Shame on you, PGCPS!

This is not the way to teach kids that bullying is wrong. This is, in fact, part of the problem.

Starting last fall, some seventh grade health classes in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system were shown an anti-bullying video that promoted gay-to-straight therapy as an option for LGBTQ youth. When City Desk started asking question about the video this week, the school system pulled it from classrooms. Despite the best efforts of a prominent therapist in the homophobic ex-gay movement who is also a member of the school system’s Health Council, students learning about bullying will no longer learn about the widely discredited form of counseling.

I live in Prince George’s County. I attended its public schools for twelve years. We voted over 50% in favor of Question 6, which means we made a major contribution to legalizing same-sex marriage in our state. Our teachers gave us factual, evidence-based sex ed when I was a student. The school system really ought to know better than to buy into this shit.

Telling bullied children that they need to change themselves—particularly when the changes are to aspects of their identities that aren’t within their control and really don’t hurt anyone—to stop other children from tormenting them is the very opposite of bullying prevention. It tells the bullies that they are in the right. It tells the kids on the receiving end of peer abuse that they deserve it. One might even call this strategy a form of bullying in itself.

ETA: Zinnia Jones brings us a little reminder of just how well ex-gay therapy actually works.

Don’t Make Me Uncomfortable: High School Chemistry Edition

Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post Blogs has run this very…special…op-ed from someone named David Bernstein who is pissed as heck that his son has been told he needs to learn chemistry, and he’s not going to take it anymore.

I was recently informed by a school official at my son’s high school that the state of Maryland mandates that every student take chemistry in order to graduate. [It turns out that it is not, in fact, mandated by the state but that is what I was told anyway.]

With us so far? Someone told his son he had to take Chemistry, so Mr. Bernstein went and Googled for info about curriculum standardization, but didn’t Google far enough to find out that actually, Maryland schools’ science requirements do NOT mandate Chemistry instruction.

With the mistaken assumption fraying at his nerves, Mr. Bernstein’s case against mandatory Chemistry instruction includes such gems as this:

Now I don’t begrudge chemistry, which has brought forth many of the great inventions of our time, from the pain killer I took an hour ago to the diet soda I’m sipping on now (I’m actually sipping on Scotch. In fact, my very own mother, who if I am lucky will never lay eyes on this article, is a chemist, and believes that chemistry is the most noble of human pursuits and doesn’t understand how I, a former philosophy major, was able to eke out a living.

and this:

But my son is not going to be a scientist. The very thought of it makes me laugh. Your son should take five classes in chemistry so he can be a scientist and make America more competitive.


But my son is not being exposed to chemistry, he’s spending a year of his life studying chemistry every day, which translates into a year of misery for him and our entire family, and paying for tutors who just get him through the course. It doesn’t take a chemist to know that my son is not going to be a chemist. He’s 15, not 7. It’s really that obvious. You took chemistry (I’m not talking to you scientist). What do you remember from that year? Nada, I bet. Next time a school official preens about the importance of chemistry, I’m going to ask him or her how many elements there are in the periodic table. Hint: you can find the answer on Google.

Just off the top of my head, I notice that David Bernstein does not show very high expectations for his son. I remember what it was like to be a teenager, and if I’d found an op-ed in the WaPo with either of my parents talking about, for example, my struggles with Pre-Calculus this way, I would’ve been pissed off. I was a much nicer person at 15 than I am at 32, but seeing my mom talk about how her daughter was never going to be a mathematician would have raised my hackles.

Furthermore, I am not a chemist or a scientist in any way, but I do remember some things that I learned in Chemistry that don’t come through so easily in Google. I remember how to dilute an acid or base with water (hint: you measure out the water first!). I remember balancing equations. I remember performing titration. I also remember that my Chemistry teacher was an asshole who clearly held teenagers in disdain and was not fond of teaching, but amazingly enough, I still learned stuff from him because he didn’t treat me like I was never going to be good at science so there was no reason to bother.

An experimental physicist recently told me that at this phase in chemistry instruction “it’s all about memorization anyway.” There will be no other phases in chemistry instruction for my son. He will forget everything he “learned” a week after the class is over. I can’t remember a thing, and I was a pretty good chemistry student.

Dude, do you ENJOY talking about how your teenage son is so intellectually limited?

This one here is possibly a useful point, but the unexamined class privilege on display is really quite amazing:

Now you’re getting desperate. You’re really going to make my son spend a whole year in a subject he will never use so that he can prepare to suffer at a boring job some day? I don’t know what you do for a living but I love what I do and rarely engage in work I don’t enjoy. If we’re going to pressure him, let’s do it in subjects where he can grow and put to use some day.

