Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jake's DQ

I'm soooooooooooooooooooooooo pissed right now.
So, Jake (P2) was supposed to go on to the regional science fair. And, in fact, it did. We filled out all the paperwork, sent in the fee, got him good and excited... today, he's told that he was disqualified before the fair even started because they added an addendum to their rules in the fall that said kids couldn't grow bacteria or molds in unapproved petri dishes. Only, the rule is NO WHERE on their website. I know because we read the rules before we started. And, hey...guess what? It wasn't even in the rule book when it was sent home so we could fill out a photographic release and microorganism use form. NOTHING. And, not to mention the fact that he got through this entire process (us, teachers, SCIENCE FAIR JUDGES) without anyone saying a damn word until today.

Apparently, there was a meeting in August for the County's science fair coordinators. Our teacher was supposed to go, but her dad was having his leg cut off. No, seriously. At that meeting, the rule was added as an addendum. And, supposedly, an updated rule book was sent to each teacher. I'm calling bullshit!! If a new book was created, then why did we get the OLD set of rules SIX months later?

Another point of contention: They claim that they made this rule because of the Staph and MRSA outbreaks this fall. But, magically...they had the foresight to create a rule IN AUGUST because of a problem that would break public news in September. Screw the science fair - these people are psychic!!! And, let's just ignore the part where THERE WERE NO SLIDES OR PETRI DISHES ON HIS PROJECT: only pictures. So, apparently the evil germs can be transmitted by pictures now?

But, wait...there's more. Jake's project would've been allowed if we had just bought preprepared petri dishes from a special company in South Carolina. Of course, there's nothing that says that in the rule book or website. Apparently, the company in South Carolina sells culture medium that won't grow certain ogranisms because they've been treated with antibiotics. Which, don't you think that kind of defeats the purpose? I do. OH! And, I love the part where she insinuated that what we did was dangerous and did we think it was okay to expose our child to MRSA and Staph? Apparently, being alarmist is part of the scientific method now.

In short...I have a kid who wasn't very into science before this project; who got excited BECAUSE he realized he COULD do science; who was supposed to go on to the Regional Fair; who is now in tears because his project was disqualified for a rule that no one at his school knew about and isn't published in any of the materials.

Way to go KCSOS!!! You've crushed a kid who was interested in science and put his heart and soul into the project to make it great. You've set limitations on science. You've championed your disorganized ways over what is right and fair for a child. You've also, in not well couched language, questioned the safety of my home and determined what parts of science we are allowed to explore with our child.

My son followed the rules as they were published. With the application of this stupid rule, you've punished my son for the failure of his teachers. Brilliant!!

...and we wonder why, as a country, we suck at science education. Unbelievable.


Jennifer said...

WOW. What a boondoggle. Jake, I'm sorry to hear about this, but remember--you still did science, and you did it well. You even had an unexpected result from your experiment--you proved that even adults can do stupid things! Now, maybe when you grow up, you can remember this and try to handle things better than they did!

When I was in high school, I remember we weren't allowed to do science fair projects that involved ANY living thing--including animals, plants, or bacteria/fungi. So we were really limited to testing principals of physics (such as: which design is faster, X or Y?) or market testing (such as: which toothpaste works better, A or B?).

I could kind of understand where the admin was coming from--I imagine that they were worried about some kid testing some toxic product on his dog one day...but at the same time, isn't that why these protocols are (supposedly) vetted by teachers before they are implemented?

And I guess I could see the bacteria/fungus ban, since the words tend to conjure up terrifying images of E. coli and Salmonella and such. I mean, the great majority of microorganisms are completely harmless, but I could see the fear of liability--some kid gets sick off Staph, and then the parents sue the school district for allowing "dangerous projects." You know, Idiot America type stuff.

The plants, though, I have no idea. All I know is that in limiting us to the basic physical sciences, we lost a lot of really, really cool research that comes from looking into biological concepts.

Milo Johnson said...

I grew up in the Fifties and Sixties and a time when scientific exploration was cool. I had an enormous chemistry set with over a hundred different chemicals, an alcohol burner, pyrex glassware and enormous potential for destruction. This country was dominant in the field of science. Today, there are no chemistry sets, jocks and rappers are cool, and we buy all our stuff from Asia. Think those things are related?

Carlie said...

Wait, wait, waitwaitwaitwait.
They are MAKING people buy petri dishes with antibiotics in it to use possibly without proper supervision?
That is the worst idea I've ever heard.

