A Victory for Critical Thinking in TN

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An academic freedom law has just been passed in Tennessee that allows for dissenting views to be presented for controversial issues in science:

Nashville – Today Tennessee became the latest state to enact an academic freedom bill that protects teachers when they promote critical thinking and objective discussion about controversial science issues such as biological evolution, climate change and human cloning. At least ten states now have statewide science standards or laws that protect or encourage teachers to discuss the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution.

Teachers in Tennessee are still required to teach according to state and local science standards. But under the law, teachers are allowed to objectively present additional scientific evidence, analysis, and critiques regarding topics already in the approved curriculum.

Critics claimed that this bill would promote religion instead of science, but this is simply not true.

“First, the bill expressly states that it ‘shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine,'” explained Luskin. “Second, in places like Texas and Louisiana that have similar legislation or science standards there has been no negative economic impact at all. Contrary to critics, no lawsuits have materialized in other states or districts with such policies in place.”

The point of the law is to allow debate, the kind that goes on in the scientific world but rarely surfaces to the public eye. I won’t get into the thick of the debate (because I truly don’t have time to be completely educated beyond a superficial level about the debate), but there is a debate among evolutionary scientists about the plausibility of Neo-Darwinism. Here Jerry Coyne criticizes James Shapiro, both professors of biology at the University of Chicago, both atheists, both at odds about the reliability of Neo-Darwinism. I also read a few weeks ago this article from Nature on Postmodern Evolution. Modern evolutionists apparently loathe these ideas (Evo-Devo), but some scientists are meeting and discussing how to address problems with the modern evolutionary synthesis has never been able to answer.

The point: there is debate in the scientific community concerning the strengths and weakness of theories . That debate should extend down through our educational system if we hope to have any real critical thinking development in students.

I won’t get into the lack of critical thinking developed in our educational system, in general, but a great book to read is Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto, voted NYC teacher of the year twice and NY state teacher of the year once. Upon receiving his last award, he resigned and gave a speech informing those present that he had to break all the school rules in order to achieve that distinction of “teacher of the year.”

Ok, it seems I am getting into it: for instance, he wanted to teach Moby Dick, so he ordered the official school curriculum. He received and saw that it had so much commentary that it was rendered useless. Why? It did not allow the student to read the original text, think about it, discuss it, regurgitate it, argue about, write their own words about it. That is critical thinking. Instead, the curriculum told them what to think about Moby Dick, just as students are told what to think about evolution.

So, read that book (a must-read), and thank God that teachers (now in 10 states) can have the freedom to discuss both the strengths and weakness of a topic with our future citizens.

Investing in Family Education

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I am very excited about some purchases I have made or am considering. I would say it is a worthy way to spend part of my yearly bonus.

  1. Teaching the Classics” – I have been wanting to get this for awhile. I think this will help with understanding and getting the most from reading the classics, not only for my kids but for my wife and I as well. Right now I am focusing on a lot of science material, but I am still aching to read more Austen and Dickens.
  2. Teaching the Classics: Worldview Supplement” – I have been wanting to get this supplement for a while as well. I have read Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and am realizing how little I understand that word “worldview,” yet it is so important to understand my own worldview and decipher that of these great minds of literature. I would count the subject of worldview as the biggest concept I have stumbled upon within the last year.
  3. How to Write a Story” – This is mainly for my middle daughter at 10 years old, who has developed a desire to write her own stories. I told her about getting this and her eyes brightened!
  4. A Guide to Writing Your Novel” – This is mainly for my oldest daughter at 15 years old now, who has about 10 story lines going but with no end product. She is extremely creative and I would describe “generously non-linear.” I think she needs help with structure and flow in her stories, and I think this will help a lot.
  5. Foundations of Western Civilization” – I recieved “junk mail” from this company, but I might be very very glad I did. It has a lot of courses I am myself am interested in, but this could also be used as the main course for home schooling. (Not just Western Civilization, but American History, philosophy, etc.) All the courses are “up to 80% off.” I am usually skeptical about these claims, knowing the original price is probably obscenely inflated. I decided to purchase this course as a trial run. It is taught by university professors, so I am thinking the instruction will be excellent, but may be too dry or advanced for the kids. Another advantage, though, is that the lectures may contain secular and humanistic themes which can be addressed and discussed in the home. If my kids are able to think critically of a college level course, separating fact from philosophy, I think they will be far better prepared to (1) develop their own beliefs and convictions and (2) defend them.
  6. Rosetta Stone Spanish Lvls 1-4 (Latin America) – We have not purchased this yet, but I saw this at Costco for $315. A quick search on Amazon showed the levels 1-3 at $399, and 1-5 at $499. Why only 1-4? Perhaps it is discontinued, as people either go 1-3 or 1-5, and Costco got a good price on it. I think there are potential drawbacks to this software, though: (1) it may not really teach as it claims. After level 4, how proficient are we (yes, I want to use it too!) going to be? That is a lot of money to just throw away on good marketing. But I did the level 1 German a while back, and liked it. (2) if we want to go the level 5, we can’t do it, to my knowledge. You have to buy them as a set. I have considered this software for some time now, and I think I am going to move this deal.