education as a purely vocational enterprise. No, thank you. I have a lot of respect for good vocational training, but that’s not what public school should be about — it should be about giving citizens a broad, basic background knowledge so that they’re better informed, and know better what they want to do with their life after schooling. No matter their plans after graduation, students should have at least a rudimentary understanding of science (and art, and history, and language, etc.) Focusing on JOBS is counterproductive.

I also find it weird that they say they’re concerned about a skilled worker shortage, and their solution is … to teach less science? Strange. I think there must be other motives they aren’t talking about.

The MnSTA provides some sample letters for Minnesotans to use if you want to write to your rep. I’ll include them below the fold.

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It’s like the author read my mind


Or maybe it’s just that the situation is so obvious. This past weekend, I gave a talk in Minneapolis about how messed up higher education in general was becoming, and specifically about the problems facing science education. And then this morning I run across an article from a couple of years ago that basically says many of the same things. I should have just phoned in How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps and spared myself all that thinking and planning and preparing stuff.

Here are the 5 steps in the article:

Step I: Defund public higher education.
Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).
Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.
Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.
Step V: Destroy the students.

Dang. I talked about all of those things. Now you can just read the article to get the gist of my discussion.

The very best academic proposal ever?

It’s brilliant, and solves a host of problems at American universities. Why Not Adjunct Administrators Instead of Adjunct Instructors? It Makes Far More Sense. I agree. With the proliferation of administrators and increasing teaching loads on us faculty, it makes far more sense to make all those administrator positions into temp jobs.

Most of the growth of university costs comes from administrative bloat. Non-faculty staff has grown at more than twice the rate of instructors – you know, the people who are the ostensible reason a university exists. As tenured professors retire, administrators kill those tenure lines and replace them permanently with part timers. Administrators do this so they can gorge on a higher salary while demanding more from the refugee ration-packet salary of academics. Think I am not being generous? Some administrators earn $300,000 a year to fundraise for new football stadium skyboxes. Vice Presidents at the University of Maryland saw their salaries increase by 50 percent between 1998 and 2003, as faculty positions were slashed. All the while adjuncts try to get by with the help of Medicaid or food stamps.

There’s only one catch. The idea comes from Glenn Reynolds, Republican toady and right-wing shill, so it makes me suspect that I’ve missed something. It makes me pretty certain, actually.

Online Gender Workshop: Detour, Social Construction Ahead edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

To understand gender, it is vital to understand how it comes about. While the etiology of individual gender identities is very much in doubt, the etiology of gender as a framework, as a concept, that is not in doubt: Gender, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a social construct.

Few feminists would dispute that. However, when I taught courses on gender-related topics to people who already espoused the idea that gender is a social construct, it frequently, even typically, became clear that they didn’t understand the statement at all. So while many might not dispute it, the statement itself is not helping us. Indeed, it appears to be hurting us. So let’s add to the discussion another statement, more commonly disputed among feminists: Sex is a social construct.

There. That should make all the rest easy.

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Gender Workshop: I used to be okay with a “witch hunt” or two

Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

There’s been much talk over the last few years about witch hunts. Targeting Dawkins. Targeting Shermer. Targeting Hunt. Targeting anyone who happens to sit near Adria Richards. And though I think it is far from a witch hunt to be criticized by a lot of people, even by a lot of people at once, because your comments or behaviors merited criticism, for a long time I merely rolled my eyes at the inevitable, defensive backlash: “Witch hunt!”

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Obama does something right

I think this is exactly what the federal government ought to be doing: building the national infrastructure and setting priorities. So I’m completely behind Obama’s proposal to make community college free for everybody for the first two years, a project that will lead to an expansion of our educational system, more employment for educators, and more opportunities for young people. It’s estimated to cost $34 billion — scrap a few defense contracts, we can cover that.

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Did you know teaching is a skill?

It really is. I will readily confess that the professoriate doesn’t give it much appreciation either — we’re all just tossed straight into the classroom with negligible preparation — but at least we’ve got a kind of Darwinian mode going on to weed out the worst. Jonnny Scaramanga has a guest post from someone who was subjected to Christian fundamentalist education. It’s ugly.

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AtheistTV gets a thumbs up

I was home for a late lunch, so I flipped on the Roku and installed the AtheistTV channel. It was easy, but then you Roku owners know that part already.

The channel is well organized into various categories, but right now content is a little thin — the comedy category, for instance, contains one video, and the movie category…well, there are a few entries there, but it’s a stretch to call them ‘movies’. I guess atheists are a bit light on providing entertainment.

But I consider the sparse content on the day of the launch to be a good thing. My dread was that they’d take a shortcut to filling up the channel by importing youtube videos wholesale, and then it would be an exercise in wading through garbage to find the gems. That’s not the case at all — they’ve exercised restraint and quality control.

So what you’ll find there is a lot of material relevant to American Atheists: recordings of talks at the last few national conferences and the Reason Rally, and AA’s official talk show, the Atheist Viewpoint. There’s a lot of stuff transferred from the RDF. The Atheist Community of Austin is featured with a collection of videos from the Atheist Experience. When I say it’s thin, I’m talking relatively, compared to a movie channel — you could still veg out for many weeks nonstop trying to watch everything on it. It’s still important that they are being selective about putting up videos with thoughtful commentary about atheism.

It also looks ready for expansion, and I’m sure even more will be added. It’s a good strategy for introducing the content of the conferences to a wider audience, and that’s a natural procedure for generating new material.

Some suggestions I’d make: it really is American Atheist-centered, understandably, but it would be nice to see partnering with CFI or American Humanists or British Humanists, for instance, to fold in some of their content. It would also be cool to adopt more science content — HHMI, for example, has lots of free science videos that aren’t at all explicitly atheistic but would fit in well with a theme of scientific naturalism (whether they’d be willing to have them shown on an atheist channel is an open question). Not just science, but also history and philosophy categories would be a nice addition.

Check it out. I think it’s going to be useful. If you have a Roku, it’s definitely worth getting the channel (it’s free, so I’m not saying much there), but it’s also yet another reason to get a Roku if you don’t have one.