I understand not wanting the wrong germs to grow, but by slapping antibiotic dishes around willy-nilly what's happening is that they're encouraging ANTIBIOTIC-RESISTANT germs to grow. Seriously. And that's a damn bigger problem than having some generic wild staph in your dish. When I use antibiotic plates in my college lab classes I treat them like the freakin' toxins they are. Not to mention that there might be kids who are allergic to the antibiotics used on the plates and won't know it until the problem hits.


Berlzebub said...

I'm with Carlie on this one. If you grow the bacteria on anti-biotic treated petri dishes, you run the risk of making anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

Also, do they even understand how those bacteria are transmitted? IIRC, Staphylococcus bacterias are one of the most common bacterias there is. However, they are only transmitted by contact, not airborn. Also, because of their high numbers, most people have a healthy enough immunity that it isn't a problem.

MRSA is a completely different issue. The CDC estimates that 12% of those infections are now community related.

In short, this sounds like the SARS scare from a few years ago. Especially with their seeming clairvoyance on issuing the rule. I'm also suspicious of their using only that company in SC. Something smells bad about this.

Seven Crows said...

I hate to be of such a suspicious mind but with the timing (rule created before the outreaks) it makes me wonder who among the science fair coordinators knows someone at that company in South Carolina.

Chris said...

PM: Are you planning on doing anything about this, like contact the school or the people who disqualified him? This is total bullshit. Due to the poor way they handled this, they should at least be willing to listen to an appeal. If they want to be jerks about it next year, least then the rules will actually be out for everybody to read.

BTW: Your post last week about P2 being bullied for reading Golden Compass has made it into an article on Atheism.About, which in turn has made it to Reddit. So, watch for incoming comments (or trolls :(

HolyAtheist said...

Un-Fucking-Believeable, all I can say.

vamp said...

Germie photography?

This is such bullshit...I can't believe this crap.

Jake you rock, don't let this discourage you. You did an awesome project.

fdqpink/Baal's Bum said...

I can't add anything to what everyone has said. But I will say to Jake it was wholly unfair to him and I hope it doesn't discourage him.

chakolate said...

Now that you've got your mad off, what are you going to do about it? You can't just let it go - put up a hell of a fight.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Right now I'm digesting the information. Today is P1's birthday, so this was all going on in the midst of her bday and some other drama. Suffice it to say, today was just a suckfest.

I spent hours on the phone with the people in charge and the problem comes from them not knowing science well enough to determine risk (in my opinion). They're just sticking to blaming the school site coordinator for not catching the problem and his teacher for not getting district approval for the project. Which is lame because THE RULE ISN'T PUBLICIZED. How would the teacher, not in charge of the science fair stuff, know about the new rules if they didn't make it public? I have already posted a letter in our local paper's blog section. If you want to weigh in there, here's the link:

At the very least, I think he deserves what he was most looking forward to: not a medal or award, but the chance to have his project evaluated by the relevant scientists for his area. He is most upset that he's not going to get the chance to hear their feedback and opinions. I suspect the district could arrange this. At the very least, he's due that.

Bill said...

Would it be possible for you to publish his project here? It sounds really interesting.

And I agree with Carly, not only is the rule unfair, it is dangerous, since it will promote anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Hi Bill,
His first draft is back in a December entry. But, I'll see if I can find the saved drafts on his computer and post his project files.

John (UK) said...

I don't have a lot to say about the project, other than the stupidity of the situation on the school system's part, or any particular words of consolation to offer Jake.

I do believe fundamentally that schools only exist to pummel children into submission one way or another. They do not exist to educate in the obvious sense of that word (stuff that is useful to know in the real world), but instead to turn out almost mindless zombies who do whatever they are told by higher authorities. That way they will fit perfectly into the corporate workplace when they leave school.

As a result the school system is littered with many ways of oppressing bright children and their enthusiasm for anything beyond the expected. They MUST conform. And unfortunately Jake has run into one of those things. If it wasn't this it would be something else at some other point in time.

My personal view is that he would be best off if he could keep some of that enthusiasm he had, and keep on doing the things that interest him. Whether this is inside or outside of the school system i.e. at home.

Fighting the school system may be a waste of time and energy, and very indirect - who are you fighting and for what? That is up to you to decide. But putting your time and energy directly into your children is worthwhile. Find something else that Jake is interested in, and help him get going with that. Inside or outside of school.

The best things are those you enjoy doing, and would do regardless of the reward. A reward is a bonus, and nice to be sure. But it is not the end or the means. And it is another trick that the school system uses to get children to conform. Do things that matter to you, and not because some outside system (the school) said you should.

Poodles said...

That bites! Jake you did good anyway.

