Category: Personal Passions, Interests and Stories

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

So something REALLY interesting happened this morning:  I found a brand spanking new copy of Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming in my school mailbox:

That’s a HECK of a coincidence, isn’t it?  

LAST week, I write a post about the lunacy of EPA Director Scott Pruitt — who somehow doesn’t believe that carbon emissions are leading to climate change — and THIS week, someone just so happens to drop a copy of a text designed to eviscerate climate science into my mailbox.

I’m not a big believer in coincidences, though.  

My guess:  SOMEONE — a colleague, a parent, someone from the broader community that just so happens to read my blog — decided that I needed to broaden my views on the science behind climate change.

I have NO idea who sent me the book, but I DO have a few choice words for them.  Here they are:

The Heartland Institute — the group responsible for publishing this book — has taken a TON of money from the fossil fuel industry, including from the Koch Brothers AND Exxon Mobil.  Don’t you think that cheapens the value of ANYTHING inside this book?  Can you REALLY believe that research funded by the fossil fuel industry is going to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about climate change?

Need more proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Then whaddya’ think about the fact that they have an entire line item in their annual budget — to the tune of $200,000 — to develop a curriculum aimed at public schools that is designed to “cast doubt on mainstream climate science?”

Need MORE proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Try this on for size:  This is the SAME group that created a billboard that compared people who believe in climate change to the Unabomber — and who had ANOTHER billboard ready to go that substituted Osama Bin Laden for the Unabomber.

Still not convinced?  Then what would you say if you found out that the “climate experts” who wrote the book that you sent me were on Heartland’s payroll, making anywhere from $5,000 to $11,000 per month?  Are you REALLY going to believe that guys who are being paid THAT much cash are unbiased and impartial observers that are giving us the whole truth and the nothing but the truth?

Heck — I’d say darn near anything if you want to pay me $11 K per MONTH.  That’s more than double my teaching salary.

Want me to keep going?  These are the same yeah-hoos who were defending Big Tobacco back in the 1990s, arguing that the damage done by smoking — both through first and second hand smoke — were completely overblown.

Seriously.  They said smoking wasn’t all that bad.

#sheeshchat

Now, needless to say, I’m peeved.

This “drive-by-booking” was a perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post.  Folks who are living in the Breitbart Bubble — mainlining Alex Jones for hours every day while they scroll through their hyper-partisan Facebook pages — are actively trying to shape the conversations that our kids are having about science by shouting louder than anyone who sits squarely in the mainstream.

That’s frightening, y’all.  

And the only way that we fix it is by pushing back.  Make sure that the science teachers in your lives know that you stand for objective science built on fact and not bought by people like the Koch Brothers, Exxon and the Heartland Institute.  Be louder than the people who have learned that shouting every time a teacher mentions “evolution” or “natural selection” or “global warming” is the best way to stifle facts and to advance a fringe agenda.

Most importantly, quit pretending that this isn’t a big deal — because it is.

I am a real science teacher working in a real science classroom and I hesitate every time I talk about these topics because I know that I’m likely to take more than a little criticism.  I can’t be the only one, can I?

And let’s quit pretending that our kids don’t need to learn that there are TONS of organizations just like the Heartland Institute that are trying to “muddy the waters” on important scientific issues.  Their motives are shady on a good day.  They represent powerful, wealthy interests that stand to lose a lot if “the truth” comes out.

Every kid in every classroom should be taught to question every piece of science published on controversial issues — and to identify the questionable organizations producing that science.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that the Heartland Institute was biased times ten.  It shouldn’t take kids long to figure that out, either.

#trudatchat

(A final PS to my anonymous, book loving, climate-change denying friendNo matter what the Heartland Institute says, most practicing climate scientists really DO believe that carbon emissions are causing climate change.  There’s no “scientific dispute” about any of this.

And even if you DON’T believe in climate change, can you at LEAST agree that carbon emissions are causing extreme pollution?  

If not, I’ve got a nice condo in Beijing I’d like to sell you.)  


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport

 

 

When Did Teaching Science Become Political a Blood Sport?

Did you see what Scott Pruitt, the Chief Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said today?

