Monday, September 29, 2008

Education at Zionsville Community High School: A Sad State of Affairs

- A brief review of poor standards and a school in decline -

As a school trying to eek out an existence in the Midwest of the United States, you might expect a certain conservative philosophy to pervade the halls and classrooms of the institution. That has always been the case, even when I roamed the building years ago.

However, that conservative bias has since warped into to a strong culture of ignorance, reinforced by poor lesson plans, factual distortions, and unqualified staff.

Never mind an incredibly slanted and dangerous sexual education program ripe with misinformation. New incidents of substandard scholarship have recently come to my attention.

In my youngest brother's biology course, the teacher introduced the film, "An Inconvenient Truth," as, "A boring movie that gets a lot of facts wrong." That in and of itself is not much cause for concern, except that the teacher then promised, "Don't worry, afterward, I'll show you a much better film about how global warming isn't a man-made phenomenon."

So here we have a science teacher not only rejecting a scientific consensus, (not to mention a film criticism consensus) but also teaching in opposition to it. What's worse is that this teacher wasted three consecutive days of class time showing films instead of meaningfully engaging with his students. Why not just send them to a theater? I understand the importance of climatology, but it is better suited for an Earth science class; wasting three days on films about global warming in a biology course is simply irresponsible.

In my brother's history course, the biblical stories of Abraham and Moses were taught as settled episodes of natural history despite the fact that no archaeological evidence corroborates the existence and events surrounding these characters. Apparently, the teacher regaled the class with the story of Abraham, how God tested his faith by ordering him to kill his son Isaac, and how an angel of the Lord stopped the sacrifice just in time!

This is not settled history and is, in fact, an unnecessary myth unrelated to the greater chronology of World events. Perhaps more disquieting is that this discussion of Abraham, Moses and the Exodus came before any exploration of the history of the ancient Greeks. It seems this teacher is not only flirting dangerously with the separation of church and state, but also with the actual sequence of civilization.

As a final, political note, I find it very disheartening that a once prominent science teacher from Zionsville Community High School has thrust his enthusiastic support behind the vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, a fatuous woman who believes the Iraq war is 'God's will,' that global climate change is not man-made, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Perhaps that is all I really need to say about the intellectual decay that now plagues my former school.

UPDATE: well this is eerily relevant. Someone just posted this video of Zionsville circa 1987 on youtube.

UPDATE II: More evidence of poor standards


SuiginChou said...

I remember that we did not have to read, but that "lower" Bio classes did have to read, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in Mrs. King's Biology I classes. No idea why we got out of it, but iirc it was because anybody who had Biology I during 1st or 2nd period was in the unofficial Honors section (since there was no Honors Bio I at the time), or something. Shrug. The point is, Silent Spring is almost just as bad if not worse but it comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, so I'm wondering if this teacher isn't simply providing a contrary viewpoint to the more traditional "yuppie liberal" bio teacher's POV?

As for accusing a teacher of being bad because they make the students watch a film for 3 days, I think that's just you looking for excuses to hound this guy/gal and you know it. There are numerous times it's called for for a teacher to do this, and personal examples that come to mind include:
- Mrs. Shipley "wasting" our time showing us Macbeth after we'd just finished reading the play
- Mr. Rodgers showing us Inherit the Wind after we'd just finished reading the play
- Mr. McCarthy showing us Lilies of the Field after we finished reading the play (scene)
- Mr. Rodgers showing us Ken Burns' The Civil War from PBS
- Mr. Yovanovich showing us Glory in US History Part 1 (8th Grade)
- Ms. Vanlandingham showing us Gandhi in non-Western History (7th Grade)

On and on it goes. Why is it good form for a history teacher or an English teacher to "waste" the class's time for as many as 5 school days but it's bad for a science teacher with an agenda to do the same for only 3?

Please attack the agenda, Jay, and not the methodology.

Jay said...

"Silent Spring," the book Discover magazine recently named one of the 25 greatest science books of all time? I haven't read it, but, uh...

And I'm sorry, but where did I imply that it is okay for history and English teachers to do it? Because I sat through those classes and had a good time?

Furthermore, I'd say there's something of a difference between reading a book and watching a film that might reinforce a student's understanding of the material, and watching two films back to back to do the teaching themselves. Before I made it back to honors classes, my history teacher did this all the time and I learned next to nothing (I can't remember his name, but he reminded me of the Liberty Mutual - Diabetes guy)

Honestly, without my brother's input, I'm making some possibly unfair assumptions, so I'll refrain from discussing more than the impression of the events that he's already given me.