I was also wondering, is the grandmother whose house was tested a christian? Perhaps she just prayed the germs away? Maybe the scientific conclusions don't really matter anyway.

I'm sorry, I'm in a sarcastic mood. I couldn't resist. :)

Atheist in a mini van. said...

John said...They do not exist to educate in the obvious sense of that word (stuff that is useful to know in the real world), but instead to turn out almost mindless zombies who do whatever they are told by higher authorities. That way they will fit perfectly into the corporate workplace when they leave school.

You know...having now three kids in public school, and watching the way it works, I'm starting to understand the benefits of homeschooling. I still think that public school is a good experience for learning that life isn't always what we expect and that there's value in being expected to swim in a pool with others of different ages, abilities, socioeconomic status, races, creeds, and so on. But, this system as it currently is has done little to motivate my kids or help them be better than they already are. Both of the older two are intensely bright...and that's not just a mother's pride talking. It seems like the older they get, the more the schools are trying to build them up to break them down. The older the get, the more I see things where I question who these people think they're working for. And, why are they settling for so little in terms of performance from our kids? My kids test well, but I am annoyed by the limited views and approaches taken to educate our youth. I feel like, especially since the NCLB act, that the schools have lost focus on what school should be: School should be a place that inspires and encourages unique thoughts. I just don't see that. And, when something like this occurs, where a child is faulted for the mistakes of the teacher (and this isn't the first time) really makes me question why I am supportive of the school and system that's screwing them. I've taught my kids more, especially in the sciences, than they have ever learned in class. My biggest red flag was when a teacher told my son that memorizing the terms was enough to pass the test and therefore he didn't "need to worry about understand how they apply". Of course, that night I spent two hours with him making a dynamic lesson about why it certainly DID matter. And, on the test, he actually got points off for over-expanding on the essay question because she wasn't' educated enough to know that his essay answer was 100% correct. He went outside the box (the text) and the teacher wasn't bright enough to go see if his answer was correct. She just knew it wasn't in the book. Bah...I could go on and on. I have this urge to pull P3 out of Kinder because I don't know that I can stand this for another 15 years (when P4 graduates).

Poodles... was also wondering, is the grandmother whose house was tested a christian? Perhaps she just prayed the germs away? Maybe the scientific conclusions don't really matter anyway.
Hehehe. She's a believer, but I don't think I'd categorize her in the praying for something like a clean house camp. :)

Richard said...

The rules you linked to, page 4, what is not allowed in the display

"Photographs, drawings, or descriptions, which are offensive."

Obviously, good science is offensive.

Sad but true.

Now, had you done an experiment on whether mold will grow on a cross dipped in holy water...

John (UK) said...

Possummomma said:

I still think that public school is a good experience for learning that life isn't always what we expect.
But, this system [does] little to motivate my kids or help them be better than they already are.
And, why are they settling for so little in terms of performance from our kids?
School should be a place that inspires and encourages unique thoughts. I just don't see that.
I've taught my kids more, ... than they have ever learned in class.

I think we are probably on the same page. I put my son into the first stages of the UK state public school system more for the socialising with other children, and learning the basics (reading, writing and maths) than anything else. This kind of stuff is basic enough that you should not be able to mess it up too much, and they get to use it everyday which reinforces what they learn anyway.

My expectation is that I will leave it up to the primary school to teach the basics and not get involved (up to 11 years old). And in secondary education (11 to 18) I will need to actively step in and monitor what he is being taught, and reinforce the important stuff. That is going to be the tricky bit - finding out what he has been taught each day, reinforcing the important bits, telling him what is not important, and adding in all the other stuff they just won't bother with.

My idea (currently untested) is to offer a reward for the extra out of school effort on his part. "If you do an hour on what I think is important, then we will spend an hour on a topic that you want to learn. "

In terms of 'performance', in the UK all schools are measured in terms of pass marks at exams. You cannot get better than an 'A' result, so no teacher in this system is going to push a child beyond this. Why? Because the system cannot measure it, and because the teacher and school are not rewarded for anything beyond an 'A'. In fact they will put more effort in getting the 'D's to become 'C's, than in making sure an 'A' child fulfils their potential.

I can only re-emphasis that schools take the cookie-cutter approach, and want all children to leave knowing exactly the same things. Which seems amazing when you consider how unique each child or person is, and how their potentials can all differ.

Apart from the 'school system' my main problem is that most UK state schools are religiously aligned to the Christian state Church of England. So in my son's school he has regular lessons about 'God' and prayers in assembly and so on. I've already had to tell him that there is no such thing as God, and no evidence for any such thing. But he is getting told this gibberish by these teachers most days, and believes everything else they tell him. He now knows I doubt that any God exists, but is obviously being told the opposite by many other people.