Despite almost a century’s worth of scientific evidence, the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community, and the scientific opinion of national groups like NOAA and NASA, he made the argument that carbon dioxide ISN’T a primary contributor to global warming.

Pruitt’s argument aligns nicely with the argument of the fossil fuel industry — who he has a long history of supporting at all costs.  “I think that measuring with precision human activity on climate is something very challenging to do,” he said.  “And there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of the impact, so no, I would not agree that it is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Now, Pruitt is definitely in the minority here:  There’s NOT “tremendous disagreement” about the impact that carbon dioxide is having on our climate.

Need proof?  Then check out the Climate Change Consensus page on NASA’s website.  You’ll find that:

  • 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • 18 scientific associations — people like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America — believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • 11 international science academies believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • US Governmental Agencies — INCLUDING Pruitt’s EPA — and other international governmental bodies believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.

So you can either believe the guy who has taken thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations from energy companies and their Political Action Committees OR you can believe thousands upon thousands of scientists who have spent their entire careers researching this issue.

This should make for a PERFECT lesson in my sixth grade science classroom, y’all.  

My standards require that I teach the carbon cycle — which includes the impact that excess combustion (think burning coal to create electricity and oil and gas to power vehicles) has had on the balance of carbon in our atmosphere AND that I teach students how to “distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.”

Think about that for a minute.  Climate change is very public example of how an imbalance in the carbon cycle is having an impact on our day-to-day lives.  More importantly, Pruitt’s statements are a very public example of a place where students can distinguish between facts, reasoned judgment based on research and speculation.  I’d LOVE to let them decide whether or not Pruitt’s argument is believable.

Isn’t that EXACTLY the kind of lesson that today’s students need to learn if they are ever going to be scientifically literate?

After all, we live in a world where politicians let donations govern their decisions — and those decisions end up governing our lives.  We also live in a world where the value of scientific research is regularly denigrated if it stands in opposition to positions that are going to cost businesses money or politicians donations.  Lobbyists whisper in the ear of guys like Pruitt, making promises in order to gain influence.  If kids aren’t prepared to recognize those conflicts of interest and aren’t able to interpret the meaning of scientific findings when making personal decisions about who to support, our planet is screwed.

But here’s the thing:  I won’t mention Pruitt’s comments to my class at all.  

Why?  Because over the past decade — ever since Al Gore started talking about our world’s Inconvenient Truth — I’ve been buried time and again by complaints from angry parents who ALSO believe that there is “tremendous disagreement” over the role that carbon dioxide plays in our changing climate.

It’s the exact same criticism that I get when I talk about natural selection or evolution — topics that are ALSO in my required curriculum AND scientifically settled, but widely panned by a small handful of people in America.

Most of the complaints that I get parrot talking points that you hear on radio programs hosted by guys like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.  People suggest that “I’m teaching climate science as if it is fact instead of opinion.”  They argue that, like most public school teachers, I am a part of a “left-wing conspiracy to brainwash children.”  And they ask if I’m going to bother teaching both sides of the story, even when there really AREN’T two sides to any of these stories.

Think about how frightening this all is.  

Essentially, I’m admitting to you that I shy away from introducing my students to scientific fact simply because I know that there’s a good chance that I’ll be attacked when I do.  Maybe I should be ashamed of that.  Maybe I should teach controversial topics no matter how much flak I’m likely to take.  Maybe I’m failing my kids and my community by keeping silent even in a situation where silence isn’t warranted.

But it’s just not that easy.  

Somehow, teaching science became political blood sport — and sometimes, I just don’t have the energy to fight.   

 

 

 

 

 

I Am a Chronic Absentee.

Cranky Blogger’s Warning:  I’m disgruntled today.  If you are looking for rainbows and sunshine, don’t read this post.  If you want some perspective on what life is like for American schoolteachers, though, keep reading.

———————

A few weeks back, a local news channel here in the Triangle covered an issue that they feel is a major problem:  Teachers who are “chronically absent.”  

Their definition of “chronically absent?”

Any teacher that misses more than 10 days of school in a single school year.

By that definition, I am a chronic absentee.  

