Skeptimus Prime » Education One atheist's thoughts on politics, religion, and philsophy Wed, 22 Apr 2015 06:30:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 People only want to marry virgins apparently. Fri, 08 Nov 2013 02:30:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Today on buzz feed a person posted images from the abstinence only curriculum in a Texas school district.


It explains to us how human beings are exactly like inanimate objects and gives us helpful information like:

People want to marry a virgin, just like they want a virgin toothbrush or stick of gum.

I’ll let you guys in on a little secret. I’m getting married in March, though my fiancé will be giving birth to our child in a little more than a month. You don’t have to be a math wiz to know that means we had sex before we got married. Also, does anyone want to hazard a guess at the number of fucks I gave about how many sexual partners my fiancé had before me? None, absolutely zero fucks were given about this question. That isn’t to say we don’t communicate honestly about with each other, we just don’t judge another person’s worth as a human being or as a spouse by number of people we had sex with before we met each other.  So I’ll say to sex education teachers of Canyon Independent School District, stop teaching your students to be bigots, because that is what you are teaching them to be when you teach them to judge other people’s worth by the number of sexual partners they have had.

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Mike Huckabee has really gone off the deep end on this one. Sat, 24 Aug 2013 09:17:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> So Mike Huckabee is really concerned about the state of education in this country, so am I, but this is where the similarities end. Huckabee wants to help kids learn about history, and he thinks he understands why kids aren’t interested in it anymore. Get this, the reason kids aren’t interested is because we aren’t selling American exceptionalism as hard as we used too.

America’s youth aren’t excited about our past because they’re being taught history in a way that minimizes what has made America a beacon of hope around the world for over 200 years. Instead, history lessons today often focus on America’s faults,” said Governor Huckabee.  “It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of giving our children a historically accurate and unbiased education that allows kids today to enjoy and understand our history, and build their pride in our great nation.

I suppose he has never heard the old saying, “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” It gives us a good reason to learn about our countries faults along with it’s successes. However, people like Huckabee seem to want us to forget our faults. It is ironic that he continues to speak about providing people historically accurate education after flat out admitting that his goal is to white wash history of any mistakes America might have made. And by what logic does one claim that kids base their interest in American history on whether or not we did good or bad things? I fail to see how that is something they even consider.

Lets take a look at one of these videos, a preview that talks about Regan’s rise to the white house.

Here is Huckabee’s own description of the videos.

“Each video we produce is developed in cooperation with a respected team of educators and leading historians to ensure both historical accuracy and a learning experience that children will love.

First off from a simple measure of video quality, (animation, voice acting, presentation) I’m fairly certain that children will love the experience of watching these video’s about as much as they love dense tomes about macro economics. As a nerd I’m some what of a connoisseur of cartoons, both American and Japanese. I’ve seen less stiff animation from old episodes of He-Man, and Regan looks like a deformed Muppet’s reflection in a fun house mirror. It’s done with CG, but the texturing is awful and the shading…well who are we kidding there isn’t any shading at all. I guess no one casts shadows in their universe. The voice acting is painful to listen to, and none of the writing makes sense for children. “the downturn in the economy is killing us,” twelve year olds do not generally speak this way. Frankly on the production values alone I’m embarrassed for Huckabee.

Further, I don’t know which educators approved of the “history” in this video but whoever respected them clearly has no clue. It has clear racist overtones in at least one place. The mugger at 24 seconds is black. (and wearing a disco shirt for some inexplicable reason) Regan is promoted as some kind of divine savior who wanted to return us to godly values. There is also a separate video up dealing with the 9/11 attacks which paint Bush is essentially the same light. There is nothing even remotely like unbiased history here, it is blatant propaganda for Christianity and American exceptionalism.

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Some good news out of New Orleans. Tue, 01 Jan 2013 02:20:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I’ve written about several of Louisiana’s weird attempts to push creationism in the last year so I suppose it’s nice that I can write something positive about the state in what will probably be my last post of the year.