*nervous titter* Mr. Bernstein, as a member of a younger generation, I can assure you: unless you have the power to pull tremendous strings for your son, he will NOT have such a good time of it in the job market. Just because YOU got a Philosophy degree and still managed to make a living—at something you enjoy, no less!—doesn’t mean your kids will be so lucky. In fact, I can basically guarantee that your kids will be significantly less fortunate than you are. Not because they’re less intelligent, industrious or adaptable than you are, but because the American job market is in such a state relative to the educational attainment of the new generation that young people have to fight to the death just to get a spot at “entry level.” It was bad enough for my age group, and for the people who are just finishing college now, it is considerably worse. Your sons WILL have to accept work that they don’t enjoy, and they will have to do it well and with a good attitude, or they will not be able to make a living. Between now and the time he starts applying for jobs, your chemistry-hating older son will need to learn the life skills to follow instructions, act as part of a team and get the job done. He isn’t going to learn that if he takes nothing but electives.

Here’s what I think happened: David Bernstein didn’t enjoy learning Chemistry as a teenager, while his mother the chemist pressured him to do better and was disappointed that her son showed so little interest in the natural sciences. David is bitter because his mother wasn’t proud of him, and he wants to spare his son the agony of being told the world does not revolve around his interests. Now his son is struggling at Chemistry, and rather than tell him he’s smart enough, and that his hard work will be worth it in the long run, David Bernstein tells his older son that he will never be a scientist. Chemistry and other demanding, highly technical subjects are for other people’s kids to learn.

Rep. Todd Akin is wrong about everything.

Congressman, who exactly are these “doctors” who’ve been telling you about reproductive biology? They should not be licensed.

“People always try to make that one of those things, ‘Oh, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question,” Akin said. “It seems to me, first of all, what I understand from doctors is that’s really where—if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Rep. Akin has been told by some nondescript set of “doctors” that the female body has mechanisms that prevent establishment of pregnancy in the event of a “legitimate” rape. The implication, therefore, is that if a woman is pregnant, then she couldn’t have been truly raped. She must have wanted it.

In which case, the question of abortion rights for women who were impregnated through rape is null and void, because there is no pregnancy from “real” acts of rape.

However, just in case he’s wrong, he hedges,

“Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something,” Akin said. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”

Congressman, we do not have to agree to your choice of words. The “child” in question is in fact an embryo or fetus, usually aborted sooner rather than later. No one suggests that an abortion is a way of “punishing” the embryo/fetus, either; it’s about letting the woman get on with her life.

Finally, the suggestion that the rapist should be punished is a big fat NO SHIT. No one suggests that abortion should be used as a substitute for prosecuting and penalizing rapists. There’s no reason why a woman can’t get an abortion while the court system prosecutes the man who forced his sperm into her. This isn’t an either/or. Most pro-choice advocates tend to think that if a woman reports a rape, and she turns up pregnant, the rapist should be prosecuted even if the woman decides to have the baby. The police and court’s actions on the rapists are a totally separate issue from the woman’s reproductive decisions.

And what else does Mr. Akin have to say?

Yet Akin, who was just nominated earlier this month, has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Since his nomination, he’s advocated a complete ban on the morning after pill, and called for an end to the federal school lunch program. He also infamously said student loans had given America, “stage three cancer of socialism.

He wants us to be forced to make babies, but there should be no assistance in seeing that those children are fed. A post-secondary education is reserved only for those who can pay for it out of pocket. In all fairness, though, if we cut off school lunches, then the kids who are currently eligible for the lunch program will spend their school days feeling so miserable and unfocused that they won’t be able to learn anything, so they won’t even think about applying for college.

Arizona, please tell me you’re joking!

Tucson, what is that I don’t even.

Outrage was the response on Saturday to the news that Tucson schools banned books by the nation’s award winning Chicano, Latino and Native American authors.

What the? Do you need to have an Anglo surname and pale face to have your books allowed in the school system now?

But wait, it’s not just Tucson:

The decision to ban books follows the 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday by the Tucson Unified School District board to surrender to the State of Arizona, and forbid Mexican American Studies, rather than fight the state’s threat to extract millions of education dollars from Tucson schools if it continues ethnic studies.

The state of Arizona is threatening to pull education funds from school districts that continue ethnic studies? Why is it that I am appalled and yet no longer surprised?