The only saving grace to this, is that UK state schools must now teach other religions as part of their diversity and multi-culturalism. So he has learnt about Judaism, Islam, and others. He has even learnt about the ancient Greek gods, and a bit about Egyptians and Romans. Which is actually playing to my argument that there is no single God, and no one knows what the right answer is. I'll stop on that subject there.

I was really lucky to have a couple of good teachers in the subjects I was good at (maths and sciences) who did take the time and effort on their part to push me so that I could achieve more than if I had stuck to the standard learning schedule. At the time I assumed they would do this for any bright child. Now over 20 years later I can see how lucky I really was. Just the thought of not experiencing that extra learning at that age, and not getting a glimpse of what else I could learn, really scares me.

I went on to University, where I got the opposite experience, which is the 'standard' one we are discussing. No one cared if I was any better or not than anyone else, and no lecturer went out of their way for anyone. You picked your subjects, and were expected to follow the lecturer at the same, set pace, and then pass the same exam at the end. No variations allowed.

I left University with a degree, but most of the stuff was cookie-cutter and I could have learnt it from a book almost as easily. The best stuff I learnt was where I bent the rules to either get on off-topic courses, or explored beyond what the text books and lecturer covered.

We are also in a unique situation. Our generation learnt more than our parents ever knew, because science and technology and stuff had moved on so fast following World War II. Which meant that my parents had a lower level of education than I received, and they could not help me with what I was being taught at school. (There was lots of nodding heads as I sometimes tried to tell my parents what wonderful things I was learning in the sciences). In other words it was beyond them.

Now, we do know as much our children are being taught, and can actively help them. Which is a new situation, compared to what has always gone before.

Setting your own goals is the most challenging thing you can do. And achieving them the most satisfying. And when you have done it for the first set of goals, you get the chance to do it all over again, bigger and better. And education should be about the process of learning, not the individual subjects themselves. Once you learn how to learn, you can learn anything you want to. To this day I still get a kick from occasionally picking up a layman's science book from the library and reading up about some subject or other.

[Hope this has not been too long, but I felt it was worthwhile to say]

Gramomster said...

I share your pissed-off-ness!!! WTF!!! That was an awesome project, and it is unfair in the extreme that he is being penalized for the rule change. Very sucky. Just the whole public school thing is really frustrating.

*disclaimer -- rant to follow*

Oh man, schools. My youngest is out this year, and hopefully out for good. He did his best to conform, but it is true; all the schools are really focused on trying to teach is following rules, and sitting in a desk for 6 hours a day so that cubicles are not so off-putting when they get out in the 'real world'.
Schools don't socialize people into the real 'real world' either. Nowhere else in one's life are they going to spend 30-40 hours a week with people who are all the same age, and all expected to do the same things at the same time. When you talk in school, you get in trouble, so learning to communicate with others is discouraged in practice. Where is this socialization of which we speak?

My youngest, the aforementioned, is 15, and veeeery bright. Skipped 6th grade after testing off the charts and sitting an 8th grade test at 10, and hitting the high 90th percentiles on nearly everything. Math he hit the 88th percentile. On a test three years ahead of his grade.

He was reading Michael Crichton in 5th grade, got algebra at age 7, etc.... So, he was in high school, finished his sophomore year, and failed English (!!!!) simply because he was booooooooorrrrrredddddd.
This resulted in my getting a letter over the summer informing me that he had been placed in 'Reading 180, a special program for students who have been identified as significantly below grade level in reading'. WTF!?!?! The kid was reading at college level at 11, and, for that matter, was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich during the semester in question in order to keep his brain functioning!

So, he's out of school, as are several of his friends. They all read a book called, 'The Teenage Liberation Handbook', by Grace Llewellyn. Know what they do? The go to the library, they go to the art museum, they cook vegan food, they do art and play music. They interact with people of all ages as they wander around town and talk to people. They converse with street people, they volunteer at the soup kitchens during lunch hour, they are getting acquainted as well with people of influence in town, like the mayor, because the mayor is often actually hanging around the soup kitchen too. He's an awesome guy. It's not that small a town (250,000+), but things are centralized, and they are able to actually be active in their community in real ways.

They attend political rallies, and are better informed of world events than the majority of the college students I teach. They all write better than the majority of my students. They all read more challenging material. My son DVRs the debates, and his friends come over, watch them, watch the analysis, and form opinions. None of them are old enough to vote. They have stretched their intellects so much further outside of school than they were ever allowed to while in school, I am constantly amazed.

