The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Science Scares

The American Council on Science and Health has published a study examining the National Resources Defense Council's claims of 13 disease cluster areas in 42 states around the U.S.

"a peer-reviewed analysis by ACSH, using well-established principles of scientific investigation, shows that only one of the 42 sites meets the scientific definition of a disease cluster...

  • "All but five of the purported clusters lack any supportive evidence at all;
  • "13 examples cited by NRDC as confirmed disease clusters are in fact places where investigations by public health officials are still ongoing;
  • "Several cases have already been ruled out by public health officials as disease clusters as no statistically significant elevations of any disease have been found;
  • "Only four of the NRDC-claimed sites are possible clusters, and just one of the 42 can actually be identified as a disease cluster based on the scientific definition."
What does this have to do with education? I see the rising number of specious claims about the links between disease and technology, medicine, and science as a result of poor science education and poor scientific thinking.

This kind of thinking can be difficult - it often doesn't follow intuitive human reasoning tendencies, especially conclusions based on statistically-based evidence. But good education in reasoning and especially reasoning about statistics would make a world of difference.

Someone who's been thinking a lot about how to improve students' "statistical literacy" is Professor Milo Schield at Augsburg College. Here he has a wealth of information and resources about this issue. I suspect the people at NRDC need a course from him - in the hope that they weren't bending the facts on purpose.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rediscovery of What We Already Knew in Montessori

Apparently the Erikson Institute's new program "The Early Mathematics Education Project," recently instituted at 300 Chicago public schools, incorporates real objects and events to teach young children the fundamentals of mathematics. This was reported today in the Wall Street Journal in an article titled "New Calculation: Math in Preschool."

According to the article, "Evidence is mounting about the importance of teaching math in preschool and kindergarten."

I'm glad they've just discovered this! But it's not a new calculation: Montessori schools have been teaching fundamental mathematical concepts in preschool (Children's House to us) for over 100 years, because Maria Montessori discovered the importance of doing so that long ago.

We use fabulous, beautiful materials, such as the Trinomial Cube. Here's the equation it represents:

And the Golden Bead materials teach the basics of addition and subtraction so that even 4 year olds can do equations to the millions.

The Montessori Method has dozens of carefully designed and tested mathematical materials to work with.

One of the first graduates from my school, Council Oak Montessori, is now a parent of a three year old there. He came to a parent meeting and described how the mathematics materials helped him in all his later school career (and even to today), by teaching him how to concretize and visualize mathematical operations. And he didn't start at our school until 2nd grade.

Ah well, it's great that the students at CPS are getting SOME mathematical concretization.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

More on the "99%"

Following up on my last post, I found a website, History is a Weapon, with the entire text of Zinn's People's History of the U.S.  Here's a quote from Chapter 24 on this webpage:

"One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another...Against the reality of that desperate, bitter battle for resources made scarce by elite control, I am taking the liberty of uniting those 99 percent as 'the people.'"

Not only is it clear from the text that this is the origin of the Occupy movement's "99%" mantra, but the Occupy movement is advertising on the very webpage of the book which discusses this issue. No wonder: over 1 million copies of this textbook have been sold and used at high schools and universities across the country in the past 20 years.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Is Howard Zinn the originator of the "99%"?

Researching some quotes of Howard Zinn, author of the widely used history text, The People's History of the United States, I came across a 2004 blog entry from historian Michael Kazin on George Mason University's History News Network about Zinn's book that said this:

"According to Zinn, '99 percent" of Americans share a  "commonality" that is profoundly at odds with the interests of their rulers.' And knowledge of that awesome fact is 'exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them--from the Founding Fathers to now--have tried their best to prevent.'"

Since many, many young people today are educated using Zinn's book - is this where they got the "we are the 99%" slogan?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Manipulating Happiness - Maria Montessori

In this article , researcher Robert Biswas-Diener writes in the International Journal of Well-Being about the Montessori Method and its relation to optimal living:

"One  Montessori   teacher   I   interviewed told me that using the term "work" to describe the children's activites lends   a   sense   of   dignity   and   importance   to   what   they   do,   and   set   up   kids   for   a   lifetime   of   believing that work can be fun, rewarding, and educational...When I asked Ella [a Montessori student] what, specifically, she liked about 'work,' her answer was immediate "I like that it is challenging.' Either  Ella  is  being  fed  some  excellent  propaganda  or  she  is  participating  in  a  school  system   which   fosters   enjoyment   alongside   learning.   Which   begs   the   tough   question:   Was   Maria   Montessori   a   happiness-­‐‑enabler?"

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"What's the little difference that makes the big difference" between apes and humans!

Watching this NOVA special, Ape Genius, I almost fell over (while exercising!) when I heard one of the researchers say that in their quest to understand the apes and their relation to us, they were trying to find out "what's the little difference that makes the big difference."

And these were not neurologists, talking about brain anatomy/physiology differences! These were cognitive psychologists and anthropologists. I'm afraid it is yet another example of the deterioration of education.

"The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes"is Reason! Humankind's ability to conceptualize abstract ideas.  It makes ALL the difference.

I suspect this ignorance on the part of the scientists is a result of the century+ attack on Reason and that attack's influence in the humanities and sciences.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"My Teacher is an App"

Learning through the Internet reminds me of Isaac Asimov's Encyclopedia Galactica in his Foundation trilogy - all the knowledge available at one's fingertips. A life-altering resource of knowledge.

"My Teacher Is An App" discusses elementary schools using computers for most of the learning, or "hybrid" models in which children do some in-person work, often through a homeschool, but more work through computers.

It's good that their virtual experiences and activities are so much richer than the mere paper and pencil learning of traditional schools. But I worry that they will not get enough real-world experience through such systems to develop their senses, their motor abilities, their knowledge, and their imaginations well.

We are living animals and our reason is highly connected to the functioning of our bodies. In the '90's, Antonio Damasio began demonstrating how poorly reason operates without a well-functioning connection to emotion; reason cannot enable us to choose well if cut off from emotion which relay our deepest core values and needs to the reasoning mind.

This connection is developed through sensory-perceptual-motor experience, through physical interaction with the world, through interaction with other people. These experiences can be simulated on computer but not replaced.

What happens to a person's ability to reason well and wisely about life-choices if they don't have sufficient real-life experience?