Brouhaha....

S L Forsburg forsburg at nospamsalk.edu
Fri Jan 30 09:51:09 EST 1998


> From: Karen Allendoerfer <ravena at cco.caltech.edu>
> Mary Ann Sesma <msesma at zeus.bell.k12.ca.us> wrote:
> >
> > Eight Nobel laureates (Glen Seaborg through David Baltimore) have
> > volunteered to write without pay for the California State Department of
> > Education (SDE) Science Standards, grades k-12. They were initially
> > refused by the SDE in favor of San Bernardino State College which was
> > charging around
> > $176,000. for this task.
> 
> I'm not an educator and don't know anything about the situation except
> what you've posted here, and from that perspective, it doesn't
> necessarily seem like a "straight down decision." Perhaps San
> Bernardino's proposal was excellent.
> 
> Just because a scientist has won a Nobel Prize doesn't automatically
> make him or her a good educator. 

This is true, but I think it was inappropriate of the other group to
say something along the lines of "these scientists wouldn't know
the inside of a classroom if it bit them".  Glen Seaborg
taught part of my Chem1 class at Cal and he was a good teacher.
And, those who teach undergraduates are perhaps more aware
than most of the deficiencies students have now in entering college.
If you follow the California education issues, the battle over
standards and their decline has been going on for quite some time
in math as well as science (not to mention language).
A big result of this has been that some education experts
have given their colleagues a very bad name.  (Eg, I  don't think
universities should be teaching remedial math or English, but
that's another topic).

>  Nobelist Kary Mullis' propensity to
> show pictures of female nudes in his recent lectures has also been
> discussed on this newsgroup a year or two ago.

Well, I CERTAINLY don't consider Kary Mullis a representative of
Nobelists, and I have met quite a few of them.  

> And modern science,
> even the most cutting edge, is not without its arcane and ivory tower
> aspects. The Nobel credential alone isn't enough to convince me that
> a particular group of scientists is qualified to set K-12 standards.
....

No, but as practising scientists they have a good idea of what basic
scientific literacy should include.  And, the egregiousluy selfish,
 arcane
or ivory tower academic is unlikely to venture out of his tower
to make an attempt to participate in the process. 

>  It kind of bothers me to hear that
> a group of scientists thinks that they can do it alone, better, for
> free in their spare time, without the input of teachers or any
> education professionals at all. It sounds somewhat arrogant although
> I doubt they meant it that way.

You seem awfully negative about scientists.  I agree that their
position doesn't per se entitle them to set standards, but you seem to
think that if anything, it renders them unsuitable!  

> It's too bad that the SDE had to treat this as an either/or type of
> thing and possibly alienate the scientists, whom I'm sure had good
> motivations here. Isn't there any way to keep both the scientists
> and educators involved?

That has been the solution:  both groups have been told to do
it together.  I hope very much that they play to their strengths,
and not to their weaknesses.  

To me, the issue about education standards boils down to this:
you can simplify things so everybody does well and feels good about
it, which has been the trend in some places.  Or you can make sure
that all students get the tools they need, learn how to apply them, 
and are empowered to excel at tough challenges. Ie, don't lower
the bar, but teach them to fly!  Now THAT'S teaching.

-- 
-susan
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S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 
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