Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A reply to Anonymous

My "NGSS: Meet the  new boss" post got some responses by several cogent anonymous sources. 
Here's a response to one of them


Dear Anonymous,

The "author" has a name (/me waves to Anonymous), Doyle. While a few of your thrusts do indeed carry some truth, I am touched by the care you put into your thoughtful reply, and will take each point in turn.

It seems to me that the main problem is with this author's ignorance, poor reading comprehension, and hubris, not the standards.
I am plenty guilty of ignorance--I think any time spent with any of my hundreds of posts will show I gleefully share how little I know. My reading skills are reasonably OK for a public school teacher, but I do concede I have trouble parsing obtuse committee-speak. I draw the line at "hubris"--perhaps you meant raging egomaniac (for which I plead nolo contendre). Hubris requires more confidence than I can muster.

I don't think the author's evidently short attention span should dictate the level of complexity of the standards for K-12 science education. Did he think it would fit on a postcard?

Not sure what the point is here, but I will say this--give me a small enough font and a fine enough printer, I can fit the NGSS on the back of a postcard. I like postcards. Send me one!

Moreover, several of his comments suggest ignorance or illogical reasoning on his part, not that of the standards.

For example, the author wrote that sponges cannot move. This is incorrect. Sponges have two phases in their life cycles, one stationary and one mobile. Moreover, even stationary adults control their own structural movement.
All true, but I must confess that my point was not well-stated. To be more blunt, the definition of animal does not require the organism to move. A venus fly trap and a moss sperm both move, and neither is an animal.

Even that's not really the point--the point is that elementary school teachers will be using the standards, and as written, the standards will reinforce current biases.

The author also circled a statement about how most animals and plants use aerobic metabolism. He then complained that anaeorbic
[sic] metabolism is also possible, which in no way refutes or suggests the insufficiency of the circled standard. He also complains that the standard does not discuss the production of water, but the author again seems not to have read. The standard refers to carbon-based units of energy, such that aerobic metabolism would result in CO2, but not necessarily H2O. For the latter, the input energy source would need to be a hydrocarbon. Read.
Again, I must confess to sloppiness of writing, if not to thought--the standard, as written, may reinforce prior misconceptions. I think the rest of my comment, the part explaining why tying these processes to tangible matter such as water in order to make it more real for a child, was the main point. (I live with a real writer, and she points out that it's my responsibility, not the reader's, to make the point clear, so I will work on that, dear Reader.)
Moving down the list, instincts do not require conscious thought. The author's use of a non-cognitive reflex to suggest that "non-cognitive" = "reflex" is suggestive of the author's poor reasoning skills. Then again, perhaps the author is cognitively burdened when appreciating aesthetics.
Again, the thrust of my words is about language, not science--the NGSS folks say "Some responses to information are instinctive--that is, animals' brains are organized so that they do not have to think about how to respond to certain stimuli."
The "that is" refers specifically to the preceding clause, implying that "instinctive" means "not having to think," which is, alas, too broad, and feeds the common misconception that animal responses are mechanistic.
My wife would agree that I am "cognitively burdened when appreciating aesthetics." She's more succinct. She thinks I'm a lout.

And I am. A loud, proud lout at that. But she's been working on it--I even know who Shakespeare is now.

I'm the lout on the right.

This nonsense continues throughout the author's whole review.

He seems not even to understand subject-verb agreement. For example, he cited a standard that reads, "Each distinct gene chiefly controls the production of specific proteins..." and then suggests that means "one gene, one protein." How is it that he doesn't comprehend "each gene" (singular) paired with "proteins" (plural)? The standard CLEARLY does not suggest "one gene, one protein." READ!

Yep, I've already had a trained geneticist from Columbia nail me on that one--I left it up to tame my raging egomania. It's good for the soul to be dead wrong on science now and again. Still, the standard implies that we know what "gene" means now--and that gets murkier as we learn more. Enlighten me.
 Your point on grammar, though, needs a little refinement--I think you meant that I have issues with subject-object agreement. Email privately if you'd like a lesson.

