Monday, May 16, 2011

Arne's abominable approach to science

Students sing, clap, and dance about solids, liquids and gases. They learned the solar system through song. It's just one example of how having clear standards for students drives innovation in a school. 

Arne really doesn't get science, but he's got a pocketful of money, so his words carry some weight. I wiled away a perfectly good morning reviewing science terms for our state's test, time better spent doing science.

I've got no beef with children singing or clapping or dancing. I'd like to encourage more of this, pursuit of happiness and all that. (Jefferson was no dope.) But it's not science.

How clear standards drives this kind of nonsense escapes me--I'm still naive enough to expect a modicum of cogency from our national  leaders.

Memorizing the planets is not science. Knowing that the planets are lit by the sun is not science. Spouting off that the sun converts hydrogen to helium is not science.
Instead of memorizing planets, follow one for a few weeks, or even a few months--watch how it wanders around against the background of stars. If you "know" that planets revolve around the sun just because someone told you that, you're not fit to be a citizen in this great experiment called America..

Instead of knowing that planets are lit by the sun, take a peek at Venus. Watch its phases for a year or two. Galileo did this over 400 years ago using a crappy telescope. Or look at a ring's shadow cast on Saturn.If you don't have that kind of patience, you're not fit to be a citizen in this great experiment called America.

Instead of claiming you know anything about the composition of the sun, learn about spectroscopy. Helium was discovered on the sun decades before it was found on Earth. I can say this in class, and kids will write it down, and no one challenges me. If you don't have that kind of skepticism, you're not fit to be a citizen in this great experiment called America.
Arne doesn't care if you're a fit citizen. He wants you to better the economy, to go work for one of the many transnational corporations that would cringe at our Constitution if we dared make it matter again.

If all of us who teach remembered why we teach, for whom we work, and why we're "public," Arne would be as potent  as Bumble the Abominable Snowman after Hermey's dental work.

If a child needs a song and dance routine to learn science, it's probably not.

You can listen to a few songs for free if you click on the album cover.
Arne managed to cheapen both science and art in one speech.


Summers School said...

AMEN! Science should be about discovery.... not rote memorization.

Jenny said...

Arne's pretty darn good at cheapening just about anything. I find myself cringing anytime his name comes up due to the fear of what is being said now.

I love singing with the kids. We even sing about things in science and history and math. But that's now how we learn about those things.

David said...

I sure agree with you Michael. Arne Duncan should not be in charge of anything, let alone education. I weep for US education; it isn't going to get better anytime any soon unfortunately. We Canadians are sure glad we have less powerful administrators of education here, and ones with more sense.

doyle said...

Dear Summers,

Indeed. I've no problem using songs as mnemonic devices, but the real point of music is pathos. Pathos is hard to quantify. But then, so is love.

Thanks for dropping by.

Dear Jenny,

"Cheapening just about anything" is what's killing education. I love singing, I love science, and while sometimes they intersect, they mostly don't. And that's fine for us who choose to remain human,

Good Lord, Arne frightens me.

Dear David,

We lost our minds here about 20 years ago. Still, I love the land beneath my feet and the people in my community. We'll get this back on track someday.

I hope.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

I thought the quote was a joke or a criticism when I read it. Yikes. It explains so much about what our USDOE values given its leader. As an artist, it always makes me a bit weepy when I see "art-infused" (cause you know art on its own isn't valued anymore)tacked on to a legit subject like math or science. The "task" often devalues the art and what it is being made to do (such as sing about planets).

How is it possible that the intellectual leader of learning in our country is so foolish?

doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

Sad, no?

What's even sadder is that ultimately art in public school matters more than science.

Neither works without long periods of deep observation. Arne does not look like he's spent a whole lot of time observing much of anything.