Monthly Archives: November 2011

Speaking up for evolution

Several months ago, Miss USA pageant contestants were asked if evolution should be taught in schools.  I hope their responses weren’t genuine- and instead chosen in a misguided attempt avoid offending the judges- because the theory of evolution is not a matter of opinion.

Evolution is a sound, well supported, evidence-based scientific theory.  It should be taught in school as legitimately as the the theory of gravity.  While people are constantly ‘reminding’ the public that evolution is THEORY, as though that negates the science that supports it, we should remember that gravity is also a theory. Would it make any sense to teach children in schools ‘both sides of the story’ that gravity is a theory some people believe in, but others reject?

Don’t think so.  Just because a phenomenon is a scientific theory doesn’t make it baseless or open for wild interpretation.

Parents and religious organizations are welcome to teach ‘the other side of the story’ on evolution.  However, public schools have no business designing curricula on religious teachings.  If that were acceptable, we’d still be teaching students ‘both sides of the story’ on the nature of our universe (whether it’s geocentric as the Catholic Church claimed or heliocentric as Galileo proved).

When this montage of misguided beauty queens hit YouTube months ago, David Wescott voiced the frustration felt by many in the scientific community (and all educated citizens who support the separation of church and state) on his blog:

Let’s get something clear from the get-go here.  Evolution is real.  It’s sound science and it must be taught in public schools.  Myriad advances in health and science derive directly from evolutionary biology.  It’s not a secular alternative to the Bible.  You don’t “believe” in evolution any more than you “believe” in gravity.  If you’re reading this and you’re a person of a particular faith and you’re offended by this, I’m sorry – but you’re wrong. The sound science of evolution isn’t encroaching on your faith, your faith is encroaching on sound, provable, evidence-based science and when you try to take evolution out of classrooms you’re only making things worse.– David Wescott, “Beauty pageant contestants vs. science advocates: this isn’t helpful

So he and others made the effort to reach out to scientists to mount a response to the Miss USA contestants.  The result is a montage of scientists talking about what evolution is, why it is important and why it should be taught in schools.  I am one of those scientists.

You can watch my response in its entirety here:

The response is making the rounds on the internet, and hopefully making an impact on every person who wants public education to actually educate.  The video even made it to Jezebel:  Female Scientists Patiently Explain That, Yes Evolution is Real.

I think a large part of why teaching evolution is considered debatable right now is because religious groups are being very vocal about spreading their opinions and religious views.  What would happen if citizens (religious and not) who believed in the separation of church and state and accepted the verity of 150 years of active scientific research (Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859) spoke up in favor of science-based curricula for science eduction?

If those citizens spoke up, I don’t think there would be much of a debate.

I will do my part to ensure that my daughter’s religious education is left to me, and not to her public school.  I will also do my part to ensure that all kids in public schools get the fact-based education they deserve, free from the influence of any religion.

If you agree- be sure to speak up in favor of science education.  Here are some tips to help.

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‘Tis the season

It’s the holiday season.  I am so excited for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Yesterday on my drive to work I heard my first Christmas song of the season (on the radio- I’ve been listening to my own Christmas music since October).  Granted it was from Justin Bieber’s forthcoming Christmas album, but I’ll take it.

This evening Mac and I are taking Mabel to get her picture taken with Santa.  I’m looking forward to it- and hoping we get as lucky this year as we did last year.

Here is last year’s photo:

This was the first of 3 photos that were taken.  In this photo she’s still trying to figure who the *&$#% this is and what (*$#% is going on.  In subsequent photos she’s just crying.  So, we went with this photo.

Hopefully this year she will either be excited to meet Santa (we’ve read a few Christmas stories featuring Santa in preparation for this photo op) or we can catch a picture before she gets too upset.

Unlike this year Mac and I will not be ripped-off by the mall Santa!  I frequent Sears for our professional photos (thanks to LOTS of coupons meaning really inexpensive photos- they hate me because I always refuse the up-sell and let them throw the extra photos they print in the trash) and this year they are having Santa into their studio for appointments.

So, whereas last year we paid something like $27 for one 5×7 and two 3×5 photos out in the mall, this year we will have an appointment (hopefully this means no long wait) and we’ll get one 5×7 and four wallets for just $9.99.  Ten bucks seems a lot less like robbery than $27!  (Actually, I think $9.99 is the regular price for a sheet of photos at Sears, so it’s ‘nice’ of them not to price gouge for the holidays.  I’m sure they are counting on the up-sell, but thankfully, I am immune.)

Also according to the ad they sent- this isn’t just some lush in a rumpled suit with a synthetic beard, this is, “A professional Santa for that “Real Santa” experience!”

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Kids who aren’t taught learn more?

At first blush it would seem counter-intuitive- teaching your child something, instead of letting her figure it out on her own, means she’ll learn less.

The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery” was published in the September issue of Cognition.  Unfortunately the article is behind a pay wall, so we’ll have to get info from second hand sources like Strollerderby and The Economist.

The crux of experiment presented in the paper is that children who were shown a toy and how it worked accepted what they were told, played with the toy for a short time, and found out little more about it.  Children who were told nothing about the toy explored it on their own- they played with it for longer and discovered more features, they learned more about it.

Perhaps my perspective is different from the bulk of Strollerderby and The Economist readers- I’m a scientist, I spend my days trying to figure out how things work with no teacher to instruct me.  I’m used to working on problems with no known answer- trying to find those answers by experimenting on my own. That’s how science works.  That’s how scientists discover new things, understand how things work.

It’s not that remarkable that children should operate the same way.  I’ve said it before, everyone is a scientist, using the scientific method whether they’re trying to fix a leaky toilet, cure cancer, or work a new toy.

For now she can explore on her own, however I think when she gets her permit it will be necessary for me to show her how it's done.

I know kids are always asking why- and it’s a challenge to answer all of those questions.  But how often do kids ask how?  Not as often- because adults always jump in to show them.  Perhaps we should take a step back and let them figure things out on their own?  It would seem that they’d do a better job on their own.

Do you let your little ones play solo or do you try to engage them?  Do you show them how their toys work or let them figure it out on their own?

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Monkey Bread- featured on Jenna’s Journey “12 Days of Goodies!”

A few weeks ago Mabel tried her hand at baking for the first time.  We made Monkey Bread- which is the perfect recipe for little kids (and busy moms) because it is EASY!

I actually submitted it to Jenna’s Journey as part of her 12 Days of Goodies series and it’s being featured there today!  So click on through here and get the recipe!

Here’s my little sous chef in action- I think she enjoyed eating the Monkey Bread more than making it!

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