In a unanimous vote the Orleans Parish school board voted to give creationism the boot.  It even went as far as to specifically name books written to fit the atrocious Texas science and history standards.
No history textbook shall be approved which has been adjusted in accordance with the state of Texas revisionist guidelines nor shall any science textbook be approved which presents creationism or intelligent design as science or scientific theories.

I was also particularly impressed with this part of the ruling.

No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach any aspect of religious faith as science or in a science class. No teacher of any discipline of science shall teach creationism or intelligent design in classes designated as science classes.

With all of the nonsense currently going on in that state it is nice to know some people there still care about education.

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Louisiana is in a worse state than I imagined. Wed, 21 Nov 2012 23:08:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I wrote a while back about Louisiana passing a voucher program that was likely to push creationism onto students by sending them to Christian private schools.  Well the bill passed and has been put into effect this year.  Thanks to a friend I got a link to a website which had scanned three pages from a 5th grade text book currently being used in in Louisiana voucher schools and being paid for by tax dollars.  Anyway, here is the link.

The book is not teaching “strengths and weaknesses” or “Intelligent design” it is overtly and explicitly teaching science from the perspective of Christian religious bias.  It goes as far as quoting bible verses as evidence that dinosaurs lived with humans and claiming that the flood is responsible for the geological column.

Here is a couple of gems from the book.  A table that explains the big bang as a “sudden explosion” and describes humans as the “highest level of animal” according to evolution.

One thing that struck me was there insistence that the findings of science are nothing more than the results of the biases injected by the people doing the science.

They say:

Man makes judgments about the evidence of fossils based up his beliefs. A man who believes God’s record of creation and history will look at fossils in one way.  A man who believes in evolution will view fossils in a different way.

They then go on to give the student an activity to read several articles written by “creationists” and “evolutionists”  to try to determine what the writers bias is.  This is such an absurd and jumbled approach to science it is difficult imagining children getting anything out of it.  It is bad enough they are teaching these kids bad biology, but they are teaching them a horrible approach to science in general.  It is, of course, obvious that everyone has a bias, but the whole point of the scientific method is to attempt to eliminate those biases.  A person can start from any hypothesis they want and no matter how biased it is the predictions it makes will either turn out to be true or false.  If the predictions are false then the hypothesis fails.

The main thing they fail to mention is that the reason creationism doesn’t count as science is because it makes no meaningful predictions about the world.  Take big bang which they inaccurately describe as a “sudden explosion,” when it was first proposed the calculations predicted certain types of radiation should still be present in the universe as a result.  Measurements were taken and the radiation was found, thus there was evidence that it happened. (though not definitive proof)

Now take the creationists view point, “God created the heavens and the earth” by their own description.  What predictions can one make from that?  To ask the question differently what differences would we expect to see between a universe that God created and one that he didn’t?  The fact is we don’t know, we have no idea what differences there would be between those two things if any.  So with no predictions there is no way to test, or falsify as Karl Popper would have put it, the hypothesis that “God created the heavens and the earth.”  Thus this is not a mere matter of competing beliefs as this text book wants to present it as.

The science in this book is so bad it should be criminal to lie to students this badly.  Late elementary school is a great time to cultivate students interest in science and instead they choose to squash it with ludicrous pseudo-science.  Now thanks to Louisiana they are using tax money to promote this stuff to students who may not even share their religion, because their parents have been told that sending their child to a private school is a guaranteed way to get a better education.  The evidence in this book says differently.

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Vouchers and schools and creationists, oh my! Sat, 28 Jul 2012 09:39:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I wrote last weekend about a school voucher program going on in Louisiana.  While I am against vouchers for several different reasons this is understandably a complicated issue with a lot of competing issues to consider.  NCSE published an article about it and I decided to revisit it in a bit detail.

Many people favor vouchers based upon an argument that says that people should have a right too choose.  I don’t really see this as a solution to our problems in this area.  I think what I notice is that in politics there are two sides, one that argues that more government control will fix our issues and one that argues that less control will fix our problems.  Politics seems bereft of people, like myself, who wish that policies were made rationally instead of ideologically.  Sometimes more government control is good, sometimes less is, on a lot of issues the amount of government control seems to have nothing to do with the problem at all. 

