Saturday, January 26, 2008

Friday, January 25, 2008

Answers to Criticisms of the Four Subject Curriculum: An apologia for teaching dead languages

Well I profess to being surprised that my minimalist education proposal has caused such a fuss. If only those who fussed at me knew how much I liked being fussed at. What a casus belli I seem to have innocently introduced into the education discussion! I guess that's what happens when you challenge the status quo.

I attribute most of the dissent to my proposal damnant quod non intelligunt: that the critics of this proposal are not necessarily understanding what I have proposed. Now I take some of the responsibility for that, since my original post was meant as a sort discussion starter or abstract, although, apparently, some have mistaken it for some sort of ultima ratio.

I want to begin answering some of the objections to my proposal, and I want to start out with one aspect of this one, since I think it is the most general of the criticisms of my Four Subject Curriculum:
So, your four critical subjects are: a language that no one speaks anymore, a formal system, a method of entertaining yourself and others, and a skill that involves inputting and outputting information. There a few very large gaps, which at least include critical thinking, learning where you fit in the world, and interactive learning.
I want to address just the first implicit assertion in this one: that studying a dead language is somehow inferior to studying living languages.

Yes, my plan does include a language no one speaks anymore--if you mean that ad litteram. Yes, no one speaks Latin per se, but that does not ipso facto mean it is not useful to teach. And, in fact, it is not a priori true that a language that is no longer spoken conversationally should not be a major part of a curriculum. Certainly it is not prima facie true that a dead language is better than one that is not, but neither is it true that just because something is ad patres that it shouldn't be considered as a valid curricular subject.

There have been a good many post mortems pronounced over the Latin language, but I think they are a little premature. Is a language useless just because it's dead? G. K. Chesterton once said that a language must die in order to become immortal--or, to put my own Latin spin on it: morte sola lingua immortalis fit.

So why, then, in the year 2008, Anno Domini, would someone consider Latin important enough to be one of the only four subjects in a curriculum? Well for one thing, I will make the claim right here that there is a direct correlation between the lifelessness of a language and its academic worth.

That's right. I'm saying that, academically speaking, a dead language is better than a living one. Now I know as soon as this is posted I'll be pronounced non compos mentis, and the object of challenges to prove it.

I'll save them the trouble.

You don't have to rely on my ipse dixit. Here are the performance results of students with various language backgrounds on the SAT test via the College Board's last National Profile Report:
Notice that the top three languages--Latin, Hebrew, and Greek--are all dead languages. None of them are spoken in the modern world. Yes, Hebrew is spoken in modern Israel and Greek is spoken in Greece. But the vast majority of people with backgrounds in these languages taking the SAT have not studied modern Hebrew or modern Greek, but the ancient versions of these languages which haven't been spoken for centuries.

The languages that do the best job of preparing students for college entrance exams have long ago assumed room temperature.

Quod est demonstrandum.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Basic K-8 Curriculum: How to raise an outstanding student by studying only four subjects

I was having minimalist thoughts last night, and was thinking what the most simple education curriculum would look like. Dealing with home school parents as much as I do, I have always advocated that they simplify. They think that they have to do all the rigmarole that a school engages in, when, in fact, they don't.

Traci Lee Simmons says somewhere in his book, Climbing Parnassus, that any school that has more than 4 or 5 subjects doesn't know what it is about. I completely agree with him. Proliferating academic subjects should be swatted down like flies in summer.

So here is my minimalist (but highly rigorous) K-8 school curriculum:
  • Latin
  • Mathematics
  • Reading & Writing
  • Music
Now let's think about this for a minute.

The primary purpose of K-8 education is to teach students how to think, and give them a basic familiarity with Western civilization. A systematic study of Latin, math, and music will train your brain like nothing else. Latin will teach you all the qualitative thinking skills you will ever need, and math all the quantitative ones. Music transcends both, since it is both quantitative and qualitative. It is the capstone to training in the mental arts.

But where is science? Where is history? Where are the social sciences? For purposes of K-8, fuggetaboutem. But how can we do that? Won't we be distorting them for life?

I don't think so.

In regard to science, a solid grounding in mathematics will be the best thing you can bestow on a child. Why do kids crash and burn in, say, chemistry? It is largely because they can't handle the math. If they handle the math, they are ready for high school chemistry and physics.

In regard to history and the social sciences (and, to a certain extent, earth science and physical sciences), the reading list essentially covers these. If your student is reading and writing about narrative histories, novels, historical fiction, nature books, the Bible, short stories, essays, and biographies of great scientists, writers, inventors, politicians, artists, and philosophers, then what, precisely will he miss out on?

