The new Church & State newsletter from Americans United for Separation contains a squib about an effort in Pennsylvania schools to put creationism or its latest incarnation, I.D., on curricula alongside science courses, including biology.  A Pittsburg paper did some poling and found that although about 90% claim to believe in evolution, the other 10% include, unfortunately, science teachers.

Or at least one.  A guy named Joe Shomer, who teaches chemistry, claims that the planet was created about 10,000 years ago and that scientific methods (presumably including so-called critical thinking) used to date the earth are flawed and untrustworthy.  One begins to wonder if Shomer went into teaching because his "understanding" of scientific methodology kept him from making it in the real world.  Adherence to dogma tends to be rigid and irrational. 

Unfortunately, this guy is broadcasting his religiosity in the classroom, claiming that inquiring minds among the students want to know, "What do you think," which presumes that Shomer introduced creationist talk into the lesson plan.  He tells them: "The Bible is the source of truth."  Rather than go into my usual tirade here about slavery, father-daughter incest, slaughter of any other tribe that does not believe as you do, talking snakes, women created from ribs, and so forth, I should only observe that when Shomer disses carbon dating, we might respond that it is at least as truthworthy as all the accounts of miracles, a burning bush giving a mythological rabbi ten silly rules always more honored in the breach than by the observance, "God" himself proving top hypocrite, like a cop who speeds past your car because he just got off duty and wants to go home to a beer.

Rob Boston, a fine writer for the A.U. magazine concludes, correctly, that students with science teachers like Mr. Shomer, will rue familiarity with the man and his cockamamie ideas if and when they get to college "and struggle in freshman biology classes."  Can't you just imagine one of the dumber ones contradicting his professor by claiming that our planet is only 10,000 years old and that evolution cannot possibly be a fact, because, I mean, "Why do we still have monkeys?"

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Say what?!

The ability to work in abstractions is what gives mathematics its great power and wide applicability, but it can be a major difficulty for students, especially at the beginning of algebra. Most students can learn if they are given enough time and proper help.

Recently I tutored the daughter of a friend, a very bright girl who was having trouble with high school algebra. Her teacher had taught her a method for solving simultaneous equations in two or three variables. She could apply it, but in some cases it led to such long computations she invariably made mistakes in copying from one line to another. I suggested that she look at each set of equations and see if there were not shortcuts to be taken.

She was uncomfortable with that idea and resorted each time to the cumbersome method she thought her teacher wanted, and of course she continued to make mistakes. Her notion was that mathematics consisted of rules to be applied as given by the teacher. To indulge in a creative shortcut was heresy. That's not good teaching, but it never does to criticize the teacher or text when you are tutoring—it creates an unresolvable conflict in the student's mind.


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