Monday, April 21, 2008

Gary's comment

A commenter who goes by the name of mercurial ohearn belatedly shares his feelings about the previously blogged science project. You know, the one where the child judged morality through a survey.

Here is his comment with my responses. My intro...
Hello Gary,
Since you took time to leave such an in depth comment on my blog, I feel you're owed an in depth response from me. Since there is a limit on the length of responses on blogger, I thought it best to e-mail you. Firstly, I'd like to say "thank you" for your feedback. While we clearly don't agree, I don't mind criticism. Your position implies that you gave, if anything, a careless read over the subject matter which was discussed in multiple posts, blogs, and comments. I shall bold your statements/questions. My responses will be in blue.


"apparently, you were expecting him to internalize the minimalization of
variables, but then you switched this to "following directions", which is
altogether different. perhaps you should've said "following directions", if that
is what you originally meant."


To start, I don't think it's fair to suggest I had any "expectations" for this child's project. Until his teacher brought it to me and asked for help, I played no part. As you can see if you go to the webpage listed in the commentary, the "directions" for science projects within this county are viewable to all. Having four children, I know that these directions are handed to every child at the beginning of the science fair season. This child neither followed directions as laid out by the county's science fair committee, nor did he come close to grasping the concepts necessary for applying the scientific method.


providing us with the directions he was meant to follow might also have
made this post a bit more informative.As I said above, they are provided.
I'm sorry if you missed them of if, in the time that has elapsed, the link has
gone down.


after all, an 11-year-old can probably reason well enough to follow
directions like "brush your teeth before you go to bed" or "mix two eggs
together in a bowl with 1/2 cup of flour and 1 cup of sugar" or "write a report
on something you see in your life, and say what you think is good or bad about
it, and then tell your audience why you hold these opinions" or even "3x + 6 =
15, find x".
Certainly. I happen to believe that eleven year olds can do this and more.

but the likelihood is far less (though not impossible) that this same
child can fully grasp a set of instructions like "form a hypothesis (a specific
concept that requires understanding and adherence to stringent criteria), based
on your observations and/or intuition about some phenomenon in the world, and
then test this hypothesis, using the scientific method (itself another,
different list of sophisticated directions). be sure to check your experiment
for weaknesses, such as failure of the double-blind test (another important
concept that requires significant forethought), etc., etc., then analyze the
data, and using the data, form a logical conclusion that either supports or
refutes the conclusion you drew in your hypothesis," which seems to be what you
are suggesting, though i see in your addendum to this post you "clarified" that
remark.


And, here I believe you under-estimate what children are capable of. Where you live, there may not be a large emphasis placed on educating children using the scientific method. Here, the method is posted in every Kindergarten class and children as young as my five year old can tell you what a hypothesis is. By sixth grade, it part of the state's standards that children not only understand the terminology of the scientific method, but that they also begin to apply that knowledge.

I don't expect a child to come out of the gate with an amazing project by sixth grade. However, by sixth grade, they're generally on their third or fourth year of science fairs. It's not as if the student in question had zero exposure to the scientific method and, in fact, this was not his first time at the rodeo.

The problem with his conclusion, in my opinion, wasn't that he'd chosen to take this sort of subject matter on as a project. My problem was that his "survey" was completely and totally subjective. And, though you are free to disagree, there was little science involved in the entire project.


yes, his "experiment" was hardly an experiment, as you so rightly point
out.


Agreed.

it exhibits, however, exactly the level of intelligence and
attention to detail that one would expect from your average 11-year-old, who is
just starting to internalize an abstract process like critical
thinking.


I suspect that we will agree to disagree, then. I'm actually a bit confused because, as I see it, his project carried quite a bit of detail. He clearly knew, or was being told, enough details of the Bible and the Christian fundamentalist ideology to come up with the "survey" that he did. I won't pretend to be an authority on what the "average" eleven year old is capable of in terms of critical thinking. I don't know if that's something that could be quantified.

i still remember the science projects that most of my peers created when
i was in junior high. some could hardly be considered science, even if they
weren't, strictly speaking, religious in nature. this boy's doesn't seem all
that different, in terms of rigorous attention to methodology.



I think you're missing the point. Or, perhaps you're seeing the point, but ignoring it because you think people are picking on him? A science project, even if everything else is set aside, should still be a SCIENCE project. If an eleven year old puts math problems on a spelling worksheet, you don't give him/her credit because they failed to stick to the subject at hand. Furthermore, I think basing your opinion on what you and your peers did in elementary school is just as illogical as what you will accuse me of later. These kids live in a different age and have access to more scientific knowledge than, I am going to speculate here, you or I even dreamed of. What differs between this project and any other sucky science project is that there's absolutely NO hint of science in it. I've seen kids suck eggs into glass bottles or paint solar systems without understanding air pressure or astronomy. Had that been the case here, I would've said nothing. And, if you'll show me any hint of a scientific theory in here, then I would appreciate it if you would point it out.


but even if he is below average, what difference does it make?

That's just it, though. I don't think he's all that "below average". I occasionally tutor children with Aspergers and various other instructional disabilities. The child who did this project is, I would say, according to his teacher's opinion, fairly intelligent. So, this begs the question - why is it that a child with reasonable academic talent would do a SCIENCE project that had NO SCIENCE content? The "difference" is that there are a good number of people, yourself included, who seem to be saying, "Look. It doesn't matter that it wasn't science. Don't pick on him." My counter question is: what about the other children? What does it say to them if a child who doesn't follow protocol is given the same grade as one of the children who did?


you aren't attacking him because he's a poor science student, you're attacking
him because he's christian, and because he tried (however inappropriately) to
incorporate his religion into his research.