I’ve missed right at 10 days of school this year.  I’ve missed six days alone attending professional development workshops and educational technology conferences — coursework that improves my practice and the practice of everyone around me.  I’ve also had to take two days off to take my daughter to doctor’s appointments — something that wouldn’t happen in other professions where I could “slip out” during the workday without question as long as I didn’t have face-to-face meetings or phone calls to tend to.

Oh yeah:  And I took one day off because I was sick as a dog.

#manyapologies

My favorite “absence”, though, will happen later this month when I call in sick so that I can get to our team’s upcoming field trip — a ecosystems-themed scavenger hunt — early.  I want to get the hunt set up before the kids and the parent chaperones arrive, but I can’t do that because I need to cover my first period class.  The only solution:  Call in sick in order to get a substitute teacher in the building to cover that one class and then spend the entire day working with my students anyway.

#sheeshchat

Can you tell that I’m bugged by this story?

The suggestion that teachers are automatically failing their students when they are out of the classroom is flawed thinking to begin with.  The time that I spend learning and thinking and reflecting on instructional practices translates directly into the work that I do with my students.

Need proof?  Check out my digital portfolio project (see here and here), which is a direct result of a session that I sat in on at a county wide professional development day back in November.  Conservative estimate: The lessons that I am learning and the content that I am creating will be shared across dozens of classrooms, both in my district and across the country.

Was that absence worth it?

To make matters worse, I’ve used sick days and pulled cash out of my own pocket for registration fees to attend professional conferences dozens of times over the last decade simply because my schools couldn’t afford to cover those costs or to provide me with a substitute teacher.  So not only was I working to improve my practice while “being chronically absent,” I was subsidizing our poorly funded public school system — covering costs that no other professional would ever be expected to cover out of their own pocket.

And that earns me uncomfortable questions about whether or not I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students?  

A friend asked me the other day to explain what’s changed about education since the time that I entered the profession.  “You knew the work was going to be hard,” he said.  “Why are you surprised by that hard work now?”

The answer is simple:  What’s changed is the professional respect accorded to classroom teachers.  I knew that I was signing up for long hours and low pay when I graduated way back in 1992.  But in return, I also knew that (1). I was going to get to change lives and (2). I was going to have the respect of those in the community that I served.  THAT was a trade-off that I was more than willing to make.

Today — almost 26 years later — I still get to change lives every day.  But I also bear the brunt of a sea of never-ending attacks lobbed at educators– including comments from the President of our nation, who used his inaugural address to push the notion that our nation’s public schools are “flush with cash” but leaving “our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.”

That criticism hurts.  And it makes me wonder more and more about my decision to stay in the classroom.  I want to serve kids, but I am really tired of being the community’s punching bag.

#trudatchat

#sorryfortherantchat

 

In Praise of an American Educator.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard or not, Radical Nation, but Rick DuFour — a passionate advocate for public education, a mentor and friend to many, and a proud husband, father and grandfather — passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer.

 

Rick used his voice to make the world a better place for our students, y’all.

To his core, he believed that the power to change schools rested in the hearts and minds of classroom teachers who were willing to study their practice together.  Just think about that for a second:  In an era when it felt like the entire nation was working to eviscerate our profession, Rick fought for us.  Better yet, he taught us and challenged us and pushed us to accept responsibility for results.

With a seemingly endless supply of energy, Rick counseled and coached a thousand schools and districts over the last 20 years — laying out clear plans for the kinds of steps that practitioners could take if they were genuinely committed to ensuring learning for every child.  He’d nudge when necessary, unsatisfied with stagnation — but he’d also leave you convinced that it WAS possible for schools to succeed, no matter the circumstance.

And Rick made everyone around him a better person.

He was one of those once-in-a-lifetime mentors who was constantly teaching, whether he knew it or not.  I learned to speak from my heart after watching him testify time and again about the impact that poor educational policies had on both students and teachers.  I learned that success required personal grit and determination after seeing him grind as a both writer and a speaker.

I learned that the most important part of being influential is being approachable after watching him spend hours in one-on-one conversations with teachers or principals who needed encouragement or advice; I learned that humility and curiosity are the cornerstones of successful people after watching him ask as many questions as I ever saw him answer; and I learned that true joy in life comes from having a family who loves you unconditionally after watching him invest his whole heart into Becky, his soulmate and best friend.

