Vulcan’s Peak

Archive for the 'in the news' category

Fear and Allergies in the Lunchroom

November 3, 2007 10:02 am

Newsweek’s current cover story (decidedly not a gonzo piece) is a decent stab at explaining current trends in food allergies, covering the statistics, the research, and the social effects of this growing trend. It’s worth a look. Though the last paragraph is wince-worthy, I commend the writer on her attempt to describe the experience of having food allergies and offer a thumbs up for mentioning the fact that a milk allergy is a completely different and rather more deadly thing than lactose intolerance. Our friends at FAAN get a mention, too. Yay for public awareness.

Being intolerant of the intolerant(so much for the moral high ground)

June 1, 2007 12:50 am

In the latest of a series of court cases that have come to resemble a game of Whack-a-Mole, Laura Mallory’s quest for the banning of Harry Potter from Gwinnet County schools has been thwarted once again. A short article in the Chicago Sun-Times quotes her as saying “I maybe need a whole new case from the ground up.” Ya think? Whack!

Which reminds me of the white bearded madman sitting in front of the Unitarian Universalist church in Harvard Square. He had set himeself up in a lawnchair with a couple of signs, handing out fliers that accused UUs* and specifically Cambridge’s UU First Parish Church** of anti-Semitism.

Understand here that UUs tend to value tolerance, acceptance, and understanding very, very highly. The first time I walked by, I laughed. Around places like Boston Common and Harvard Square, there’s always someone promoting a pet cause. A few weeks ago there was someone making similar accusations about and in front of an Episcopal Church, come to think of it. Might have been the same guy. At any rate, when I walked back by, I gave into morbid curiosity and took a flier.

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February 24, 2007 6:56 pm

Poke brought this to my attention a while back on her blog (last paragraph); here’s the most recent development: A History Department Bans Citing Wikipedia as a Research Source.

First reaction: Uh…duh? Like I said in the comments on her blog, trying to use Wikipedia as a source for a research paper is not only a poor choice of source material, but also incredibly lazy. I wasn’t allowed to cite encyclopedias in my high school essays; college students should be digging much, much deeper than that. Wiki is a great tool, but not a scholarly tool.

I do think that the idea of assigning students to create Wikipedia entries is pretty nifty, though.

My great joy in the NY Times piece is that Jimmy Wales seems very calm about it and says pretty much the same thing I did. Awesome guy.

Folly in Pennsylvania

February 21, 2006 6:48 pm

My first word in the matter of a Pennsylvania school board voting to discontinue the International Baccalaureate Programme is that I am extremely biased. Almost unabashedly so. The program and the friends I made there made my high school experience what it was, and I treasure that. I also credit IB with allowing me to stretch my mind, open my horizons, and challenge what I thought I was capable of.

So first, read these if you haven’t already:
AP: PA school board votes down Baccalaureate
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Educaton program splits Upper St. Clair
Just for good measure: Pug’s Place on the issue

That said, I would like to point out that there are some disgusting aspects of this story that should be apparent to anyone who is moderately interested in education – American or otherwise. Whether or not the Upper St. Clair school board wants to recognize it, we live in an increasingly globalized society. But Julie Quist, president of a conservative education group seems to think that loyalty is like a glass of water: when you use it all in one place, there ain’t any more. The only patriotism that might be undermined by an international, globalized view of the world is that blind sort of patriotism that slaps a “Free and Proud” sticker on the bumper and will follow the stars and stripes off a cliff if that’s where it leads. To my way of thinking, educating our children to think past that is not only a good thing but a necessary thing. Yes, America is a great place to live for most of us, but hubris will only get us into trouble. And “sense of sovereignty”??? All hail King George?? I think not.

Similarly, the allegation that IB’s endoresment of Earth Charter indoctrinates students with Marxist principles smells like rotting fish. Despite our German class jokes about Fred(rich Engels) and Karl (Marx)… No. There’s really nothing I can say about this one. Hell, I’ve read Marx…but in college – and my conservative little formerly Southern Baptist college at that. This is so incredibly bogus and these people don’t have a clue. IB is about making you think, forcing you to think, twisting your arm until you start to think for yourself. IB and indoctrination is a contradiction in terms. The classic liberal arts model that IB presents embraces original thought based on competency in a given subject. Or to put it another way, first you must know what you’re talking about, then you must have an opinion. Don’t you wish that were a rule for life?

It seems that the serious matters lie in less sensational lines. IB does cost the schools a pretty penny, not only for the exams taken at the end of the program, but also for lab equipment in the sciences and for teacher training. And education is notoriously underfunded just as teachers are notoriously underpaid. I can easily see how a program benefitting a small percentage of the student population would slip under the axe.

