Archive for the 'education' Category

Banned Books Week 2013

Friday, September 20th, 2013

jbc’s recent posts about “Eleanor and Park” make this an opportune time to point out that next week is Banned Books Week 2013.

The website is a great resouce to learn about the attempts at censorship in schools and libraries across the country, and what you can do to help fight back.

I would also like to personally recommend that folks check out Americus — a really great, all-ages appropriate, graphic novel about fighting censorhip in a small town library against a Harry Potter-esque fantasy novel. It came out a few years ago, but uplifting stories about overcoming intollerance never really go out of style.

Appelbaum on T. Mills Kelly’s (and Students’) Failed Reddit Hoax

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

From Yoni Appelbaum writing in The Atlantic: How the Professor Who Fooled Wikipedia Got Caught by Reddit.

But it took just twenty-six minutes for a redditor to call foul, noting the Wikipedia entries’ recent vintage. Others were quick to pile on, deconstructing the entire tale. The faded newspaper pages looked artificially aged. The Wikipedia articles had been posted and edited by a small group of new users. Finding documents in an old steamer trunk sounded too convenient. And why had Lisa been savvy enough to ask Reddit, but not enough to Google the names and find the Wikipedia entries on her own? The hoax took months to plan but just minutes to fail.

UC Davis Campus Police, Pepper Spray, Etc.

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Doubtless you’ve already been pointed to the video of the UC Davis campus police pepper-spraying the student protesters who were sitting on the ground, arms linked, in an effort to prevent the police from forcibly evicting some other students camping on the quad. In case you missed it, though, here’s the video:

I’m reminded of the incident from a few years ago, in which a UCLA student who refused to show his ID and then refused to leave the campus library was repeatedly zapped with a Taser by campus police (see 36 Views of Mostafa Tabatabainejad Being Tasered).

As in that incident, I can see things from both sides. As a former coworker of the UC campus police, I think I have a pretty clear idea of the mindset that led to this pepper spraying, and I have a certain amount of sympathy for the cops in question. With that said, I also feel a certain sympathy for the views expressed by UC Davis Prof. Nathan Brown, in his Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi:

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.

Just as a strategic matter, I think it’s pretty clear that the student protesters “won” this exchange. By sitting down, linking arms, and refusing to relinquish their places, they placed themselves in the path of the authorities who would control their behavior. Those authorities, by resorting to force, and doing so in full view of lots of cameras, committed the same strategic error that was memorably depicted in the movie Gandhi, in the scene where non-violent protestors march on the salt works, knowing they will be clubbed, but marching anyway.

The next step for the UC Davis protestors is clear, and it’s the same next step I wrote about in connection with the Tabatabainejad tasering at UCLA: Go back to the same place with lots of buddies, sit down and link arms, and dare the authorities to spray pepper spray in your eyes again.

If enough of you are willing to do that, you win. If you really believe in your cause, believe in it strongly enough to stand up non-violently to those who would inflict brutal pain and, potentially, permanent injury or death, without being deterred (and, crucially, if there are cameras present, and if your actions are presented with sufficiently compelling production values to inspire others to follow your example), then you win.

Unfortunately, you also run a fair risk of being tasered, pepper-sprayed, bludgeoned, or killed.

If you watch the UC Davis video to the end, there’s a pretty compelling part where the cops are basically looking around at this angry crowd surrounding them, and you can see the thought going through their heads: This could really get out of hand.

You can see them get scared.

I’m not saying they were scared for their personal safety (though it would be silly to think that as human beings, they didn’t experience such fears). But I think they were certainly scared of being put into a situation that compelled them to escalate their use of force.

It’s at that point that the guy does his “Mic check!”, and the crowd, collectively, tells the cops: Hey, cops. You can leave. Why don’t you?

And the cops do.

Again, I’m not sure I’m totally on either side here. But it’s a compelling piece of video.

Update: Some good followup items:

Galef on the Smartass Curve

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Julia Galef, writing at the Measure of Doubt blog, in Math education: you’re doing it wrong, tells a story about her friend J:

On the entrance exam for his honors math class, several of the problems asked you to fill in the next number in the sequence, such as: 2, 4, 8, 16, _?_. Obviously, whoever wrote the exam wanted you to complete that sequence with “32,” because the pattern they’re thinking of is powers of 2. For n = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, the formula 2n = 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. But J didn’t write “32.” He wrote “π.”

Hilarity ensues. As a former smartass math geek, I enjoyed the story.