Honestly, and I mean this with all due respect for someone I don't know (you), I didn't think I was attacking the child. I, in truth, feel like he's getting short changed from the adults in his life who allowed this project to go beyond the first day. If an atheist child had done this same project, only with a bias to show how moral atheists are or how horrible theists are, then you could bet I'd have made the same post.

Additionally, I would've had no problem with his doing a topic that reflected his beliefs. I believe I said that in the comments section. Perhaps you missed it? Two years ago, I helped my friend, who home schools her daughter with a Goddard curriculum (ATI), think of topics her daughter could do for science fair. She settled on testing the buoyancy of water with different salt levels because she wanted to know if a man could walk on water. For the record, her conclusion was, in my opinion, pushing the limits of science, but she decided that a normal, average weight man could not possibly walk on water of any salt content and, therefore, "Jesus must have been more than just man." Again, I don't agree with her conclusion, but I thought her hypothesis was clever and her methodology well done.


are all psychological or sociological experiments no longer considered to be
science?

Are you being intentionally obtuse? I'll assume this is a rhetorical question. Obviously, the scientific method can be, and is often, applied to psychological and social experiments. To be valid, they follow the same standards as other scientific experiments. Another criteria in engineering valid sociological experiments is that the person conducting the experience go into it with a question and not a bias. This kid started out with the fallacy that non-Christians (and he's including Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Native American spirituality, and other Eastern religions) are immoral. He built his survey with questions that are, for the most part, irrelevant to morality.


rhetoric, though not absolutely scientific, has at its heart the study
of logic, which precepts and principles form the foundation of the scientific
method.
I agree. I never argued to the contrary.

I hardly think i am. i'm merely acknowledging a fact: some kids are
brighter than others, and some are much, much brighter than all the
rest.



Again, I wouldn't argue that you are wrong with this observation.
What disappoints me is that there are some, this would
include you, who would say, "well...he's a little slower than most, so we'll not
even attempt to correct his mistakes or make him feel bad." How does
dismissing the problems with the projects make this child a better scientist and
thinker?

fortunately, we have a society that can accommodate people of varying
levels and types of ability. so this kid sucks at science. maybe he'll make a
great plumber, which is good, because we still need those, and i hear they make
good money.



*bangs head on keyboard* You say you're not selling this kid short academically, but you keep saying things like this! I don't know that he sucks at science. I do know that he bombed this project. Those are two different things. How is your assumption that he's slow not "selling him short"? Why not assume that he's relatively bright with parents who would rather he push an ideology than engage in a scientific investigation of the world around him?

I'm all for people finding their niche'. And, I happen to think everyone has something to offer the world. Contrary to what you're implying, I'm not some elitist academic. . My father and grandfather, whom I love dearly, provided for their families by working multiple, blue collar jobs. I know where I came from and realize that there is immense value in putting in putting in an honest days work. I wouldn't dare look down upon someone (except for, possibly, Fred Phelps and televangelists) who did a service to humanity, no matter what that service is. But, why assume this kid can only be a blue collar worker? Again, I think it's selling a child short to say, "You know,...you suck at science. Keep doing it wrong because I expect you'll make a great plumber and we need plumbers." YOU DID NOT SAY THAT, I realize. I'm just making the point.

And, frankly, I think you're final sentence in the post was uncalled for and reflective of a bias held on your part. But, I'll address that in a moment. Just keep in mind that I've not made any judgements about you or criticized you in any way.


the only thing of significance here is whether the teacher gave him a
bad grade for his science project, which she should have. whether or not some
unexceptional boy is capable of mastering the fundamentals of modern scientific
thought when he is only first learning them in school is irrelevant to the
context of your post, which ostensibly criticizes the impression upon children,
and the imposition in their schools, of christian values, beliefs, and
mores
.
So, wait...you agree she should've given him a bad grade. But, above you're defending his project? I'm confused. Again, I don't care if this kid is christian, atheist, Buddhist, or Islamic. His science project wasn't a science project.

As I explained above, this is NOT the first time he's heard about the scientific method. Nor is it his first experiment. I don't even think this was about a person, or group, criticizing his project because he is a Christian. It's actually ironic that you're accusing those of us who found his project lacking of pigeon-holing him when his project AIMED at stereotyping people. His parents have every right to impose their Christian values upon their child. His teacher, my friend, has every right to be a fundamentalist Christian. But, neither party has the right to post a science project that suggests non-Christians are immoral. The imposition of values is from the family and child who are claiming that anyone outside THEIR values is immoral.


you have offered up an example of how christianity is corrupting science
education,

Actually, I presented a bad science project where Christianity was USED to stereotype people and a child acted as cop, judge, and jury about the "sins" of others. Christianity has been attempting to squelch scientific discovery since the Catholic Church argued that the world was flat and had, literally, four corners. This continued with the religious intolerance showered on Galileo. He directly contradicted the Bible (Ecclesiastes 1:5, if you care) and was arrested, placed under censure for the rest of his life, and banned from the church. There have been few scientific discoveries that various religions/churches/belief systems have accepted willingly and on its merits.

And, I don't believe I used this child's project as an example of "how Christianity is corrupting science education."

but you are placing the blame on parents, who have a right to raise
their children in whatever manner they feel best.

I blame his parents because they engaged in and promoted a disingenuous project that did nothing more than promote their beliefs at the expense of others. What is laudable about a child being encouraged to judge his fellow sixth graders on morality based on a very limited scope of behavior? If I encouraged my child to go into a classroom and tell theists that they're wrong, would you support that activity? Does my right to parent extend to instructing my child to judge their classmates or suggest that they're better than everyone else? Of COURSE NOT! Furthermore, while you're correct in that they can choose to teach their child whatever they wish, I think it's sad that any parent would instruct a child to disregard scientific discoveries because it may be in contradiction to their religious beliefs. Plumbers use physics and chemistry.


the blame really belongs with those educators, administrators, board
members who allow it to happen, like your friend, the boy's teacher, for
instance.