If, by 8th grade, you have a student who knows Latin well enough to translate basic Latin passages into competent English (and therefore knows grammar very well), who is on grade level in math, who has taken basic strides toward the mastery of a musical instrument, and who is widely read, is there a parent out there who is not only not satisfied, but not ecstatically happy?

Something to ponder.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The revenge of the smokers: Three workers fired for not smoking

This is just too good to pass up: According to ABC News, a German company has fired three workers for not smoking. Here's part of the report:
The owner of a small German computer company has fired three non-smoking workers because they were threatening to disturb the peace after they requested a smoke-free environment.
This is definitely an employer with an attitude:
"I can't be bothered with trouble-makers," Thomas [the owner] was quoted saying. "We're on the phone all the time and it's just easier to work while smoking. Everyone picks on smokers these days. It's time for revenge. I'm only going to hire smokers from now on."
It is a measure of how totalitarian the anti-smoking movement in America has become that I feel like cheering this guy on. I don't smoke cigarettes, but second-hand smoke neither disturbs me, nor, I believe, seriously threatens my health. I sympathize with those are disturbed by cigarette smoke, but I also think that those who are threatened by second-hand smoke have simply allowed themselves to become prey to the propaganda of those whom P. J. O'Roarke calls "health Nazis."

If you don't like smoking in a private establishment, then don't go there.

This guy is simply doing in Germany what more and more government entities are doing on the nonsmoking side here in the United States: imposing views on smoking on other people. At least this guy has the excuse that he is a private business and should be able to do with it what he wants.

Should advocates of evolution be immune from cultural pressure?

Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars today complains about the pressure teachers come under not to teach about evolution. Hmmm. I may be mistaken, but isn't this the kind of observation which, if it were made, for example, by Christians about religious persecution in our society, would elicit charges of whining from blogs like Brayton's?

We should say to Brayton what I think should be said to the people who are always complaining about religious persecution in this country: suck it up. If you think that's persecution, then you don't know what persecution is. Go home and turn the TV back on, throw in a DVD, pop open a soda, and stop complaining.

We're so comfortable we don't have a clue what persecution really means.

But, ironically, the Evolution Dogmatists, despite the fact that they control the nation's science curriculum, still want the benefit of looking like martyrs. Look, I know teachers that are in this kind of position and I see the pressures they face--and I respect them for standing up for what they believe in even if I don't agree with them on some things. If there are teachers out there who are under pressure to do what is against their principles, then, hey, stand up for what you believe in. It's good for you.

"I like getting into hot water," Chesterton once said. "It keeps you clean."

There are countless times in life when you're put in a position in which you have to take a stand. Unfortunately, most people have a very low pain threshold when it comes to such things, but it doesn't cost you near as much as you think it will.

You get the distinct impression from comments like Brayton's that somehow he and his very unmerry band should be immune from the common vicissitudes of public debate, and sheltered from the costs to which the rest of us are subject in fighting the culture wars.

Well folks, that's life. Get used to it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Those ignorant home schoolers

Here's an interesting title from a home school blog I caught online today: "Saint Daniel the Stylite Academy: Catholic Charlotte Mason-influenced eclectic literary Montessori-ish orthodox theatrical trivium-inspired unschooly"

Next time a public school advocate starts running down home schooling for denying children an adequate education, I'll point this site out to them and see if they can even understand any of the references in the title.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hillary gets a visit from the Blue Fairy

Hillary Clinton's victory in New Hampshire has surprised everyone, especially those whose business it is not to be surprised by such things. The media and the pollsters predicted an Obama win--a big one. Instead, they saw the Illinois senator have to settle for the consolation prize--or, as Mitt Romney likes to put it, the "silver".

How did Hillary win? The pundits, having consulted their augurs, say that it is because she cried. That's right: the thing that was said to have torpedoed Edmund Muskie in 1968 is today the ticket to success: showing you have emotions. This was particularly important for Hillary, who, it turns out, was suspected of not having any. In fact, as the post-primary commentary revealed, there was apparently some doubt, before the cameras captured her tearing up, as to whether she was actually human.

Commentator after commentator took refuge in the same explanation: Hillary won the New Hampshire primary because she showed voters that she was not, as rumored, an android. "Finally," said New York Magazine, "proof that Hillary is human." "Hillary's teary moment," said CNN, helped Hillary look "more human and more appealing." Whereas Edmund Muskie's show of emotion in the '68 New Hampshire primary caused doubt among voters as to his fitness for office, Hillary's show of emotion "humanized" her.

Unlike 1968, voters now apparently prefer someone from the species homo sapiens to serve in the nation's highest office. Me, I'm not so sure. I'm thinking I might prefer an android. Why? Because at least androids have enough sense not to say things like "I have found my voice."