Dealing with a Creationist Science Teacher

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

If you’re the kind of high school science teacher who thinks Biblical versions of our origins are appropriate for inclusion in the curriculum, Dale McGowan probably is not the parent whose kid you want in your class: Science, interrupted.

Connor (15) came home on the second day of school and collapsed on the sofa with a defeated look I’ve come to recognize.

“Uh…good day?”

“No.” He looked up at me. “Science.”

There’s a whole series of posts, which I’m actually finding really interesting. I’m looking forward to hearing how it ends.

Connecticut Principal: Gifted 10-year-olds Can’t Handle the Truth about Darwin

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Public school students should be taught science in their science classes. I think that’s particularly true in the case of gifted children, from whose ranks we can expect the next generation of scientists to emerge. So it’s troubling when a principal more attuned to avoiding confrontations with Christian fundamentalist parents than with serving the educational needs of his students tells a teacher he can’t teach Darwin, for fear it might offend.

Still, I realize that that sort of thing happens. It happens in places like Texas and Arkansas. But thanks to Steven Novella writing at Neurologica, I’ve learned that it also happens in places like Connecticut: Mark Tangarone: Weston TAG teacher leaves over evolution flap.

The whole story is pretty interesting. But the crucial piece of evidence for cutting through the he-said/he-said of the Weston schools superintendent (who says this is a “personnel matter” involving a “disgruntled employee” and has nothing to do with the teaching of evolution) and the teacher who is now resigning (who says he’s leaving because he was ordered to eliminate the teaching of Darwin’s work from his gifted students’ science curriculum), is an email that the teacher received in late 2008 from his then-principal, which reads as follows:

While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life. I could anticipate that a number of our parents might object to this topic as part of a TAG project, and further, parents who would object if evolution was part of a presentation by a student to students who do not participate in the TAG program.

Evolution touches on a core belief — Do we share common ancestry with other living organisms? What does it mean to be a human being? I don’t believe that this core belief is one in which you want to debate with children or their parents, and I know personally that I would be challenged in leading a 10-year-old through this sort of discussion while maintaining the appropriate sensitivity to a family’s religious beliefs or traditions.

In short, evolution is a topic that is not age appropriate, is not part of our existing curriculum, is not part of the state frameworks at this point in a student’s education, nor a topic in which you have particular expertise. For all of these reasons, the TAG topics need to be altered this year to eliminate the teaching of Darwin’s work and the theory of evolution.

Oy. The principal who sent that email, Mark Ribbens, apparently has a PhD, since he’s referred to as “Dr.” Ribbens in the news article. I wonder what his doctorate was in.

Update: I was wrong; on further investigation he turns out to have an Ed.D. Not that I’m saying there’s something wrong with that. But I should have realized.

He’s still a principal, but now he’s principal for a part-time performing arts magnet school. I’m thinking that might be a better pedagogical niche for him than supervising the science education of gifted middle schoolers. Anyway, if you’d like to share your philosophical dissatisfaction with Dr. Ribbens’ views on the teaching of evolution, you can reach him at, or call him at (203) 365-8851.

I just emailed him as follows (with a CC: to the head of his current school’s parents association, on the theory that Ribbens might be more sensitive to her views than to mine):

Dr. Ribbens,

I was disturbed to read the article in the Weston Forum quoting your email to Mark Tangarone from a few years ago, in which you forbade him to teach evolution to students in the TAG program at Weston Intermediate. See:

I realize that there probably are (at least) two sides to this matter, and that your email may have been misquoted or taken out of context. But if the quoted statements are accurate, then I encourage you to be more careful in the future when deciding that the religious sensitivities of a subset of parents are sufficient reason to prevent your students from receiving age-appropriate science instruction.

Particularly troubling to me was the following line from your email: “While evolution is a robust scientific theory, it is a philosophically unsatisfactory explanation for the diversity of life.” I’m curious what you mean by that. In what sense do you believe the theory of evolution to be philosophically unsatisfying?

The question of whether or not we share common ancestry with other living organisms is not just “a core belief,” as you describe it in your email. It is a fact, one that has been established as thoroughly as it is possible for scientific investigation to establish such things. It forms the conceptual basis of the bulk of modern medical and biological science. To intervene with a science teacher to prevent middle school students from learning that fact strikes me as profoundly misguided.

I realize that your current position as principal of a part-time performing arts magnet school limits your influence on curriculum decisions regarding science, and speaking frankly as the parent of a school-aged child, I think that’s probably for the best. But I hope you will think about this issue more carefully should you find yourself in a position to make similar decisions in the future.


John Callender

So there it is: My “someone is wrong on the Internet!” moment for the day.