This I don't understand. As a parent, I'm my child's first teacher. And, ultimately, I am responsible for their education - not the state, not the teacher, and not the system. ME!

My friend, the teacher, has one hundred students. By sixth grade, it's unreasonable to expect her to micro-manage each project. I'm guessing you missed the part where, in the first two assignments (which were a list of hypothesis and possible projects and a plan of attack), the child presented a different methodology? His teacher thought his question was interesting and valid (as do I)... though difficult and subjective, there were ways he could've done this in line with protocol and within the boundaries of a real experiment. His parents, at some point unknown, decided that they didn't want him doing the original project as described. Every teacher in this county teaches the scientific method every year. Situations like this rarely happen. What exactly do you propose she should've done? Move in with his family? As for board members,... how are they responsible for this? I'm genuinely intrigued by this suggestion and hope you'll elaborate. I seem to sense that you're working with a dichotomy: the school/teacher/board are responsible for instructing this child in the scientific method, but they're not allowed to hold him to the standard because it might challenge the religious beliefs in his home.


it's the responsibility of your friend, in her role as educator, to
instruct this boy on what is, and isn't science, and to fail him, if that is
what is required.

Short of doing his project for him, what more would you suggest she should've done? It can't be said enough - he was, is, and will be, educated in the scientific method. It's part of the core curriculum in our county. Being that other children in the class had projects that reflected a base understanding, I can't see how we should fault her. But, you are free to disagree.

and yet, you don't criticize her role in this travesty at all; in fact, you make apologies for her and instead focus all of your energy and vitriol on the boy and his project.Whoa, whoa, whoa...back the truck up. What was within her power to change? And, where is this anger, on my part, of which you speak? I have assumed you to be a stable, rational person who can engage in a discussion. It's unfortunate that you're incapable of doing the same. Instead, you bluster in well after the fact to insult me, my readers, and my friend (the teacher), when you didn't have enough information about any of the three to do so.


it's obvious that you're using the excuse of tearing apart his science
project to tear apart his beliefs. and if you define yourself by what you
believe, which we are all instructed to do by the media, and by both our
religious and our secular "leaders" and role models, then it stands to reason
that someone who tears apart your beliefs is essentially attacking you.

Not even close. I didn't tear apart his beliefs. Indeed, I believe I have stated repeatedly that his beliefs aren't the problem. I've also explained to you that the teacher is a pentacostal/fundamentalist christian and I've helped other kids regardless of their religious leanings. If a theist physician prays before surgery for guidance and then cuts off the wrong leg during surgery... am I attacking his religion by calling attention to his mistake? Of course not. If you say, "Wow. That Christopher Hitchens is a real jerk.", am I justified in believing that you're "attacking" all atheists or secular, free thinkers? Of course not!

ONCE AGAIN - I AM NOT attacking a BELIEF SYSTEM. I am discussing a BAD SCIENCE PROJECT. If you are seeing it as a full-fledge attack on Christianity, then I'm afraid that says more about you than me.


you mean lessons like how to have compassion for others who are less
fortunate or gifted than yourself? right.

That's pretty big talk for someone who hasn't availed themselves to learning about who I am. Again, your assumptions and projection are saying more about you than me. I don't, and never have, considered the child "less gifted". Yet, you keep hammering away at that nail. You then suggest that wanting a child to have valid information, that he will carry for the rest of his life, to be uncompassionate. That's messed up.


so why expend your righteous indignation and your passion to write on
ridiculing this vulnerable child, whose naivete in a different context we might
have smiled at and dismissed, affectionately, as innocence?
Once again, your assumptions are making you look like an ass. Why expend your righteous indignation and your passion to write on ridiculing a woman with lupus who has four children and still finds time to tutor children and gives back to her community, with no regard for religion, and keeps a blog that just happens to discuss a science project that's not a science project?

why attack this child's "science project" as a means to
passive-aggressively snipe at the people you're really aiming for, which are his
parents, his teachers, his community, and his culture?


Are you even listening to yourself? His teacher is one of my dearest friends. And, I've made no judgement about his community, because, as part of that community, that would be stupid.

:::rolls eyes::: oh, well there you go. (in re: pmomma's child taking a
prize in science fair)

Very mature.


15 comments:

Half rabbit said...

Off topic: I'm just curious but what is a "instructional disability." I've searched google and found only 18 results. What I've read on aspergers doesn't seem to match up with what the word conjures up in my mind.

Also off topic: How come science fairs seem so prevalent in America but the average understanding of science seems to be lower.(not basing this off the mentioned science fair project, but various studies) I remember no science fairs from my schools and yet there seems to be a higher understanding where I live(ok, ok, not very good evidence since this is a science fair project :) ).

ZugTheMegasaurus said...

Since the original post about the science fair project, I've been astounded at how little people seem to believe in 11-year-old kids. Am I the only one who remembers being that age? I don't recall being an idiot incapable of understanding anything when I was 11. Instead, I recall being able to understand a lot of important things, including the scientific method.

Being young is not the same as being stupid. It's amazing how many adults seem to forget that.

Joy said...

