Thursday, May 10, 2007

Home schooling with martinis

Linguine spewing from my nose is not a pretty sight. Neither is a martini olive being coughed across the room like an ICBM. I know, because these things have happened at my dinner table the past few nights. Why? Because one of the Surglings came to dinner on successive evenings with tales of indoctrination by her teacher at L"C"PHS (local "conservative" public high school).

Disclaimer: I went to private (Catholic) grade schools and a private (Catholic) high school -- in Dallas at the time, it was well worth it.
The first night we were regaled with the story of how her LCPHS class was required to watch the AlGore Plea to Elect AlGore President Film. There was no discussion about the fact that this is felt by many to be a controversial subject. There was no discussion about the fact that there are scientists who disagree with Mr. Gore's conclusions. This was presented as 100% factual, and the students were told they would be tested on the material, just as they are tested on material in their textbooks.

OK. Lots of people are concerned about the phenomenon of global warming; the problem is that the subject is treated with a religious fervor that rivals anything that Jim Jones could foment. And a classroom, of all places, is where basic questions need to be discussed when things are less than crystal clear fact, such as ---
  • what's happening now, and how is it different from what's happened in the past?
  • what's likely to happen in the near future and beyond, and how do we estimate what will happen?
  • what are reasonable changes in public policy that can address the issue?
But of course, that would require that the discussion would be presented as something other than gospel truth. It would require spending another class period watching an alternative viewpoint which is freely available. It appears that this teacher feels there is more controversy surrounding the periodic table than the AlGorathon.

So, after wiping the table clean, we had a nice discussion about climate patterns, predictions, weather models, CO2 emissions, and the economic impact of significant public policy changes. In particular, we talked about simple economics --- supply of goods and demand --- a conversation that has never taken place in this school. I left out the juicy bits regarding the AlGoreMansion and his personal "carbon footprint," as well as the self-serving carbon "credits" he touts.

However, Mr. Teacher had more to offer. The next evening my daughter lets us know that by golly, somebody invented an engine a few years ago that gets over 100 mpg, and that the evil Texaco corporation bought it and buried it! Indignation was almost oozing from her pores. Who, I asked, was the source of such a fascinating tale? Why, it was the very same Mr. Teacher who brooked no discussion about global warming. After I replaced my olive, I gently informed her that I first heard a version of that rumor in 1968 -- when I was 6 -- and it was no more true today than it was then. Of course, being her father, I was not a very acceptable source for contradictory information. But, the magic of the internet allowed me to introduce her to the real truth.

Poor thing. She wanted to know if she should e-mail Mr. Teacher the information she learned from Snopes and from the Pacific Research Institute. I had to gently introduce her to the sad fact of what happens in too many classrooms today: although free discussion of ideas is a wonderful attribute of a healthy educational system, it does not exist in a classroom such as this --- and this man has her grade in his hands.

What, you may ask, does this man teach? Somebody who shows a lack of critical thinking skills might be teaching PE, maybe history, or perhaps an English class. Nope -- he teaches Biology. Honors Biology. And, I must admit, he is a carbon copy of my own honors biology teacher (yes, I can actually remember back that far, thankyouverymuch).