Audiovisual Commentary on Education in the US

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Holy smokes; 230 comments? You guys are out of control.

I’ve been busy (he whined… again…), but the least I can do is give you a new wall to tag. Here’s a good one: the video from the Sigur Rós song Glósóli. It was directed by Arni & Kinski, the same pair of directors who did the Hoppípolla video I posted previously.

To me, the video symbolizes some of my worries about the world we’re handing to the next generation. My son attends an amazing school, where they do a great job of preparing children for the future. But are we doing enough? Could we ever possibly do enough?

I don’t know the answer.

Posted Without Comment

Saturday, December 13th, 2008

Primary school teacher who told children: ‘Santa does not exist’ is fired

fREADom of Information

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

With the economy in shambles and the election as depressing as usual, I thought I’d try to lighten the mood a bit by reminding people about Literary Censorship, and the attempts of narrow minded people to suppress materials from public libraries.

Yes that’s right, it’s time for Banned Books Week, September 27 to October 4, 2008. The American Library Association has a lot of great background material on Banned Books Week, as well their annual list of most frequently challenged books from last year. (A challenge is when someone formally requests that a book be banned/removed from a library)

So do yourself, your community, and the world a favor this week: read a banned (or challenged) book; buy your children a banned book and talk to them about the issues of censorship and why that particular book scares people; visit your local library and make a donation, ask the librarians how they deal with attempts to ban books and if there is anything you can do to help preserve intellectual freedom.

The Portland Prom Prank

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Apologies, I have been neglectful lately. To tide things over until I can obsess properly, I bring you: Portland Prom Prank Probed.

As the parent of an almost-17-year-old, I can’t condone the sentiment. But as a former wiseass, I appreciate the concept and execution.

Kai Chang’s Favorite Liar

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

We have Onan to thank for bringing my attention to this one: My Favorite Liar.

As the quarter progressed, the Lie of the Day became more subtle, and many ended up slipping past a majority of the students unnoticed until a particularly alert person stopped the lecture to flag the disinformation. Every once in a while, a lecture would end with nobody catching the lie – which created its own unique classroom experience…

N.J. Teacher Busted for Teaching Creationism

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

File this one with Monica’s blue dress, Ted Haggard’s recorded phone messages, the cameraphone video of Mostafa Tabatabainejad being tasered at UCLA, and Michael Richards trying (and failing) to be funny while dropping the N-bomb on hecklers. It’s all well and good to be present when something shockingly noteworthy is happening, but having documented evidence of the shockingly noteworthy something is way better.

In this case, a high school student in New Jersey went to his principal and said his history teacher was teaching creationism in class. After a month of complaining, the kid finally got a meeting with the teacher and the principal. And the kid was apparently getting nowhere with his charges — until he produced audio recordings: Student tapes teacher proselytizing in class.


Paszkiewicz shot down the theories of evolution and the “Big Bang” in favor of creationism. He also told his class that dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark, LaClair said.

On Oct. 10 — a month after he first requested a meeting with the principal — LaClair met with Paszkiewicz, Somma and the head of the social studies department.

At first, Paszkiewicz denied he mixed in religion with his history lesson, and the adults in the room appeared to be buying it, LaClair said. But then he reached into his backpack and produced the CDs.

The John Jones ‘Intelligent Design’ Ruling

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

I meant to link to this last Tuesday, when it was actually news, but failed to do so, dammit. Anyway, I’m linking to it now. From the WaPo: Judge rules against ‘intelligent design’.

You can also get the full text of Judge John Jones’ ruling in the Dover (Pa.) school district case: TAMMY KITZMILLER, et al., v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants. MEMORANDUM OPINION (312 KB PDF file).

My favorite part:

The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.


Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board’s decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

One of my main motivations in originally setting up this web site was to have a place not only for highlighting glaring falsehoods, but also for recognizing the brave and forthright expression of truth. Judge Jones (a lifelong Republican appointed to the bench by George W. Bush, heh), by ruling as he did, definitely qualifies for recognition.


Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Just engaging in a little wishful thinking. The big game just started, with the noble Bruins 21-point underdogs to those loathesome Trojans. They’ll probably go down in flames, just like Luke will be destroyed rather than taking out the death star, Frodo will succumb rather than tossing the Ring into the Crack of Doom, and so on.

Kevin Drum, alumnus of the much-hated University of Spoiled Children, can crow all he wants in a couple of hours. But for me, for now, it’s Go Team!


John Callender
UCLA Class of ’85

High School Football Coach Caught Cheating

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Good thing we have high school athletic programs to teach our kids important lessons about the benefits of sacrifice and teamwork and hard work. Oh, yes; and cheating. As reported in the LA Times: San Pedro coach caught cheating.