The author might have valid feedback to offer on the draft--which is presumably the point of submitting the drafted standards for public comments--but he fails to demonstrate any such feedback in this article. In fact, I wonder if his reading comprehension is impeded with some pre-existing bias against the standards.
"The author" attempted to give feedback via the NGSS website, and found the process a bit onerous, onerous enough to fire up the ol' amygdala. I don't have a "pre-existing" bias--I have an existing, well-earned bias against Achieve, which managed to waste thousands of hours of student lives with an open-ended exam here in Jersey that was so bad it was never officially scored.
I enjoy the exchange, and look forward to more.


Michael "The Author" Doyle

The first illustration is by Banksy, I think, and I believe CC, but will delete if otherwise....


Anonymous said...

You clearly care deeply about science education, so I hope you stay constructively involved in this process. I recognize from your other posts that you dislike most standards, but I wonder what you would suggest as the alternative.

Elsewhere, you've suggested perhaps self-directed learning. Is there evidence that works better? What criteria of effectiveness should we use? If the content of coursework is entirely at teachers' discretion, how can we ensure any sort of continuity or reduce redundancy as the kids progress through the grades? How can we determine any sort of efficacy of different methods? How can we assure consistent educational quality? How can we assess teachers', schools', and districts' performance?

You seem to feel that standardization is antithetical to engagement and that assessments deflower the students, but I'm not sure that undirected wonderment is a better solution in practice. Are you at least encouraged by the fact that the NGSS seem to focus more on hands-on investigations?

Anonymous said...

An earlier attempt to post this comment seems to have failed, perhaps due to the length of the comment. I'll re-post it in two parts, with apologies if it double-posts.

(Post 1 of 2)

As some others have mentioned, the passages you circled in your original post appear to be from the NRC framework, not the standards. Is that correct?

Also, in this post, you seem to confuse the notions of necessary and sufficient conditions by suggesting that "some non-animals move" refutes "animals move." That is, the statement "Some Ps are Ms," does not refute "All As are Ms." (The use of the word "around" in the circled text seems to denote more than merely structural mobility, though the writers ended the sentence with a preposition. Tsk.)

You also seem to have overlooked the qualifier "certain" in referring to the stimuli that do not require cognition for a response. (I.e., the text you cited explicitly avoids stating that all animal responses are instinctual. It states merely that some stimuli result in instinctual responses.) This confusion of the concepts of "some" and "all" or of "all" and "only" seems intermittently recurrent in your comments.

Maybe I'm nit-picking or missing the forest for the trees, whichever metaphor. I mention these things, because it seems to me that you attribute the confusion to poor writing, but--to my eyes--the writing seems sufficient.

However, it might be worth noting again that your criticisms all seem directed at the NRC framework, not the standards, unless I've misread. It wouldn't be the first time.


Anonymous said...

(Post 2 of 2)

You've also suggested that the standards (which I think are different from the text you've cited) are directed at teachers. I was under the impression that the standards would primarily guide development of curricula. In any case, as I understand it, the writing groups are substantially composed of science teachers, so the writers and the audience are likely somewhat similar. If the standards are unclear, I'm sure the NGSS folks would welcome your constructive comments.

And no, I don't work for the NSTA, AAAS, Achieve, any of the states or writing groups, etc. I no longer even work in education. I just happen to think science education should be our top priority in terms of strategic, long-term policies. So, I'm more interested in participating in this process in order to improve the outcomes than I am in bashing and dismissing the standards (or framework).

Personally, I appreciate that the process is as transparent as it is and that I, as an otherwise uninvolved citizen, can review the standards and provide comments. I have not personally seen anything to suggest that any of the involved parties are operating in anything other than good faith (politicians not withstanding, of course).

Undoubtedly, the outcome will be less than perfect from the perspective of any given person. However, I think this effort is too important to allow perfection to impede progress, or to dismiss flippantly. In writing the feedback I provided (pretty easily, I thought) via the NGSS website, I started with the assumption that the writers spent more time thinking about these issues than I have, and that they are neither idiots nor conspirators.