If there is a flaw with the thesis of this post, it's the belief that classes have got worse when, really, the non-honors courses may have always been this bad. But that does not excuse the poor standards.

Now I would say your final comment implies staunch support of the methodology. I'm not sure I agree whole-heartedly with that support. My intention was to attack both the methodology and the agenda. I should hope I have done both!

Finally, I knew I should have held off on publishing, but I was afraid of losing the post, so I think you commented without reading the final article. Now there's more to which you may respond! Hurrah!

matt said...

Your "sexual education program" link is broken.

Also, the teachers' union is a major part of this problem of teachers' laziness. Of course they're going to show movies, what are you going to do, fire them? I think not...

Jay said...

Thanks for the heads up. Link fixed.

I guess my big mistake was suggesting that showing two films back-to-back on modern climatology in a biology class is worse than a science teacher teaching in opposition to a scientific consensus. It seems everyone is on board with the how of this lesson plan. But what about the content?

Should a high school level teacher be espousing a paranoid, conspiracy theory about global climate change in opposition to solid science? Or wouldn't you agree that a teacher in this position should push aside their political and personal considerations, swallow the bitter pill, and hold off on such commentary until general science vindicates their suspicions?

I mean, these kids are supposed to be learning the basics. It's bad enough that they spend less than a week on evolution, the hardened cornerstone of biological science. Now they want to muddy up the waters with conflicting films about modern climatology and cast doubt over the whole scientific methodology of reason and evidence.

matt said...

If they're going to see a slanted movie like Inconvenient Truth then it's only fair to show them something equally slanted in the other direction. Just like if you made them watch Bowling for Columbine you should probably give them a bunch of NRA pamphlets too, both contain the same portion of truth.

Jay said...

Ah, the Fox News approach, fair and balanced. Truth on the one side, lies on the other, mix 'em up and muddy the waters. I did a quick internet search and both National Geographic and the Washington Post's fact checker give An Inconvenient Truth high marks on accuracy. Professor Foley of the University of Wisconsin remarked, "The bottom line is that it is 90 percent accurate. Compare that to the garbage put out by the global warming skeptics, which is ninety nine percent inaccurate."

Now, I haven't pinned down the name of the other film shown, so who knows, but chances are it didn't lead to a Nobel peace prize.

matt said...

I never saw the movie but I just got the impression that it was a Michael Moore-style hatchet job. I would expect this from pretty much any politician with a huge stake in the public perception of an issue like this.

The fashion pendulum has swung far too quickly on global warming (as it usually does, when it swings at all). We've gone from mainstream blind denialism to mainstream blind acceptance (with growing hysterical overtones) in what seems like 2-3 years. Of course this has been forgotten recently with the economic crisis, but it'll return soon enough.

I can't properly judge "the other film" since I didn't see it either but hopefully it focused not on the politically-motivated denialists but on the growing number of climate-skeptic scientists.

SuiginChou said...

I would trust Al Gore less than I would trust Michael Moore, actually. I believe that Moore takes an "ends justify the means" approach to his movies and that while these means are inappropriate (at best, deceitful or immoral at worse), I think his heart's still in the right spot. Gore, on the other hand, feels like a phony. To put it another way,

Moore may be an asshole philanthropist, but I really do believe that the man is philanthropic. I believe he really does want to fight for the common man and he wants to fight evil wherever he encounters it. If you want to paint Moore as an asshole (and by all means go for it, not that he doesn't do a perfectly good job of it himself!), at least paint the honest picture of "the asshole doctor" who wants to save children's lives even if kids and parents alike hate him and think he's a horrible doctor.

Gore? Gore's just a phony, like I said before. Real simple, two words: "a phony." And sadly the Nobel Peace Prize is going to his and his supporters' heads -- because they keep citing it whenever somebody calls into question Gore's scientific credentials in global warming discussions. As though a Nobel Peace Prize was any indication of a man's scientific knowledge.

Al Gore alongside the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize, and I quote, "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." He didn't win it for being an expert on global warming -- he won it for being an empassioned alarmist. I'm not raining on that parade, but let's not confuse the facts, folks! Al Gore was not before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize nor has he since become after receiving it a genuine climatologist -- although I'm sure he is one of the most well-read and well-informed climatology hobbyists on the planet.

Jay said...

I...can't...believe...Michael Moore OVER Al Gore? Has anyone here seen the film? I feel like I'm in crazy town! You must know something I don't, and I admit a general ignorance of Al Gore's long political history, but that sounds like a difficult position to defend.