I teach science at a public elementary school, and my students are kids aged ten to eleven years. I can confirm that they're perfectly capable of understanding the scientific method, as well as designing experiments to test their hypotheses. Even the kids who struggle can do this, although they might be a little overwhelmed with coming up with the original topic.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Gary said the following in the science post:
sorry. i made a good faith reading of every comment you posted to this original blog post, and none includes a copy of the directions this child received.
So, wait a minute. You come to my blog and make a judgement about my response to this boys project, but you consider it to be an inconvenience to check your own facts? Wow.

forgive me if i lacked the perspicacity to rummage around the rest of your blog site (in the comments, even!), on the off-chance that i might randomly stumble across more info related to this particular blog post.
Priceless.
You don't have to "randomly stumble around". Just got to that paticular month. How did you end up on my blog, anyway? I'm curious.

would you kindly please direct me to the comment of the blog post that contains these instructions, so i can read them and decide for myself how well he followed, or didn't follow, the directions he had been given? thank you.
http://wwwstatic.kern.org/gems/KCSF/2008RulesBook612.pdf

and, as i said, it is perfectly obvious that you are attacking this child's religion.
Apparently, it's only perfectly obvious to you. Can I assume, because you're being a judgemental ass, that you're against atheists and all secular people? I suppose I could, but I generally like to reserve my judgements (unlike you) until I have the opportunity to get to know a person.
that you could "care less about his religion" is patently false; the subject matters deeply to you. so deeply, in fact, that you introduce yourself to the world as an "atheist in a mini van", and you believe that evangelical christianity is "bastardizing science."
Whoa with the run-on sentences, Tonto!! You're spinning off into a tizzy and slinging jibberish. Unlike you, apparently, I know how to seperate my own beliefs from other peoples' beliefs. Therefore, when I say, "I am an atheist. But, you have a right to your religious beliefs.", I mean precisely that. And, how is an internet pseudonym, even if it includes the word atheist, a negative injunction against theists and little kids with bad science projects? What my thoughts are, as far as evangelical Christianity and it's attempts to push pseudo-science off as science, is unrelated to my atheism. I know CHRISTIANS who think creationism and ID are pseudo-science.

while this may or may not be the case, you certainly haven't proven that this child's relative ineptitude as a junior scientist is in any way the result of the influence of christianity,

Did I say it was?
evangelical or otherwise. you also wouldn't have chosen to point out his ineptitude if he had performed equally poorly on a science experiment that had nothing to do with god.
Did you even read my response to you? I think I was pretty clear in stating that this project would've been bad even if it had been an atheist kid running the survey.

what you have done is write a post that strikes a decidedly hostile tone towards an 11-year-old, and then, when the inevitable and totally predictable backlash occurred, you backpedaled, you hemmed and hawed, you used rationalization in an attempt to justify your faux pas.
I'm not back-pedalling at all, sir. Your failure to read the entire story or open up your ears and listen is your choice - but, your righteous indignation doesn't make your position any more valid. As for the hostility...LOLOLOLOL...where? You really need to look up the psychological term "projection".

but that's ok. everyone's guilty of doing that at some point or the other. but another one of those "lessons we're supposed to learn in childhood" is to admit our mistakes and to try to do better, next time.
Show me my mistake.

my apologies for ruffling your feathers, in this regard.
You didn't ruffle my feathers. I tried responding to you by e-mail and your contact info on your blogger profile bounced. I don't mind discussing a difference of opinion with anyone. The number of discussions on this blog have been countless. It's YOU who seems to have blown in here and, without reading all the evidence (which you then say, "Oh well...I don't have time." essentially), you start pigeonholing me based on your own archaic stereotype.

You're not defending an eleven year old boy. You've, without reason, called him an idiot and "slow". You've suggested that he's academically deficient. You've even admitted that his project sucked. But, you're his great defender? You don't give a shit about this kid. The only problem you seem to have is that I happen to be an atheist who's discussing this project. The only reason people have discussed his Christianity is because he was attempting to portray morality in terms of a singluary, Christian world view.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Half rabbit said...
Off topic: I'm just curious but what is a "instructional disability." I've searched google and found only 18 results. What I've read on aspergers doesn't seem to match up with what the word conjures up in my mind.

Aspergers and "instructional disability" aren't synonymous. Aspergers has specific signs and symptoms. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. In this neck of the woods, children who have any number of issues - I think the other term would be "learning disabilities". Here, because they don't want to make the child feel like they can't "learn", they call them "instructional disabilities." It's just mumbo-jumbo. I've done some tutoring for kids who have specific learning disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, non-verbal comprehension problems, etc.,.).

Also off topic: How come science fairs seem so prevalent in America but the average understanding of science seems to be lower
Personally, I see very little support after elementary school (K-8) for the sciences. Our school systems are dealing with very small budgets and antequated materials. In subjects like science, where the information base grows and changes and evolves every day, it's not uncommon to end up with teachers who may have been qualified ten years ago, but who aren't "current" now. This trickles down into what's taught.


Zug - Being young is not the same as being stupid. It's amazing how many adults seem to forget that.
Amen, brother!
And, in this case, what's funny is that you have this Christian commenter saying, "I can call him stupid and say his project sucks, but, if you say it, then you're an evil atheist who is persecuting this poor lad." *rolls eyes*

Katie said...

Here, the method is posted in every Kindergarten class and children as young as my five year old can tell you what a hypothesis is.

Growing up where I did in the south science wasn't emphasised at all until 6th grade where I attended school. It wasn't until I hit middle school I felt like I was thrown to the wolves because I had very little training in the sciences (how I hate that I wasn't not!!). Now that I look back on it though it seems most of the places seemed to trying to get the kids to read first and get basic math concepts down.

Brigit said...

My school didn't even have science fairs. I don't remember anything about my grade-school science classes. I was given my first dissecting microscope and chemistry kit pretty early on. My games mostly consisted of making "magic potions" for different ailments. Funnily enough, I'm a chemist turned pharmacologist =)

fsmismyhero said...

I wish I was able to post pics here because this conversation reminds me of this comic
http://xkcd.com/386/
(g-rated)

bananabethanna said...

This is for MercurialOhearn. --->

I teach seventh grade science and math in California. I also happen to be a Catholic which is why I can't understand your anger here since it didn't bother me then and it doesn't bother me now. Pmomma is on the money about kids in the state being educated in the scientific method early. Thusly a sixth grader would be expected to create a project that included some research on a scientific principle. I kept my comments in instant messenger about this project. Mostly we talked about how I would grade it and I agree that it's terrible science. Many parents and children think that a survey is a science project. They can be but this was not example of a good survey. Even being Catholic this survey offended me. I think it's sad that he is in a home that is critical of others like he was being. He didn't learn anything scientific. What he learned was how to judge people with poor and tactless questions. There are enough people like that in this world with out children acting like that.