This Brazen Teacher said...

One of my favorite quotes by Andy Warhol:

"Don't pay any attention to what they write about you, just measure it in inches"


doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

I'm a fool for discussing anything with "Anonymous," but I've played the fool all my life, why stop now? I would ask, though, that you stop with the straw man routine. I do not "dislike most standards." If anything, it's the lack of standards in decency and integrity that fuel my blog.

Still, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, and take your letters in turn. (I'm not even sure which "Anonymous" I'm dealing with moment to moment. I shall call you "Thing One." If there are more than one, I will assign sequential monickers.

Let's start!

doyle said...

Dear Brazen,

Before I tangle with Thing 1, I want to thank you for the words. I just walked in a few moments ago from the outdoors, surrounded by stars and slugs, wrapped by the May night air that seduces with its ungodly, unearthly seductive aroma.

I'm pretty sure we've lost the battle, at least for now, but like the rare Luna moth that discovers another in a world draped in asphalt, there's hope in knowing others are still flitting about the urban landscape remembering what lies beneath the asphalt.

The moon flowers go in the ground tomorrow because, well, just because....

Keep writing, keep teaching, and keep reminding the children what matters. Your words make a world of difference.

doyle said...

Dear Thing 1, Part 1:

1) I do not dislike standards per se, therefore cannot adequately answer what I "would suggest as the alternative," at least not more than what I've been doing the last three years on here.

2) I'm not a huge fan of "self-directed learning" if you mean the kind that suggests a child needs to re-discover Newton's Laws of Motion on her own. I will argue, though, that all learning is ultimately self-directed. I may devote a post to the semantics of "self directed," I may not--but please clarify what you mean.

3) If teachers are professionals, we can be trusted to teach. If we're not professionals, we are, at a minimum, agents of our local government. I know a thing or two about horseshoe crabs, but nothing about agave. I can teach the idea/art/process of science using local organisms and local knowledge.

National "standards" reduce the power and value of the local. Local matters--it's all any of us truly have.

4) "Deflower the students"? You're beyond damn creepy here, and clever enough to know that (heck, you even use "antithetical" correctly even if you stumble on "hubris.") Tell you what--you give me one example of me encouraging "undirected wonderment" as a pedagogical strategy, and I'll pretend you didn't say that.

I'm starting to suspect you're a flak. The use of such language is particularly galling given your anonymous handle.

Malcolm said...

maybe anonymous is someone who wrote the document...
if andy warhol was canadian that would be measured in centimetres...

mr anonymous has put a foul stench on your speaking simply about being clear and not screwing up the simplicity of simple science concepts


doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

>>As some others have mentioned, the passages you circled in your original post appear to be from the NRC framework, not the standards. Is that correct?<<

Don't be silly. The screen shots are from the "May 2012 Draft NGSS performance expectations grouped by topics."

Anonymous said...

(Post 1 of 2)

1) Perhaps I've misunderstood what I took to be your aversion to educational standards. Maybe your position is more nuanced; maybe your aversion is to particular types of standards or their methods of assessments. I didn't mean to misrepresent your opinion.

2) By "self-directed learning" I meant to refer to whatever you meant in the following statement from your "Hubris and Humility" post:

"If I ever managed to get a child to grasp the awe that surrounds us, though, I'd fully expect that child to just get up and walk out of class--she can learn a lot more staring at a patch of earth outside the building than pretending to know something about polymerases.

"So far, no one has done this. This surprises me."

Personally, I'm encouraged to see that the NGSS seems based on approaches that are driven by students' hypotheses and curiosity, and that support hands-on testing of those hypotheses.

3) It seems to me that the standards are written with local applicability in mind. There are myriad ways in which the concepts apply to different circumstances and regions.

Like you, I strongly believe that teachers should be treated as professionals. Many professions have professional standards, and surely you're aware that the state and local adoption of standards will not be a uniform practice.