Paul Bryan, a volunteer assistant football coach at San Pedro, has been suspended from coaching next season after he was caught cheating on videotape filmed by another school.

During a game against Gardena on Oct. 28, on a fourth-and-inches situation with 7 minutes 19 seconds left to play, Bryan is seen near midfield moving a yard marker in a direction that benefited San Pedro. The Pirates, holding a 7-6 lead at the time, were awarded the first down without a measurement. They went on to score and win the game, 14-13.

Kyle Zirpolo Comes Clean on His McMartin Testimony

Monday, November 14th, 2005

I meant to link to his a while back when it appeared in the LA Times, then got caught up in Fitzmas obsessions and whatnot, and neglected to. So I’m doing it now.

From Kyle Zirpolo, one of the child accusers in the McMartin preschool-molestation trial: I lied.

I’m not saying nothing happened to anyone else at the McMartin Pre-School. I can’t say that — I can only speak for myself. Maybe some things did happen. Maybe some kids made up stories about things that didn’t really happen, and eventually started believing they were telling the truth. Maybe some got scared that the teachers would get their families because they were lying. But I never forgot I was lying.

My stepdad was a police officer who had guns in the house. I remember when all of this was coming down, he was put on a leave of absence from work because he was being investigated for supposedly threatening the McMartin family. He was cleared of that accusation — apparently it wasn’t true. But being only 9 years old at the time, I thought my dad was saying he would kill the McMartins. So in my mind, I figured no one from the school was going to dare mess with him because he would have hurt them first. That made me feel secure. It could be a reason I never mixed up reality and fantasy and always knew I was lying.

But the lying really bothered me. One particular night stands out in my mind. I was maybe 10 years old and I tried to tell my mom that nothing had happened. I lay on the bed crying hysterically — I wanted to get it off my chest, to tell her the truth. My mother kept asking me to please tell her what was the matter. I said she would never believe me. She persisted: “I promise I’ll believe you! I love you so much! Tell me what’s bothering you!” This went on for a long time: I told her she wouldn’t believe me, and she kept assuring me she would. I remember finally telling her, “Nothing happened! Nothing ever happened to me at that school.”

She didn’t believe me.

I moved to Manhattan Beach after preschool age, but a lot of my friends in junior high and high school were former McMartin students. My girlfriend and her brother both went there; both were interviewed as part of the investigation, and both said they’d never seen or experienced anything unusual or questionable.

I give Zirpolo a lot of credit for being willing to come forward now. But I can also understand the surviving defendants refusing to meet with him to hear his apology.

Children lie. Hell, grownups lie, all the time. But for children, there’s something innocent about it, an element of the fantastical, magical thinking that makes anything potential as “true” as any other thing. Words like “fantastical” and “magical” have something of a positive connotation, and I’m not trying to say there’s anything good about little kids lying, especially when the lies ruin the lives of innocent third parties.

But the children who testified in the McMartin trial to abuses that didn’t actually take place weren’t really responsible for their actions. They were little kids. They were victims of the process, too. But the grownups who elicited those accusations from them, and the police and district attorneys and parents who took the ball and ran with it, and the media that sold lots and lots of advertising while demonizing Ray and his mother and the rest of the accused, have more to answer for.

Controversial Books: They Aren’t Just For Burning

Sunday, September 25th, 2005

It’s that time of year again. September 24th to October 1st is Banned Book Week, sponsored by the American Library Association. This is a great week to go to your neighborhood independent book store and pick up a banned book.

My personal favorite has to be Captain Underpants for “offensive language and modeling bad behavior”. Have a sense of humor folks, seriously.

Darwin Has A Posse

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

If you’ve been living under a rock the last few weeks (or the Astrodome perhaps), you may not have heard that the issue of “Intelligent design” is going to court next week. Today I saw one of the most interesting and rational commentaries on the subject to date, from a Presbyterian Pastor whose encouraging his parish to attend a class titled: “Evolution for Christians“.

I agree that science and religion answer very different kinds of questions, so I worry about the doors of science classrooms being opened to intelligent design … I would be very upset if the biology teachers at Robinson Secondary School, where my children are students, departed from the mechanics of mitosis and began to bring their Mormon or Methodist or Muslim beliefs into discussions of why God chose to create cells.