In the school voucher debate, this seems to be much the same quandary, some people think by getting government out of education the problems we have will simply disappear.  I remain unconvinced of this.  It seems that our problems with education are more complex and require more thoughtful solutions than simply throwing up our hands and privatizing the whole thing.  After all, many other countries with public education seem to be doing just fine.  Further, I think that many politicians in favor of vouchers are simply using it as a smoke screen to promote their personal religion in schools.  Rep. Valarie Hodges that I wrote about in my earlier post basically admitted it was her goal when she backed out upon realizing that Muslim schools would receive money as well.  

Clear evidence that evolution is false…I guess.

For one thing, when the state starts giving money to the private schools now the state starts enforcing more limits and controls on those private schools, so it ends up in many ways not really different than the current system.  There are a few questions that are not answered though.  For instance, under the current law, teachers are unable to lead students in prayer in a public school, but they can in a private school, and the majority of private schools are religious.  Does the government step in and say no school organized prayers?  This would not go over well with the religious right, but if the state is providing funds to these schools allows these school organized prayers to continue are they not allowing states funds to be used to promote religion?  Do we want to allow that? What about creationists text books that teach the Loch Ness monster disproves evolution?  Yes, those books from ACE are, in fact, in use in some of the private schools in Louisiana.

However, some may say, what about the standardized test scores.  It is true that scores on standardized tests are usually higher in private schools, doesn’t that prove that moving kids to the voucher system will improve their grades too?  Well, maybe, but then again maybe not.  Let’s examine this a bit more closely.

I found a good break down of various statistics about private schools here: 
The statistics for their breakdown comes from the national center for education statistics so I think we can assume they are pretty reliable, a read though the statistics reveals that scores in private schools are indeed better, but this does not automatically mean that the voucher system will improve education.  There are a few things that need to be considered.  The question to be asking is why exactly do people in private schools do better.  I know people of the libertarian mind set seem to believe that the explanation lies in the natural checks and balances that exist in private enterprise which have no analog in government.  Lets just say I do not find that explanation very satisfying.  They may turn out to be right, but both government and private enterprise are run by humans, I have seen no evidence to convince me that private enterprise is less prone to corruption than government or that the reality checks in it are more effective.
First, I am going to point out something obvious.  Correlation does not equal causation.  I know we have all heard that before, but it is an important concept, there are other possible explanations for private school students doing better on tests than private schools are all better and education.  Don’t misunderstand, many private schools probably are better in certain respects, but consider a few other hypothetical causes for this.  
  1. There is also evidence that students do better when their parents take an interest in their education.  Statistically speaking I would bet that parents willing to spend money educating their children take a more active role in it.  
  2. Another observation is that children who eat better diets growing up tend to have higher IQ’s.  People who can afford private school are going to be more wealthy and therefore more likely to eat better. 

I could probably think of others if I tried but I came up with these two just setting around between calls at work.  Do they totally account for the difference? Probably not, but they do need to be considered before just assuming that vouchers will fix the problems facing education in this country.

There is one other thing I think needs to be considered.  Near the top of CAPE’s page they give a breakdown of the tuition costs of private schools.  The numbers are from 2007-2008, but that is the most recent numbers I found online.  
The big thing I noticed here was that religious ($7,073) schools are much cheaper to attend than the non-sectarian variety ($16,247).  Cheaper by more than half in every case.  They give no reason for this, but I suspect that they are cheaper due to being supported in part by churches or other religious organizations.  The reason this is important is because of a piece of information I only discovered a few weeks ago in a conversation I had at TAM.  The amount that the state will pay in your voucher will not exceed the amount that the state spends per student in the public school.  In my state of Arizona this is 7,608 dollars, in Louisiana it is 10,684 dollars per student.  (Yes, Louisiana outspends my state)  

Combining these two figures together should paint an interesting picture.  If you are poor, having 10k of your child’s tuition paid is still not likely to get them into a non-religious private school, instead you are left with the religious schools, some of which are (at least in Louisiana) painfully bad.  On top of that, the statistics gathered on this topic may mislead people into thinking that by merely moving their child to a private school they will fix their performance problems and increase their grades.  Which, as I pointed out earlier, may not be the case.