And, the community college here, all they have to do is go down, after a year out of school, take placement tests, and start college! My daughter, who would be a high school senior this year, is in her second semester of college, studying the things that inspire and motivate her. My son will do the same next fall, at 16.
Why hold 'em back?
Let 'er rip!!!

Seriously, I highly recommend Grace Llewellyn's book. To anyone concerned about their kid in public school. P-Momma, with the contacts I suspect you have in the University community and the community in general (like, here, for instance
!), it would likely be quite easy to locate mentors for your possums. Grace offers almost step-by-step advice to setting up mentorships. Volunteering at aquariums, or museums, or places that do the kind of work that a possum might be interested in are all great ways to get a REAL education.

There's also a book called 'Real Lives: Eleven Kids who Left School ...' I forget the rest of the title, but it addresses the actual experiences of 11 kids who were homeschooled or unschooled. The most recent edition follows up on them 11 years later as adults, and we get to see where their unusual educational paths have led. Some of those kids did really amazing things. This too is edited by Grace Llewellyn. Fascinating.

Okay, that's probably enough of a rant and sales pitch. Suffice it to say that I don't like public school, and have found that a kid's world opens up way more, to diversity, to real knowledge and understanding, and to real curiosity about learning once they are not required to sit in a desk listening, and meeting an ever-lower bar.

Alan Carter said...

Jake's science is as valid (in an absolute sense) as it ever was. Galileo said, "It still moves!"

The bureaucratic performance (including the extreme inadvisability of their policy) is an equally valid sociological experiment exploring the current state of society. For example, Jake could check out the recent debates about pharmacutical firms suppressing negative results.

Perhaps it's no bad thing to be educating young people to be scientists in their social context.

Katie said...

I would so raise a stink over this with you PMomma if it was child who had to go through this insanity!

My kids test well, but I am annoyed by the limited views and approaches taken to educate our youth. I feel like, especially since the NCLB act, that the schools have lost focus on what school should be: School should be a place that inspires and encourages unique thoughts.

I've taught in public schools and you won't believe the BS we teachers have to go through with the NCLB. I was a support teacher, which meant I taught a subject, Visual Arts to be precise, outside of the usual norm such as reading, math, writing, etc. Support teachers were the people mostly there to inspire and encourage the creative thinking at my school but I lost my job with the Ballet and Spanish teacher, after the new semester had already begun, because of budget cuts.

We were only teaching for the state standardized tests! Also in the public schools where I live, I know other teachers in other states have the same thing, we are given a HUGE book of what we are supposed to be teaching your children (We even have one for art!). We have no choice in the lesson plans the district and state chooses what your kids are supposed to learn, not the teacher. We just have to come up with a way to keep our kids from falling asleep in their desks from being so bloody bored. I was told at my job that I should only be teaching crafts that are dealing with the school monthly theme instead of art.

P-Momma, go for homeschooling for your kids if you feel like they aren't getting the education they need. A lot of Universities and Colleges offer classes to kids who are home schoolers and even correspondence home school programs. There might even be an atheist home schooling group in your area or you could start one so your kids could get some social interaction.

Gramomster Said:
When you talk in school, you get in trouble, so learning to communicate with others is discouraged in practice. Where is this socialization of which we speak?

Let me tell you how far I am behind in my own social interactions as an adult because of this stupid rule! I was terrified to speak during school from age 5 until I left high school and I still have speaking out in my college level courses because of the corporal punishment and social peer pressure I witnessed as a child if you spoke. (I was personally bullied a lot in school for being different.)

We can't let children be discouraged from speaking publicly if we encourage peer harassment, corporal punishment, etc.

Gramomster said...

Just another thought....

With the starting a homeschool group thing, I remembered that there may also be a group of people who teach homeschooled middle and high school kids. My best college friend has degrees in marine biology and math, and she works full time going from home to home to offer those subjects to homeschoolers. She's in northern CA (Mt. Shasta), but she may know if there is such an organization in the southern part of the state.

Bunc said...

Momma Possum,
This is only my second post here so I will understand if you think I am being a bit presumptious giving you advice but ... ( This is genuinely meant constructively )

I find your paragraph length really hard on the eyes. It makes your posts (which seem interesting) much harder going than they need to be.

I used to post really long paragraphs like that and then read advice about how useability studies on the internet suggest that people find reading long blocks of text on a screen difficult.

It's just a request/suggestion not intended as a criticism and I hope you accept this comment in that spirit.