At every one else ---> Pmomma is in excrutiating pain. Let's send her some warm fuzzies. I'm helping on this end but I know some of you would want to know what was happening.

mercurial ohearn said...

hi. thanks, first of all, for posting a link to the science fair instructions in this thread.

a link to these instructions, or even a reference to where they might be found, does not appear to be in your original post, or in its comments, either those made by you, or by other persons who have commented.

i regret that you feel this constitutes some kind of lapse in research standards on my part. should i have intuited, based on no evidence whatsoever, that you had posted them elsewhere in your blog? should i have then, based on this intuition that i should have had, pored over every entry until i found them? wow, indeed. ever read the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy? i am reminded of the following passage:

"...You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anyone or anything."

"But the plans were on display..."

"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

"That's the display department."

"With a torch."

"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs."

"But look you found the notice didn't you?"

"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. They were on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of The Leopard."


again, i didn't find any link to these instructions listed in your commentary, and while i am usually quite fastidious when it comes to these things, it is entirely possible that i overlooked it, which is why i asked you to point me to the place in the commentary where such a link could be found. while you didn't do that, you did at least copy and paste the link for me in this post, which was very nice. thank you again.

so, i think we can agree that these directions were not easily available to someone who is not a regular reader of your blog, yes? to someone who had come to your blog, based on a link that someone else had emailed him?

now then, you may not think it's fair to say that you had any expectations of this child, but you did, and you do. you have accused me of setting "the bar" of my expectations of children too low, which means, by inference, that you feel that your expectations are higher than mine, and further, that you have expectations in the first place.

ergo, you expected this child, before you even knew who he was, to have obtained a minimum understanding of the rules to the task at hand, as a part of your general expectations of children who have reached eleven years of age. this assumes, of course, that you had such expectations prior to your evaluation of the kid's science project, which you may have not, i suppose.

"And, here I believe you under-estimate what children are capable of."

wrong. i certainly know what i was capable of at eleven, and at eleven, i made science projects which would've exceeded your standards. moreover, i know and have helped to raise children who are far more capable, and at younger ages, of completing the same task assigned to the boy whose work you attack so pejoratively.

the length of your responses to mine, and their relative lack of mudslinging, suggest that you consider me of enough intelligence to at least be worth a little of your time. i would hope then, that you would realize that as a person of some intelligence, i am not inclined to let a child's intellectual development languish in a mire of half-baked, bronze age ideologies written by zealots, cynical demagogues and obvious schizophrenics.

and for the record, i am an atheist, or at least, as close as i can be to one without getting dogmatic about that fact.

it seems to me, in this debate, at least, that you continually lump all children into one group, one that must be defined by your hypothetical "bar". i, on the other hand, do not do that. as a private tutor, i interact with children all the time. in fact, i interact with an even greater number of adults too, all of varying intellectual capacities, and i can tell you that many adults whom i know and love would have tremendous difficulty grasping the scientific method (my dear grandmother included, who came of age during the great depression and didn't have access to a high school education, being the oldest of seven children in a poor, sharecropping family). not every child will be able to leap over this bar of yours, wherever you have placed it, regardless of your state's educational mandates.

but this is not the issue. i don't think that the bar for grading should be set any lower. if anything, maybe it should be set a little higher. i think this boy probably deserves to receive a failing grade for his project. i would most likely have given him a failing grade.

what i wouldn't have done is write the sorts of nasty, insulting comments that you did, comments that would demoralize that child, if he were ever to read them. comments that come from an adult, who he is still taught to respect as an authority and someone that he is told can be trusted.

in short, your "criticism" of this child's science project, in its gleeful shredding of his inchoate stabs at logic, would very likely turn this christian child against other atheists, would make him think that all atheists are sanctimonious snobs who think smugly that they're better than everyone else.

however wrong-headed this boy's science project was, and however off-base the conclusion he drew, he nevertheless acknowledged that religion apparently plays no part in how moral or immoral a person is, and that we should all strive to be better people (better christians, i know, but let's not split this particular hair).

i truly regret having to make these harsh remarks, because to be antagonistic towards another person is to prompt that person to throw up automatic defenses, and it makes it difficult for two people to see eye to eye, even if their world views are not all that different. but these remarks need to be made. it wasn't that what you said was incorrect, it was how you said it.

your comments were dripping with sarcasm, and with a thinly veiled contempt for this child's beliefs. they weren't at all constructive, and were barely instructive. and this is my point.

"These kids live in a different age and have access to more scientific knowledge than, I am going to speculate here, you or I even dreamed of."

well, when i was eleven, i wanted to be a scientist, and i devoured all the scientific literature i could get my mind around, at that age. i was eleven in 1982, and while our scientific knowledge has increased considerably since that time, the fundamental tenets on which the majority of this knowledge is based haven't really changed.

"there are a good number of people, yourself included, who seem to be saying, "Look. It doesn't matter that it wasn't science. Don't pick on him."

i'm not saying it doesn't matter that it isn't science. of course it matters, at least in terms of his grade. i am, however, saying "don't pick on him." criticize his work, certainly, and constructively -- to him, preferably, and not to a forum full of other disgruntled atheists with chips on their shoulders who are looking for every opportunity to ridicule the provincial beliefs of someone who doesn't know any better. it doesn't matter that you think he "ought" to know better. he should know better. what matters is that you are an adult who chose to ridicule a child. moreover, you're an atheist adult who chose to ridicule a christian child, which makes you seem churlish and bigoted, and which is counterproductive to our shared goal of freeing atheism from the persecution of the christian "moral" majority.