I am sure that there are solutions to the current education woes in our country, but they will not be as simple as moving students to private schools.  Doubly so when you consider that the voucher programs are often a thinly veiled way for fundamentalist Christians violate church state separation, by pushing inaccurate and biased versions of science, and history on U.S. children.  Thanks to people like Don McLeroy we already have enough of that to fight in the public school system, but at least we have the ability to fight it there.

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Queen’s Guitarist Publishes Astrophysics Thesis Thu, 07 Jul 2011 01:16:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>
I heard about this on The Skeptics Guide To the Universe podcast.  This is one of the most awesome things I have read in sometime.  I had no idea any of the members of Queen had any scientific leanings, but I now have another reason to be a Queen fan besides the awesome music.
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Bible studies in public shools Fri, 18 Feb 2011 18:59:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Bible Classes In Public Schools Debated
So Kentucky it trying to push a bill through offering a bible study class in public schools.  I know, hard to believe from the state that brought us the Creation Science Museum, but its true. Not really much to be said here, though the article does start out with the writer parroting the old canard:

Did you know the well-used governing phrase is not in the U.S. constitution?

This tells me that the writer clearly needed a better history education not more Bible study while he was in school.

Personally I have no problem with teaching students about the bible if it is done from a secular perspective.  I strongly believe that most people who read the bible in a more scholarly fashion will come away with more doubts about Christianity, not fewer, so by all means have the kids seriously study it using modern historiography.

I do doubt, however, that a teacher who refers to the bible as “the holy book” is the correct choice for such a endeavor.  I suspect that he will spend much of his time telling his students why Christianity is true and far better than all those “heathen” religions.  Though considering he admits to already using the bible in other classes he may well be doing that already.  

I also found some of the comments on this article rather funny as well.  One in particular by a person who’s screen name read “praise God.”  He says:

God is the forefront of this country!!! Religion should BE our schools!! maybe then we wouldnt have so much violence in this world…    …it is also possible that a Bible class could cut down on teen suicide..think about it!! kudos to this school!! God Bless!!

So horrible writing aside, (does he really need exclamation points after everything?) I found this funny since a study of history shows that religious beliefs seem to have no correlative effect on the level of violence in a society.  Furthermore, it is also true that the level of violence in most modern societies are lower than they ever have been in human history. 

Further, one group of teenagers that have a suicide problem are gay students, and I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest there might be a correlation between gay bashing and passages in the bible like Leviticus 20:13 which says,

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

In short this bill seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to use the government to push religious teachings on students.  hopefully it will be seen as such by the Kentucky house of representatives who are currently debating the bill…but I wouldn’t count on it.

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I weep for america’s science education. Tue, 01 Feb 2011 17:46:00 +0000 Continue reading ]]>

Pseudoscience plagues the health of our nation  

I ran across this article today. I was aware of most of the facts contained therein but there were a couple of things that I found disturbing, though not particularly shocking.
In particular the following quote:
Roughly 50 percent of Americans polled believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. Scientists put its age at more than 4.5 billion years. Forty percent of those surveyed believe that dinosaurs and humans coexisted on Earth, despite the 65 million-year gap shown by the fossil record. When asked to name a living scientist, 46 percent were unable to name even one. Of those who did, the top three were Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Albert Einstein, who died in 1955.
The part in bold seemed particularly bad, not that 46 percent could not name anyone, that I expected, but that the top names given by the other 54 percent were not living scientists. Those who think Einstein is still alive need to read a history book, but the other two are not even scientists. Bill gates is a computer programmer and Al Gore is a politician. Is this really the best our education system can do?
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