Especially when IB can look so much like other programs – for example, AP (which has American roots, if you’re still angsting over the first point). Now, I have no serious qualms about AP (though I’ve seen articles that would argue otherwise). In fact, I think that one of the smart things about Choctaw’s IB program is that it allowed for a modicum of overlap between IB and AP. Junior year we had English classes that were joint IB/AP and we all took the AP exam at the end. The same year, we were all doing U.S. history, so there was little practical difference between the AP class and the IB one; again, we all took the AP exam. In many other places, an AP course (or an honors one in 9th and 10th grade) and an IB one looked fairly similar, allowing people with really tight schedule to slip into the other program, especially in earlier years.

So why waste the money on this foreign program? What does it do that AP doesn’t? I would argue that it offers continuity. Like a college, it offers you a four-year track and expects you to work at a high standard in all subjects. It encompasses not only core subjects (English, math, science, history), but also requires four years of a foreign language, a certain amount of community service, and as icing on the cake, a four thousand word research paper (hey, fifteen pages was a lot at the time). And that continuity lends an almost interdisciplinary aspect to IB. Each of your teachers knows what you’re getting from the others and is aware of how the calculus you’re learning relates to the European history you studied two years ago or how issues pertinent to biology are important to a novel you’re reading for English.

Beyond that, the idea is suggested to you that you are not learning facts for the sake of cramming your head full of facts. You are in fact learning how to cram your head with facts. You are learning how to draw relations and correlations between facts and how to derive implications from them. While you learn about the world in which you are expected to be a global citizen, you are studying the art of learning. It is the argument for any liberal arts education, and I would apply it to my college experience just as readily. I’ve called high school my “preface to Furman” and I’ve called college “IB, part 2.” It works either way.

This is also the answer to board member Dr. Trombetta’s statement, “I want to know what that has to do with education” regarding an exam question about marriage forms and gender relations (which would be a perfectly viable question in my History of Africa course right now, by the way). The point is not to test knowledge but to encourage critical thought.

You might think that the 700 students who are suddenly no longer part of the IB program would be only too happy to give up the foreign language they hate or the extended essay they dread writing. And no doubt some of them are. But I suspect there are many – especially juniors and seniors – who feel cheated. Who were told that IB was an investment that would pay off by helping to prepare them for college. Who have put in a hell of a lot of work and feel unappreciated and unvalued by their community.

And that seems to me like a damn shame.

Perusing the news

February 20, 2006 1:11 pm

A couple of fascinating aspects to today’s story about a British man who was convicted in Austria of being a Holocaust-denier.   The most coherent article is from Deutsche Welle (don’t worry, it’s in English), but check out the list at the bottom of the BBC’s article. What a statement it makes, that all these countries have laws against denying the Holocaust – the three major German-speaking countries are on the list, as are pretty much all of the places into which the Nazis tried to expand in WWII, plus Israel.  Even France is on the list, though the U.K. naturally is not.

While suing McDonald’s is always a lark…

February 19, 2006 9:51 pm

this article from the Chicago Tribune boggles the mind.

I’ve eaten McDonald’s fries forever, but never often – and not at all for a while. Could this reflect a change in the last year or so? Could their dairy ingredient be lactose or milk fat, which don’t bother me? Or am I indeed that much less allergic these days?

Fascinating – and then some.

( covers the story too, but the article is the same AP blurb and the Tribune’s site is infinitely cleaner. Or maybe I’ve just blocked their ads already…)

News flash

January 20, 2006 7:52 pm

Ye olde English whale? Straight from the BBC, apparently this northern bottle-nosed whale wanted a night on the town. And by town I mean, those buildings in the picture are Parliament. You don’t get more middle-of-London than that – and London isn’t exactly coastal! Fascinating.

Allow me to express some blatant disgust

January 31, 2005 6:52 pm

Pug’s Place today points to an article on Jean’s favorite “funny site” which frankly makes chills run down my spine. This one falls somewhere between “what’s wrong with American education” and “what’s wrong with America.” Either way, it’s bad.

Despite the fact that these teenagers are teetering on the brink of personal independence, they don’t see how precious our First Amendment freedoms are. I don’t know what kind of high school students they surveyed, but when half – yes, half – of thses kids consider freedom of the press unnecessary at best, I cannot help being shocked.

CNN does make it clear that the fault probably lies with educators. Of all the things that should be taught but aren’t, our rights as American citizens seems like a glaring omission to me (get me started on basic writing skills some other time). Also, Pug is quick to point out that high schools have a tendency towards totalitarianism – I know my dear old alma mater is going that direction under the leadership of a new principal we like to call Queen Cindy I. If high school students are treated like inmates in a high security prison, then what could the First Amendment possibly mean to them?

Most of you have heard me rant about airport security and Big Brother pawing through my luggage – this falls into the same big bag. Sometimes I think that this country deserves to fall into an Orwellian pit. ‘Cause if a lot of people don’t open their eyes, that’s exactly where we’re going to end up. And then you can call me Cassandra.