I also really like the comments from a psychology professor in his parish…

“intelligent design theorists don’t scientifically establish divine creation at all — they merely try to represent scientific problems as evidence of scientific inadequacy.” They assume, for instance, that since the human eye is marvelously complex, and since scientists cannot map a complete evolutionary path for it, then it must be a product of an intelligent designer. But the eye actually shows many signs of having evolved, including a number of defects that no intelligent designer would ever include — light receptors in the back of the eye, for example, behind blood vessels that obstruct the view. “Accusing a God of [designing] such a thing seems rather insulting, actually,”

Darwin Has a Posse Sticker

And while we’re on the subject of Evolution, those who are interested should acquire some Charles Darwin Has A Posse stickers and plaster them all over God’s big blue bowling ball. There’s no better time then now.

Troy and Josh’s Excellent Adventure

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

I boggled the other day when I read in the LA Times about 15-year-old Troy Driscoll and 17-year-old Josh Long’s six days adrift in a 15-foot sailboat off the coast of South Carolina. At first I thought these two kids were just incredibly stupid (though also incredibly lucky). After reading more about their story, though, I’ve begun to suspect that they’ve just been really horribly educated at the private Christian school they attend. I confess I’ve let my snooty blue-state side run away with me, imagining the Medievel educational system that prepared them for their ordeal by giving them a thorough grounding in hymns, prayer, creationism, and doing what you’re told, but overlooked teaching them anything about biology or geography, and failed to foster the slightest degree of common sense, critical judgement, or initiative.

Of course I don’t really know Troy and Josh, don’t know the forces that have shaped their lives. And at least in the Darwinian sense, their abundant good luck appears to have entirely made up for their educational shortcomings. Their DNA is still very much in contention for being passed on to future generations, as frightening as that is. But in the same way that right-wing webloggers feel free to construct grand morality plays about news items that illustrate, to their minds, the failures of secularism and tolerance, I see this as a frightening parable about the dangers of religious conservatives’ attempts to overhaul the education system.

Here are a bevy of links, in hopes one or more of them will continue to work as the news sites rotate their content into the great bit bucket:

Some favorite snippets:

LA Times:

Troy couldn’t stop asking questions. Dude, he asked Josh, what will you do with me if I die? If I die, will you eat me? Do you think that’s Africa in the distance? If we land in Africa, should we become missionaries?

Note that when the boys were picked up, they were drifting about seven miles off Cape Fear. They had covered about 100 miles during the six and a half days they drifted, trending mostly north by northeast, parallelling the coast. Which they never bothered trying to reach, apparently, being content merely to drift, sing hymns, and pray for divine intervention.

Supposedly they started out with a single paddle. Assuming they didn’t throw it overboard as “useless” (which they did with their fishing gear on day two, at least according to one account, though most of the articles generously refer to the fishing gear only as having been “lost”), they should have been able to make a knot or two of headway, taking turns paddling. Assuming they were bright enough to figure out the general direction of land (doubtful, I realize, given their apparent degree of navigational clue), they would have been able to reach shore on day one, or day two at the latest.

Of course, then there’d have been no “miracle.”

ABC News 4 Charleston:

Troy Driscol was the last to leave the hospital. He was picked up Tuesday afternoon in a limo and then stopped at Cathedral of Praise Private School. Troy saw his classmates for the first time in almost two weeks. Later, his fellow castaway Josh Long joined him at his mother’s home. The two told their story again to friends and family crammed inside.

“I’ve had boating classes, I’ve been around it my whole life. It was just an accident. It happened. It wasn’t like we were trying to go out in the ocean. We were just trying to get in between the sandbar and beach”, says Josh Long.

Um, no. I’ve had boating classes, Josh. I’ve been around the ocean my whole life. You, on the other hand, are a poster child for nautical ignorance.

ABC News 4 Charleston (continued):

As a joke, a friend gave the two the book “Sailing for Dummies”.

Photographers from the Post and Courier took the families’ picture for People Magazine. The boys have been contacted by the Oprah Winfrey Show, Montell Williams, Time Magazine, and many others. The boys say they’re interested in writing a book.

Oh, no doubt. I’m sure congregations from one end of Red America to the other will snap that book up, eager to learn how faith can bring about miracles in these doubting times.


Washington Post:

“What they did was incredibly stupid,” said L.J. Wallace, who hosts a radio marine show in Charleston, S.C.

Amen to that.

The Rooter Paper

Monday, April 18th, 2005

Some enterprising students at MIT submitted an academic paper to the upcoming World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics (WMSCI), and the paper was accepted for presentation at the conference. There’s only one problem: The paper itself was a computer-generated stream of gibberish and random buzzphrases, with no actual meaningful content. From CNN: MIT students pull prank on conference.