Let’s face it:  The world lost one of the best American educators yesterday.  

But we haven’t lost his spirit or his soul or his words and ideas.  If we remain just as committed to the notion that together we are stronger, tomorrow’s students will benefit from the lessons that he spent a lifetime trying to teach us.

Goodbye, friend.  And thank you for believing in me.

________________________________

Blogger’s Note:  As I wrestled with Rick’s death this morning, I decided that the best way to pay him a tribute was to send a copy of In Praise of American Educators — his seminal book tackling the myth of our failing public school system head-on — to Betsy DeVos, who seems hell bent on destroying public education. What better way to prove that the voice of my friend and mentor won’t be lost even after he’s left us.

I’d love it if you’d join me in that effort.

Can you imagine how powerful it would be if Secretary DeVos’s desk was buried in copies of a book written by a man who believed in both you and I and in the power of the work that we do every single day?  And can you imagine how proud Rick would be knowing that we were willing to continue to fight for the kids sitting in our classrooms?  That was his life’s mission, y’all.  Let’s push it forward now and forever.

Are you in?  If so, here’s some help:

  1. You can buy In Praise here on Amazon.
  2. When you are checking out, you can have your copy shipped directly to Betsy by changing the Shipping Address on your checkout page.  Here’s the address for the Department of Education.
  3. If you want to leave a message for Besty, you can add a Gift Receipt under “Review Items and Shipping” on your checkout page.  Here’s what I wrote:  “In memory of Rick DuFour, one of America’s Greatest Educators.  Want to improve schools?  Read chapters 1-5.  You’ll be inspired.”

 

Here’s Why Every American Should Oppose Vouchers.

Did all y’all catch Betsy DeVos’s — Donald Trump’s pick as Secretary of Education — confirmation hearings?  

It was a helluva’ show indeed.

Not only did DeVos need Al Franken — a former Saturday Night Live star — to explain the difference between proficiency and growth to her, she had no real idea how IDEA works, she suggested that she supports privatizing public schools, and she used the threat of grizzly bears as reason enough to question federal laws banning guns on school grounds.

Really.  Grizzly bears.  Look it up.

#sheesh

But the thing that should concern us the most about DeVos is her longtime support of vouchers — which allow parents to use public monies to send their children to private and religious schools — as a reform strategy.

The simple truth is that every American should oppose vouchers.  

Here’s why:  Public schools do more than educate our kids.  They provide opportunities for students to share experiences with people who are drastically different from them.  Rich students work side by side with students from poor neighborhoods.  Gay students befriend kids who are straight.  Deeply religious students meet atheists.  Children of immigrants learn with children whose ancestors have lived in America for generations.  And every kid interacts with peers of a thousand different colors and cultures — perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Do you have any idea how important those experiences are?  

One of the fundamental purposes of education has always been to prepare students for effective participation in a democratic society.  “Effectively participating in a democratic society” depends on our willingness to believe in the power of “the common good” — and believing in the power of the common good can only start when we recognize that others see the world differently than we do.

THAT’s what’s missing from the kinds of homogeneous schools that vouchers promote.  The risk of homogeneous schoolhouses is that students will study in intellectual bubbles — attending classes with kids who look and live just like they do, unaware that their core ideas aren’t always embraced by the people they are sharing this planet with.  Sure, homogeneous is easy and safe.  After all, there’s no need for compromise and no source of external challenge when everyone thinks just like you do.  But it’s not reality.

We live in a fractured nation, y’all.  You know that.  

Instead of looking for common ground, we concentrate our energies and our efforts on the ideas that divide us.  We shout one another down in person and online.  We heap scorn on anyone that we see as different.  We use our political power to pass laws that openly discriminate against anyone who doesn’t live like we do — and we elect leaders from the fringes who would sooner shut down the government than compromise with people on the other end of the political spectrum.

Becoming united again can only start when we find value in others — and for kids, finding value in others can be reinforced in the beautiful diversity of our nation’s public schools.

#simpletruth

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Related Radical Reads:

Here’s Why Competition Doesn’t Work in Public Education.

Breaking Public Education to Pieces.

In Praise of American Educators