This is cited from a Salon article by Jeff Biggers:

Other banned books include “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by famed Brazilian educator Paolo Freire and “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” by Rodolfo Acuña, two books often singled out by Arizona state superintendent of public instruction John Huppenthal, who campaigned in 2010 on the promise to “stop la raza.” Huppenthal, who once lectured state educators that he based his own school principles for children on corporate management schemes of the Fortune 500, compared Mexican-American studies to Hitler Jugend indoctrination last fall.

When you have elected as your state superintendent a guy who loses the argument via Godwin’s Law, Arizona, something has gone seriously wrong in your state’s cultural discourse.


Monday Moron: Protect My Delicate Upper-Crust Frailness from Those Unwashed Brutes!

Via Pharyngula, some other delicate flower, this time a student at NYU, has really laid a steaming deuce in her bed. As much as I could complain about my Albanian high school kids who would have rather done just about anything except learn English, at least they kept their sense of entitlement to a level whose topography they understood. If that just came out as Greek, think of it like this: if you want to climb trees on someone else’s property, at least keep to a level from which you can safely climb down again on your own power. And then we have Sara Ackerman, who didn’t agree with Prof. Zaloom’s assignment of an ethnographic study of Occupy Wall Street protesters, and concluded with an ultimatum:

Lastly, I have over 1,000 friends on facebook, and if Professor Zaloom does not resign, or is not fired by 9 am tomorrow morning, I will publish every single email exchange we have had, on my facebook account.

You read that right. She wanted the professor to be out of a job, or else she would publish the professor’s emails to her Facebook feed.

The practical upshot is that Prof. Zaloom looks like an honest, reasonable educator who is still safely employed and Sara Ackerman looks like a caricature of rarefied, constantly threatened privilege. She sounds like she grew up in a household in which “delicate constitution” was a part of the daily vocabulary. She spent a few months as a thorn in her professor’s side, disrupting her classmates’ lessons, and now she has succeeded in embarrassing herself in front of a lot more than those 1,000 Facebook friends.

Those liberal atheist professors are coming for your sweet Christian babies!

Via Sullivan, Conor Friedersdorf asks why so many Americans come out of higher education with their religious faith considerably eroded. Apparently, Dennis Prager is all concerned that the university system is ruled by an evil cabal of liberal heathen professors using their vicious mind-controlling powers to churn out whole generations of left-wing secularists.

To me, there are better explanations for the fact that “the more university education a person receives, the more likely he is to hold secular and left-wing views.” One is that people who attend college leave home. That is to say, they leave their church, the community incentives to attend it, and the watchful eye of parents who get angry or make them feel guilty when they don’t go to services or stray in their faith. Suddenly they’re surrounded by dorm mates of different faiths or no faith at all. For many of these students, it turns out that their religious behavior was driven more by desire for community, or social and parental pressure, than by deeply held beliefs. Another reason education correlates with secularism is that secularists are more likely to seek advanced degrees, partly because they’re more focused than their religious counterparts on career.

Here we have two (not incompatible) theories: one, it isn’t necessarily the university that makes young people less religious, it’s the removal from the student’s sheltered home environment and sudden access to a diversity of beliefs. Two, the causal relationship is in the opposite direction. It’s not that education causes secularism, but that secularism on the individual level leads to more education.

There is further insight in the comments. For example:

Conor – you’re trying too hard! The negative correlation between education and religious belief holds up across countries, and the American phenomenon of traveling away home for college is much more prevalent here than in most other western countries where the same correlation can be observed.

The answer is much simpler. Education is a proxy for intelligence, and the more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to hold religious beliefs.

Since education is a profoundly imperfect proxy for intelligence (particularly higher education in a country where attending university is prohibitively expensive for many people), I’m going to disagree with the second paragraph and instead focus on the first. It has indeed been observed that there is a very obvious negative correlation between educational attainment and religiosity, but it’s bigger than educational attainment. There is a major positive correlation between poverty/inequality, low educational attainment, and a whole host of social dysfunctions…with high religiosity. This is not to say that religion causes social problems (although one does have to wonder about the socioeconomic effect of teaching whole countries full of people that using birth control makes Baby Jesus cry), just that they tend to go hand-in-hand at the population level. I’m more inclined to think that poverty leads to social problems, and the insecurity of living in the midst of those problems leads to higher religiosity.