"My counter question is: what about the other children? What does it say to them if a child who doesn't follow protocol is given the same grade as one of the children who did?"

fail him! as i've said, repeatedly, i don't think this child should have gotten a good grade, and if he did, the fault for that lies squarely on your friend's shoulders. i don't understand why you persist in operating under this misconception about my intent.

my intent, again, is to take you to task for the manner in which you held up this child for ridicule to an audience of like-minded people, many of whom seemed to go right along with you in poking fun at this christian child and his backwards ideology, and who used your sarcasm as a jumping board to add their own mean and totally unecessary and unhelpful comments.

i realize that you are not to blame for what other people have said, but you have -- perhaps unwittingly -- helped to foment an environment where it is acceptable for adults to belittle children, if those children happen to be christian.

i understand that you didn't think you were attacking the child. but you must reread your post, and the sarcastic tone that pervades it, and see that this is exactly what you did. would you have adopted this tone with the child, if you had been asked to deliver your criticisms to him directly? what about the children you tutor? what about your own children? would you have mocked your children as viciously as you have mocked this child? i certainly hope not. all people are deserving of respect and compassion, even those who are incapable of internalizing the minimalization of variables.

i know that you will say "i wasn't attacking his beliefs, i was attacking his science project!", but you must understand exactly why this seems like a cop-out. firstly, you didn't say that to begin with (although it would've made little difference if you would have). secondly, you can say "i would have attacked another kid's science project, if it were this bad and had nothing to do with god." but the fact is, you didn't. all of these statements you made, after the fact, in an attempt to justify or clarify your initial remarks, which several people rightly pointed out seemed to be over the line.

"I, in truth, feel like he's getting short changed from the adults in his life who allowed this project to go beyond the first day. If an atheist child had done this same project, only with a bias to show how moral atheists are or how horrible theists are, then you could bet I'd have made the same post."

i agree with you that he is being short-changed, and this is unfortunate. but again, the adult who seems to have been in the position to make the most difference is your friend, but i didn't see you taking her to task.

"Are you being intentionally obtuse? I'll assume this is a rhetorical question. "

of course it was a rhetorical question -- one in which the answer is obvious. in asking it, i was wondering if you were being intentionally obtuse by dismissing "psycho-social" subjects as being unworthy of scientific investigation.

"What disappoints me is that there are some, this would
include you, who would say, "well...he's a little slower than most, so we'll not
even attempt to correct his mistakes or make him feel bad.""


by this time, i hope that i have made it clear that i do not think this kid's mistakes should not be corrected. the difference is in HOW you choose to correct his mistakes. i imagined that such a distinction would be obvious enough so as not to require belaboring the point. i may have been wrong, in this regard, in which case, i will repeat it as often as is necessary until you cease to accuse me of attempting to "coddle" this child and others like him, or to shield them from criticism.

it is the obnoxious TONE you took with your criticism, and not the criticism itself, to which i object.

"*bangs head on keyboard* You say you're not selling this kid short academically, but you keep saying things like this! "

well, if you stop banging your head on the keyboard for a moment, you'd realize that i'm not "selling this kid short".

you are correct to suggest that i've placed him in an artificially constructed category, and that he may, in fact, be bright enough to grasp the scientific method. perhaps he is; in which case, constructive criticism, criticism that respects his innate intelligence, without talking down to him, is what's called for.

again, though, that's irrelevant. it's your tone i take exception to, and the way in which you used the child as a scapegoat. by placing him in this artificial category, which you describe as me calling him "slow", i was merely trying to point out that it isn't necessary for every last person on the planet to acquaint themselves with the scientific method in order to be a good person and a productive member of society.

i think we can both agree on that.

"Whoa with the run-on sentences, Tonto!! You're spinning off into a tizzy and slinging jibberish."

a run on sentence occurs when two or more independent clauses are conjoined with a comma. there's no run-on, here. my grammar is perfectly acceptable, informal english. or perhaps you failed to notice the semi-colon, which is used to connect two independent clauses within the same sentence?

likewise, what i wrote is far from gibberish. it is completely comprehensible, and its syntax easily parsed, by just about anyone who is fluent in english.

if you want to take exception to the way i write, then you could draw attention to my refusal to capitalize, and you would certainly have a valid point, although to do so would seem to be a tad pedantic. i wouldn't write a research paper or publish an article without capitalization, but this is how i write when i'm at home.

my interest is piqued, however, by how quickly you jumped upon that sentence in particular, with an ad hominem attack on my thought process, and on my writing.

"His teacher, my friend, has every right to be a fundamentalist Christian. But, neither party has the right to post a science project that suggests non-Christians are immoral. The imposition of values is from the family and child who are claiming that anyone outside THEIR values is immoral."

so why not take your friend to task, for neglecting to live up to her duty as a teacher?

"I can't see how we should fault her."

you can't see how she, as the boy's teacher, can't be faulted for allowing him to continue his project "to see if he could do it"? if he received a bad grade, it is partially her fault for allowing him to choose such an inappropriate subject. what, did she not ask her students to turn in their proposals before beginning work on the project?

"What was within her power to change?"

you're kidding, right? what kind of grade did she give this kid? i understand that she's your friend, and that you don't want to unnecessarily strain your relationship with her, but she is clearly at fault for allowing him to choose a non-scientific subject for his science project.

"And, I don't believe I used this child's project as an example of "how Christianity is corrupting science education." "

ahem: "But, he monkied the conclusion to reflect his bias. That's not how it works. To me, it shows the complete bastardization of mixing the evangelical, creationist agenda with science."

your words.

"I'm guessing you missed the part where, in the first two assignments (which were a list of hypothesis and possible projects and a plan of attack), the child presented a different methodology?"

naturally. and if the student's teacher were hoodwinked into expecting a different project from the one the kid ultimately turned in, then she is not to blame for the result. i do hope, however, that she saw fit to give him a poor grade.