It cannot be any coincidence that the discovery of her voice occurred almost simultaneously with her approving nod from the Blue Fairy. According to ABC News (in an article on the crying episode called, "Analysis: Hillary Clinton finds her voice"):
"It's very important to allow people to see her not only as a highly competent leader but also as a person who can connect on a human dimension," said Ruth Mandel, director of Rutgers University's Eagleton School of Politics. "She enriched her voice and she expanded her voice in New Hampshire, and that's how she found her voters." [emphasis added]
And now that Hillary has acquired this enriched and expanded voice that comes from the human dimension, she will be using it to tell us about her "heart":
"I come tonight with a very full heart," the suddenly "human" Hillary Clinton told screaming supporters at Southern New Hampshire University. "Over the past week, I listened to you and in the process, I found my own voice."

"I felt like we all spoke from our hearts, and I’m so glad that you responded. Now together let’s give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me." (NBC News) [Emphasis added]

Rest assured, you will be hearing a lot about Hillary's "heart" in the weeks to come--now that she has "found her voice". It is all a part of the campaign to make sure voters understand that she is, in fact, "human".

Far be it from me to question whether Hillary has a heart, or whether she is actually human. But I think she owes it to voters to provide some sort of medical documentation for the claim. If Obama is smart, he will demand as much in Michigan and South Carolina.

And speaking of Obama, his campaign has talked of little else but change. Could this end up helping Hillary? Although he has been the one talking about change, it is Hillary who has actually been the one doing the changing. Sure, Obama is young and charismatic, but when was the last time he morphed into anything?

Don't get me wrong: I think this is a positive development. In fact, if there is a welcome wagon or something for people who have just become humans, then I say send them down to her campaign headquarters. But the cynical part of me distrusts politicians who acquire their humanity right in the middle of a campaign. I'm also not entirely sure that I would not rather have politicians losing their voices than finding them--particularly if they're going to start talking about their bodily organs.

My guess is that this new human Hillary--the one who is using the new voice to go on and on about her heart--is going to start wearing thin. Before this campaign is over, voters will want the android back.

We want politicians who talk about change. We don't want them actually engaging in it.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Political Ramifications of Iowa

Here are what I think are the political ramifications of Iowa:

1. His success in Iowa propels Obama into the Democratic nomination. For one thing, a third place finish in Iowa takes away Hillary's air of inevitability, and once Obama gets the upper hand, it's over. For one thing, Edwards will have to drop out of the race fairly quickly (because of money), and the majority of his support will go to Obama. Iowa gives Obama, who already has a large base of support (and lots of money), momentum and excitement, and takes it away from Hillary. Also, Obama got the "change" vote--and will continue to get it. Not only that, but Obama has an attractive personality and low negatives--the opposite of Hillary. Oh, and his victory speech was awesome--and Hillary's concession speech was not.

2. Huckabee's victory in Iowa does not guarantee him the Republican nomination, but the victory puts him even with Romney, Guiliani, McCain, and maybe Thompson. Wins in South Carolina and Michigan could put him over the top. It was not only that Huck won, but it was the margin of victory, which exceeded expectations. Exceeding expectations is everything in politics and both Huckabee and Obama did it. In addition, Huckabee's victory speech, seen by many people across the nation was believable, exciting, and real (it appeared to be done without teleprompters). It showed the nation the excitement within the Huckabee campaign, and that is contagious.

3. The Democratic nomination will be settled before the Republican nomination. The Democratic nomination is essentially a two way race between Hillary and Obama, and the sooner Edwards drops out the sooner Obama will have it locked up. The Republican nomination is a four, or perhaps five-way race, and will go on until Super Tuesday.

4. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, he wins the general election. Obama has a Kennedyesque air to him: he's young, articulate, and sophisticated. Oh, and America is ready for a Black president.

5. The Thompson campaign is alive as long as there is no clear Republican leader. Which could be a while.

6. The high turnout in Iowa will continue in other states. It is a function of the fact that the nominations are really up for grabs.

7. Ron Paul won't win any primaries, but he'll surprise people, possibly in New Hampshire, and help keep the nomination open longer.

Huckabee quotes GKC in winning GOP race in Iowa

I lean toward Fred Thompson in the race of the Republican nomination, but you gotta like a guy who quotes G. K. Chesterton, which Huckabee did in his victory speech: "The true soldier," Huckabee quoted G. K. C. as saying, "fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

More on my Evil plan to disrupt the nation's science curriculum

Evil Bender, who made numerous claims as to what I believed, despite not actually knowing what I believed, admitted (sort of) that his prediction of what I would say about whether ID was science was not quite accurate. For that I congratulated him.

