Iconoclasms

Science

Today I followed a link from the discussion at Scientific American concerning a recent article by Robert Shapiro about a possible inorganic origin for life. Shapiro has an interesting theory, but he spends a lot of time showing why neither DNA nor RNA molecules could have been synthesized first. This does not endear him to others in the origin-of-life community, who apparently are mostly made up of RNA-first or DNA-first enthusiasts, and they are concerned that it may appear as if scientists are not all in agreement. True skepticism is a hard row to hoe, because it goes against political intuition.

I ended up at the helpful TalkOrigins page explaining evolutionary biology. I have read through this site before and was previously impressed by its clarity and evenhandedness, but this time the following statement stuck out:

Microevolution can be studied directly. Macroevolution cannot.

I already knew this, of course. An honest evolutionist claims only to be able to prove macroevolution, not observe it. However, then they get trapped by their insistence that they deal only with observed and repeatable events. More accurately, they are trapped between Auguste Comte and Bertrand Russell, the most noted advocates for positivism; but speculative evolutionists who read only Popular Science and Daily Kos don’t really have any idea why they believe in anything. When you believe in things you don’t understand, that’s called superstition.

Journalism

I also read the discussion at Language Log concerning a misleading article in the New York Times about reading instruction. That lead me to the education blog D-Ed Reckoning, which dissects the NYT story by a journalist named Diane Jean Schemo. I noted a certain denigrating tone in Schemo’s response:

Finally, the blogger uses statistical sleight of hand when he wants to discuss the achievement gap . . .

Schemo makes the error of assuming that “the blogger” is a know-nothing private citizen, but he is apparently a lawyer who is part of a blog team that is deeply involved in education reform issues. Journalists no longer have the luxury of assuming that bloggers are less professionally accomplished, less educated, less proficient at arguing, less familiar with research methods, and
less knowledgeable about current issues. Professional journalists are in trouble unless they learn the meaning of public accountability.

Education

The other blogger at D-Ed Reckoning is apparently a published author who has taken it upon herself to teach her children the math that the public schools won’t. She cannot be lampooned as a redneck political hack religious homeschooler; she is a well educated, concerned parent who is committed to public schools, but she wants them to live up to their promises. It’s funny to me that she doesn’t want to just ditch public school; but it actually creates more problems for the public schools to have parents like that around.

You see, I think the homeschooling movement is starting to cut to the bone. As far as families who are committed to homeschooling as a lifestyle, I think the growth as a proportion of the population has already reached a plateau, and now the philosophy behind homeschooling is starting to filter into the general population. The idea is that parents are responsible for ensuring a child’s education, and anyone appointed by the parents to do the job is accountable to the parents.

Those committed to actually removing their children from public school generally have either ideological or pragmatic reasons. The ideological reasons usually involve either more freedom (as with unschooling) or more standards (as with a conservative Christian curriculum). In this group I would also include the many college professors and former schoolteachers who homeschool because they believe that the institution is fundamentally corrupt. The pragmatic reasons tend to be reactions to problems that the public schools have with learning disabled, emotionally disturbed, highly creative, gifted, or otherwise “different” children. My claim is that only a limited proportion of the general population has these reasons as well as the means and circumstances favorable for homeschooling.

Beyond the core groups, the people curious about homeschooling tend to be interested because of pressure from their religious peers, anxiety about accelerated achievement, or frustration over personal problems. I think these reasons now account for most of the new growth that cannot be attributed to general population growth. Parents with such concerns do not remove their child from public school for more than a couple of years, if at all, but they make trouble for the public schools because they challenge the traditional claim of absolute moral authority by the administrators and teachers.

Girl Scouts

Finally, there is this article about the tragedy of the Girl Scouts. They will not reform anytime soon. They should be abandoned by thinking Christians, but they will not go out of business regardless. This is old news to me, but the article’s author has a unique response.

I was a Boy Scout and I am firmly committed to the institution of scouting, but the Girl Scouts have perverted it into an indoctrination for a modern, politically correct civic religion. Of course, the biggest complaint against the Boy Scouts was always about their religious and militaristic overtones; and one can argue that the two organizations merely lead to different versions of civic religion. I can accept that criticism and merely state that I would choose the bland, ambiguous monotheism of the Boy Scouts over the mindless political groveling of the Girl Scouts.

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