Thus, could it be (at least partly) that Americans who attend university are more affluent to begin with, and therefore tend to be less reliant on religion? It would be interesting to compare the data on the relationship between educational attainment and religious participation between wealthier students (whose parents can afford to send them to college), and poorer students (using scholarships and need-based aid to pay for school) and see what patterns emerge. It would also be interesting to investigate Friedersdorf’s first hypothesis and compare the data between students who attend school far away from home and those who either live close enough to commute or who go home every weekend. It would still be necessary in that case to control for household income, as out-of-state tuition and out-of-home living quarters both make higher education much more expensive.

Furthermore, there’s also the power of critical thinking; other commenters have described how their post-secondary educations gave them the tools to start thinking for themselves, whereas their religious upbringings focused on believing what they were told, even if it didn’t make sense. Those are the “ill-defined, superhuman powers to shape the minds of its charges” (in Friedersdorf’s words) which Prager apparently fears our university system wields.

This is how we treat poor families

The Summit County court system shows how it feels about poor parents who want their kids to get a good education:

She is a single mother with two girls, ages 12 and 16, and is only a few credit hours short of graduating from the University of Akron with a teaching degree. She was working as a teaching assistant with special needs children at Buchtel High School. She also cared for her ailing father, who was charged with multiple felonies in the residency case.

Williams-Bolar was convicted of the two felony counts Saturday night after seven hours of jury deliberations.

On Tuesday, Cosgrove sentenced her to five years in prison but suspended all but 10 days in the county jail, saying that to not include time behind bars would ”demean the seriousness” of the offenses.

The offenses in question are that she used her father’s address to send her daughters to school in a better district.

Not that this is unheard-of as a way for parents to respond to lousy school systems; lots of people game the system like this, and they get away with it. They don’t feel bad about it, either. Why should they care that they don’t pay property taxes where their kids are going to school? This is their children’s education we’re talking about. They’d happily pay the property taxes if they could afford to live there.

But, well, Summit County needed to make an example of someone, and Kelley Williams-Bolar is going to be their example. Those nice schools in Copley-Fairlawn are for their kids; how dare some poor single black woman in Akron steal from them what they’ve worked so hard to build? She needs to be punished, and if it means the state loses its chance to have her as a schoolteacher, so be it.

It’s the Sex Ed, Stupid

William Saletan has a pair of posts on Slate about the recent abortion-debate conference at Princeton. Yesterday he admonished the pro-lifers on what they need to do differently to make some common ground with us baby-eating monsters, and today he waggled a stern index finger at us pro-choicers on how we could get the pro-quantity crowd to listen to us.

As a proudly pro-choice feminist and baby-eating heathen asshole, I will admit to harboring some bias in this area, so perhaps it should be no surprise that I find his suggestions to anti-choicers mostly sensible, though futile. It should be even less interesting when I say his suggestions to pro-choicers are largely yawn-worthy. I’ll do a quick rundown, just for the sake of completeness.

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3 Movies I Enjoyed, 3 Things That Bugged

Freedom Writers

Here is my problem: I like my fictional characters with some dimension. I can do without villains who are all darkness and heroes who are all light. Among the chaos and tribalism of Long Beach, LA in 1994, the character of Erin Gruwell is just too uniformly, unrealistically good. I’m sure the real-life person of Erin Gruwell is a woman of integrity, generosity and courage, but I don’t think she was ever as perfect as the character we see in the movie. There’s nuance all around; her students are both victims of the gang culture and its participants. They suffer from LA’s damaged race relations but they’re also part of the problem. Gruwell’s colleagues are sympathetic up to a point; after going through 12 years of public school in the U.S. and teaching for 2 years in Albania, I can absolutely relate to Imelda Staunton’s character stating that “you can’t make someone want to learn.”

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When everyone is part of the problem!

I just watched Freedom Writers last night, and part of the fun of watching it is in wondering, “Did that really happen?” at various moments.

But let’s just assume that everything in the movie actually happened in reality.

I can confidently, honestly say that when I was a waitress, it never occurred to me to tell a customer, “You won’t like that.” Duuuuude. It’s one thing to argue with the dogma of “the customer is always right,” but man, you don’t protect your customers from themselves!

And when I was a teacher, it never, ever occurred to me to ask any student to give us “the Black perspective” on anything. Granted I taught school in Albania and had little to no racial diversity in my classes, and was dealing with a very, very different set of difficulties than Erin Gruwell’s colleagues had with their students, but…yeah, actually, I DO believe there are teachers who act like that. Assholes to the right of me, assholes to the left!