But, having been disabused of the notion that I think that ID is definitely science, he has now uncovered another of my (imaginary) evil plans to push ID in science classrooms:
If he doesn’t know whether ID is science, then why is Cothran so concerned about whether scientists attack it as non-science? If he’s not sure himself, why wouldn’t he defer to the experts, or at least admit he doesn’t have anything substantial to add? Because this is all part of his elaborate dodge, an attempt to get ID into science classrooms without having to actually respond to demands that he explain why ID should be taught as science. You see, he wants to “teach the controversy”...
at which point he repeats my statement that I support neither a ban on teaching about ID in classrooms nor a mandate to teach it.

Now I find it rather strange that he would ask why I don't "defer to the experts". Actually, on the issue of what should be taught in science classrooms, I think that's exactly what I did. The experts on teaching science in classrooms are people who teach science in classrooms, and I deferred to them, saying I think they should make the determination.

So what's the problem? The problem is that I don't fit his stereotypes and it upsets him. If he got out more, he would probably find that a lot of people who disagree with him don't fit his stereotypes.

And since when am I "so concerned about whether scientists attack it as non-science"? I really don't lose any sleep over it. I just happen to find the whole controversy interesting as a matter of cultural debate and expressed my opinion about it. It's my own private form of amusement--a form of amusement that is particularly amusing when the people who accuse me of being "so concerned" are themselves so concerned that they start inventing opinions for me. And the only reason I have posted as much about it as I have is that there appear to be so many other people interested in it, as evidenced by the number of comments I get on it when I make a comment about it.

In fact the people who seem to be "so concerned" about it are people like Evil Bender and some of the other posters on this blog, who blow a fuse every time I post my opinion. Not only that, there are even people, like Evil Bender, who blow a fuse about things they imagine I believe, but which I have never actually said and which, in fact, I do not actually believe. Another case in point:
I look forward to seeing Cothran publicly state, then, that it’s a good thing that the teachers in the Dover school district no longer have to let a disclaimer about ID be read in their classrooms, since the administration forced that on them against their will.
Is this another challenge? These are getting really easy. Okay, here goes: I think the Dover policy was a stupid idea. In fact, Discovery also took the position that mandating the teaching of ID was a bad idea. Now I'm sure Evil Bender will explain to us that Discovery's statement that ID should not be mandated is all part of an evil conspiracy to have it mandated. It makes sense, doesn't it, that people would publicly say that they are against the very thing they're really for? It's just a way of fooling the rest of us.

But what I think is an even poorer idea than the Dover policy is to use such a policy to justify a broad declaration that teaching ID is somehow illegal. The Dover ruling was the legal equivalent of using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. A stupid school board policy (of which there are many) are not half as harmful as stupid court decisions.

If good science is somehow furthered by court mandates and anathemas, I think I missed that in reading about the history of science. In fact, seems to me I've heard the exact opposite (from the same kind of people who have supported the Dover decision): that science progresses best in an environment of free inquiry.

Then there is the problem of outright denial:
First of all, no “Darwinists” have ever shut down an ID program. Baylor did demand that Dembski’s “lab”–which existed only in web-page form, and didn’t do any science–not be associated with the University, and I’m not thrilled with the way Baylor handled some aspects of that issue. But scientists are clamoring for ID to do real research, to publish real papers. Furthermore, if ID did any of that, if it demonstrated its scientific credibility, made testable, useful predictions, scientists would accept it. If ID could demonstrate its merit as science, scientists would happily see it included in classrooms.
Okay, so if Baylor didn't act to impede the process of allowing ID to prove itself in at least some respect, then what did it do? If I were a rabid opponent of ID, I would say, okay, go ahead with your program (at Baylor or anywhere else). Let's see what you can do. Instead, they pull shenanigans like that at Baylor which do nothing but cast a pall on ID opposition and call into question the motives of the people who disagree with it. Then there is the Sternburg episode, which ID opponents are still in denial about.

It's just rather strange when a group of people demands of another group of people that they prove themselves, but then turn around and deny them the opportunity when they attempt it.
If Cothran and his crew want ID taken seriously, they should stop attacking scientists who point out that ID isn’t science. Instead, they should encourage their own people to get out and do science.
Instead, Cothran is arguing that ID might be science and might not be, but it’s bad that “Darwinists” attack it for not being science because they can’t say that, except when one of them wants to teach ID, in which case that’s fine, even though ID hasn’t been demonstrated to be science.
So when Darwinists use bad logic, no one should point it out? So let's see if I've got all this straight: ID advocates should prove themselves, but should be denied the opportunity to do so, and ID opponents should be allowed to spike all the ID advocates attempts to do this and, just to make things even less fair, should be allowed to make logically flawed arguments without anyone challenging them?

Got it.