"As for board members,... how are they responsible for this? "

well, of course they aren't directly responsible for this particular incident. they are, however, in large measure responsible for allowing evangelical christian ideology to creep into science classes and textbooks, and, to return to an original point of mine: your beef shouldn't be with this kid, but with adults and the system that allows the "bastardization" of science by evangelical ideology.

"I seem to sense that you're working with a dichotomy: the school/teacher/board are responsible for instructing this child in the scientific method, but they're not allowed to hold him to the standard because it might challenge the religious beliefs in his home."

they're certainly allowed to hold him to the standard. they SHOULD hold him to the standard. and if he fails repeatedly to adhere to that standard, he will be excluded from becoming a scientist, and will hopefully pursue one of any number of other career goals that are open to him, at whatever level of skill and ability he may develop.

there's no dichotomy here, except the one you are imposing upon my argument, by trying to make it seem as though i think this kid's work shouldn't be criticized, when of course, criticism is an integral part of the learning process.

in that respect, i suppose it is important for the child also to learn that not all adults are going to respect him, or to moderate their criticism with some recognition of his abilities and strengths . . . that some adults are going to arbitrarily cut him -- a child -- down using hostile and pejorative language in order to advance their own agendas.

"ONCE AGAIN - I AM NOT attacking a BELIEF SYSTEM. I am discussing a BAD SCIENCE PROJECT."

"But, he monkied the conclusion to reflect his bias. That's not how it works. To me, it shows the complete bastardization of mixing the evangelical, creationist agenda with science."

"Why expend your righteous indignation and your passion to write on ridiculing a woman with lupus who has four children and still finds time to tutor children and gives back to her community, with no regard for religion, and keeps a blog that just happens to discuss a science project that's not a science project?"

i'm terribly sorry that you have lupus. i have scoliosis, another chronic and degenerative disease, if it might make you feel some sort of camaraderie with me. also, if it helps, i still find time to tutor children, myself, with no regard for religion. in fact, i have had to disguise my own agnosticism/atheism from my students and their parents on more than one occasion, to avoid what seemed to me to be an unnecessary and unproductive confrontation. i don't like having to do that, at all, and i emphatically wish that i didn't have to. i'm sure you can sympathize with me, even if you haven't been in that same boat.

i'm confronting you know because we are both "on the same team", theoretically, and i would hope that we would both want to project to those whose beliefs differ from our own the sort of tolerance and level-headedness that all too often many christians, particularly evangelical christians, seem to lack.

i just don't take at face value your assertion that you were attacking this kid's bad science project because it wasn't a science project. the subtext of your post speaks volumes.

"I don't, and never have, considered the child "less gifted". Yet, you keep hammering away at that nail."

it seems we both continue to operate under certain misconceptions, then.

"And, I've made no judgement about his community, because, as part of that community, that would be stupid."

do you go to church with this kid?
'cos that's the community to which i refer.

there's a muslim community in my area of town, but i'm not a part of it.

"You've, without reason, called him an idiot and "slow"."

the hell i have! i called him "average" and "unexceptional." if you consider both of these terms to be synonymous with idiocy, then that says far more about you than any words i could say on the subject, regardless of the blue-collar values of your father and grandfather.

this is another straw man argument -- a logical fallacy. but by all means, please please please show me where i called him an idiot, or slow.

"The only problem you seem to have is that I happen to be an atheist who's discussing this project."

nope. i have a problem with you using this child as a scapegoat. i have a problem with you ridiculing his bad science with sarcastic and snide remarks that you wouldn't dare say to his face. apparently, however, you think it's perfectly acceptable to ridicule this child's work in your semi-not-really-private blog, where you are surrounded by like-minded people.

"Are you even listening to yourself? His teacher is one of my dearest friends. "

oh, i'm well aware of that. and i think you went some way towards providing more of a justification for why she didn't nip this problem in the bud. thank you for that; i retract most of my criticism of her, based on this new information. on the other hand, did she give him a passing grade?

if so, then she did far more to lower your bar than i ever could.

"Very mature."

indeed. it's about as mature as deriding an 11-year-old's science project with snide, editorial asides, isn't it?

listen, i am not saying that you ARE bigoted, or mean-spirited, or any of that. you hold up your christian friend as evidence of your tolerance of christian beliefs, and your blue-collar background as evidence that you aren't an academic elitist. in this respect, both you and i have a LOT in common. that's fine.

i am the only atheist in an entire family of christians, and i have had to learn how to live with them, and to love them, in spite of our very fundamental difference on this issue.

i just think that you could've focused your attention away from the child and onto the root causes of the problem, which lie not with him. instead, you made his project the centerpiece of your post -- tearing it apart line by line, as though such an endeavor were worth your time.

and if it were worth your time, if your purpose was to instruct people , perhaps even other children, in the proper way to conduct a science experiment, then again, your criticism wasn't constructive at all. a more appropriate response would have been a side-by-side comparison with a similar, good science project, with a minimum of sarcastic editorial asides.

i am reasonably comfortable assuming that you are a good person; i just think that you failed, in this one instance, to understand the context into which placed your "criticism" of the boy's science project (a blog, written by an atheist, which deals with issues confronting atheists in modern society, and which sharply criticizes christian values and philosophy in numerous posts). perhaps, if your atheism had been incidental to this particular blog post, we might be having a different conversation. if, for instance, your blog were on public education, or were just a personal, open diary that seemed to have no over-arching theme whatsoever, then perhaps your claim that you were merely criticizing a bad science project would be more believable. but alas, it isn't, because your blog seems to deal almost completely with atheism, and how christians persecute and misrepresent atheists, and how christians are running roughshod over our first amendment rights.

lastly, your sarcasm would have been better directed at the adults who are responsible for his gross misapplication of science.

and again, for the record, i am not one of them.

p.s. -- i don't know why you got a bounced email when you tried to email me. i have a gmail account, though, which i use to log into blogger. if you would like to email me, for whatever reason (even if it's not related to this post), just email me at mercurial.ohearn at gmail dot com (spelled out so as to avoid spam bots, of course). :-)

mercurial ohearn said...