Part of my concern is that kids in a science class might have had drastically different backgrounds from different teachers. Maybe half the students already learned topic A and the other half lack even the foundation to discuss it. Diversity is generally good, but not if it means creating unnecessary redundancy for some students and insufficient foundations for others. That is, some level of standardization will be necessary as long as you're part of a process that includes other teachers. I doubt we're in disagreement on this point.


Anonymous said...

(Post 2 of 2)

4) I used "deflowered" in reference to your allegorial usage of moonflowers in the contrasting juxtaposition of standardized testing and the purity of a naturalist's appreciation (see your "Cowardice" post).

My use of "hubris" was also accurate and purposeful. I used it partly because you used it in a prior post ("Hubris and Humility"), but also because of its literal and etymological accuracy. Your criticisms of the standards (or framework) seemed to me arrogant and dismissive in a way that evoked the Greek notion of hybris, a somewhat petulant attitude toward those whom you seem to believe are in an undeserved position of power. Likewise, "hubris" connotes an Aristotelian relation to hamartia (a tragic flaw in a noble pursuit), both of which I find appropriate to what I see as the subtext of your posts. I'm curious to know why you think my use was inappropriate.

For an example of what I took as your advocacy of "undirected wonderment," please see #2 (above)--a lone child staring at the ground (something I don't mean to disparage at all; it worked for Thoreau and Leopold).

What is it about disagreeing with your criticisms (or challenging the accuracy of their bases) that leads you to think I'm a "flak", whatever that is? Do I need to be a certain kind of person to disagree with you? Do you suspect a conspiracy? Do you honestly think that only "insiders" with ulterior motives would find anything positive in the NGSS? (In your eyes, what empirical evidence could refute that hypothesis?)

5) I wasn't being silly. The text you circled and cited in your original post is from the NRC Framework, not the standards. In fact, right above the text you circled (in every case), the document clearly reads, "The performance expectations above were developed using the following elements from the NRC document A Framework for K-12 Science Education:" Thus, you were circling text from the framework, not the standards. You will note that the quoted sentence also tells you where to locate the standards (immediately above the sentence).

I've not been part of this NGSS process. I just read.

It might be worth providing feedback to the NGSS people that you found the format confusing, but I'm not sure how much more clearly it could be written. Perhaps clearer headings would be useful. It is a large amount of information to present in one place.

doyle said...

Dear Thing 1,

Someone capable of words like hubris surely has the wherewithal to parse flak.

Again, the screenshots were lifted straight from the NGSS file I downloaded from the NGSS site.

I suspected, apparently wrongly, that you were flakking. It made more sense to me that someone was doing paid work spending that kind of time commenting on a low-traffic blog than someone drumming up questionable points with the energy you have spent doing so. To assume the latter would have been hubris on my part.

Perhaps you are a fellow member of the Musicians of Bremen?

Anonymous said...

Maybe I have an unhealthy tendency to fixate. :) I would not have engaged so much if I thought you weren't worth the effort or time. You write well and I respect your naturalistic perspective. I also have a deep respect for educators, particularly scientific educators. I admire your engagement in issues of educational policy and your obvious passion for the real value of knowledge, not just its value as a mechanism to earn money (for oneself or others).

Upon further reflection, I think my use of hubris was unfair and inappropriate in as much as it was a statement about you rather than about (my perceptions of) your actions in a particular circumstance. I apologize for that.

This point might be tangential to your primary concerns (e.g., about the elegance and purposes of the standards), but, as I understand the layout, the standards are shown in black and white at the top of a section and the related elements of the NRC framework are presented in the accompanying colored boxes. It seems to me that both are presented on the NGSS website so that readers can see how the standards reflect the framework. However, not everything on the NGSS website is a standard; much of it is the framework.

And yes, I'm clearly one of the Musicians of Bremen... most likely the ass. :)

I don't share all of your cynicism, but I enjoy reading your perspectives.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your kind words--we musicians need to stick together.

I need to go look at the standards again. I have not seen the B&W portion yet. I must be doing something wrong.

(While I am not a complete idiot, I will confess to a remarkable inability to navigate what others call "intuitive" sites.)

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