"And, in this case, what's funny is that you have this Christian commenter saying, "I can call him stupid and say his project sucks, but, if you say it, then you're an evil atheist who is persecuting this poor lad." *rolls eyes*"

i hope you weren't referring to me as the "christian commentator."

confession: i did deliberately refrain from identifying my beliefs (or lack thereof) early on, in order to see how many people would assume i was a christian simply because i was criticizing your remarks. i guess you could say it was my own little "psycho-social" science experiment.

:-)

Spidergrackle said...

Hmph. What's he got against plumbers? I know plumbers who use more math in their jobs than some engineers.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Gary,
I think the e-mail I sent bounced because I didn't see the period seperating your first and last name.

We could continue this back-and-forth for days. But, personally, I'm not feeling up to that. I'm sorry you feel I was attacking this kid. I don't feel that I was, but clearly you disagree and it's not within my power to change your feelings. What disappoints me is that you've made a judgement about my character and intent without knowing me. I have no way of proving to you that I wasn't attacking the child. Even the part you quoted where I spoke of his project reflecting evangelical Christianity in science can hardly be seen as an attack on the boy. And, I fear that you're not reading what I've written because you're still acting as if this is the fault of his teacher. I defend her because she, based on the other projects seen in her class, did her job. You've been told that there were two points at which the project was checked and, even with the same topic area, "okayed". Teachers can't follow every student home and make sure the parents don't change the project.

And, you are completely and totally out of line for equating my friendship with this teacher to people who say "well, I have a black friend", but still show bigotry. How dare you? I've not said one thing about you or your relationships with friends/family/whatever. Despite diagreeing with you, I have treated you with respect as a human being.

nope. i have a problem with you using this child as a scapegoat. i have a problem with you ridiculing his bad science with sarcastic and snide remarks that you wouldn't dare say to his face.
Show me these "snide remarks".

apparently, however, you think it's perfectly acceptable to ridicule this child's work in your semi-not-really-private blog, where you are surrounded by like-minded people.

The child is not being ridiculed. I'm sorry you are incapable of understanding that. And, I find it ironic that you'd remark on the like-minded nature of the people who comment here and assume there's never any opposing opinion when you're being allowed to stand here and tell everyone that I'm a horrible person based on YOUR misconception of the situation! If I wanted everyone to agree with me, then I could delete every oppositional statement.

i retract most of my criticism of her, based on this new information. on the other hand, did she give him a passing grade?
...is that your business? I don't have access to her grade book. I believe he was giving points for the steps he did correctly (like, the rough draft and start-up paperwork/assignments).

i am reasonably comfortable assuming that you are a good person;
You're 'reasonably comfortable' ASSUMING I'm a good person. Wow. Should I be thanking you or something? Seriously, man...could you be any more condescending?
i just think that you failed, in this one instance, to understand the context into which placed your "criticism" of the boy's science project (a blog, written by an atheist, which deals with issues confronting atheists in modern society, and which sharply criticizes christian values and philosophy in numerous posts).
WHAT? You are continuously missing this point and I'm going to lay it out for the last time; THIS ISN'T ABOUT AN ATHEIST TEARING APART THE CHRISTIAN PROJECT. I believe I made it perfectly clear that I would've BLOGGED THE SAME THINGS IF THIS PROJECT HAD BEEN DONE BY THE CHILD OF AN ATHEIST.

if, for instance, your blog were on public education, or were just a personal, open diary that seemed to have no over-arching theme whatsoever, then perhaps your claim that you were merely criticizing a bad science project would be more believable. but alas, it isn't, because your blog seems to deal almost completely with atheism, and how christians persecute and misrepresent atheists, and how christians are running roughshod over our first amendment rights
And here is where it becomes painfully obvious that you're not reading. This blog is NOTHING as you describe. It *is* my personal journal. I don't go out of my way to sling barbs at Christians. Atheism is examined and the current events related to atheism are discussed.

lastly, your sarcasm would have been better directed at the adults who are responsible for his gross misapplication of science.

His parents, included?

The sarcasm is directed at the questions in the survey.

If you'd like to continue to see this as a criticism of the child, then I can't stop you. You've been told by myself, and others, that you've completely misread the situation and intent. But, in the end - you will believe what you choose to believe. But, I'm done discussing this with you.

camerond44 said...

Hi Gary,
You're a douchebag. Why did you post here? What did you hope to accomplish? Are you one of those people who goes around trolling blogs looking for a debate? You came to Pmomma's with guns blazing. You questioned her intergrity time after time and she gave you respectful responses. I would have told you to go to hell after the second comment. Dude! She's not criticizing the fucking kid.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand where Gary's angst is coming from, other than to assume it's projection of some personal issue. His comments seem reasoned but still make no sense; perhaps it's just my inability to relate to his mindset.

I never had the sense, when reading the original posts, that ridicule of the child was part of the intent.

My evaluation of what PMomma was saying was this:
The child's ability to learn has been stunted by his parent's fundamental ideals and the inappropriate intrusion of those ideals into his science education.
They essentially sabotaged their own child by pushing religious belief over the standard, accepted rules.
I think this kid could have done the assignment, even with the same topic, and had a better outcome if his parents had allowed him the freedom to separate their religious beliefs from his secular education.
It is sad for the child, and difficult for the teacher - a "no win", all around.
It doesn't prove anything about the child's intelligence or ability, one way or the other.