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Libraries the Best Hope for Education

I’ve always had a distrust of school textbooks. Textbooks seem the worst way to learn about anything you might want to learn about. Plus the way they necessarily dumb down whatever subject they’re addressing is always a problem.

Keep in mind I’m not talking about college textbooks, although I don’t like them either. A college-level chemistry textbook might pass on the general consensus about chemistry, and an economics textbook might pass on whatever hoodoo currently passes for economics, but they’re going to be boring.

School textbooks take that boring to a whole new level.

The author of a fake science textbook wrote me with the story of how his book was banned from use in the Houston school system because it might “reflect poorly on the district” and appear to be “mocking the quality of education” in the district, as reported by the Huffington Post, which must be a reputable news source because it also includes such hard-hitting stories as Lindsay Lohan’s message for Obama and Why celebrity divorces can break our hearts too. Powerful stuff.

Taking a look at it, I can sort of see why the use of a textbook with deliberately fake facts might be problematic in a school classroom. The fake science facts could be used to provoke discussion, but to do that the students’ heads would have to be filled with real science facts as well, which is apparently something that lots of Texans don’t want.

Apparently, Texans want one of the best state universities in the country without having any Texan students who know enough about science to study there. Though I suppose it’s possible that it’s two different groups of Texans who want different things.

Seeing that outside of Texas nobody really cares what Texans do, I hadn’t paid any attention to the ongoing Texan school textbook wars, but apparently they’re pretty hot stuff, with people who don’t know anything about science trying to write the science curriculum and people who don’t know anything about history trying to make Thomas Jefferson into a Christian who never wrote in support of revolution.

On the other hand, the know-nothings aren’t always wrong. The NY Review of Books article reports on the know-nothing who claims “evolution is hooey,” which is a pretty stupid statement, but the article complains that in addition to teaching about the peaceful civil rights movement, the amateur revisionary historians also want students to learn about the Black Panthers. I don’t see what’s wrong with that.

Sure, “the board tossed out books by the late Bill Martin Jr., the author of Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, from a list of authors third-graders might want to study because someone mixed him up with Bill Martin, the author of Ethical Marxism,” which was doubly stupid, both because of the mixup and because I seriously doubt anyone on that board could say anything intelligible about Marxism, being reduced to grunts such as “I don’t know what it is, but I know I don’t like it!” Know your enemy, people.

Some also want to remove any mentions of the New Deal as a significant moment in American history. That, too, is just stupid, however you fall on the political spectrum. However, to fault to revisionists for wanting to include “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s” as a significant moment in American history is also stupid.

I also don’t see any problem that when students turn “to social issues like labor, growth of the cities, and problems of immigrants they also take time to dwell on ‘the philanthropy of industrialists.’” Rockefeller and Carnegie may or may not have been scoundrels, but is there really any argument that their philanthropy has had a significant effect on America? All of you working in Carnegie libraries try to refute that.

It turns out history is complicated, but “complicated” and “school textbook” don’t go well together. The revisionists want to turn the founding fathers into a bunch of anti-scientific Bible-thumpers and ignore ignominious history like slavery, and that’s stupid. But it’s equally stupid to want everyone to believe the Robber Barons were all evil or the Black Panthers were all good.

The science textbook debate is more bizarre of course. There might be historical controversies over the importance of the philanthropy of industrialists, but there aren’t really any scientific controversies over evolution, or at least none that would make it into a school textbook.

People opposed to evolution don’t have an alternative theory to explain incontrovertible facts. They just don’t like the facts. Like the belief I found out about while researching this post – young earth creationism – which seems to be held by close to half of Americans. I didn’t know that was still a thing anymore. Apparently half the country hasn’t progressed intellectually since the 16th century.

Regardless, the solution seems to be get rid of the textbooks altogether. Instead of textbooks with necessarily simplistic interpretations of history or science (some more simplistic than others, of course), give them multiple books. Better yet, give them a library.

Last week I wrote about my doubts that most public libraries could support the sort of literary education so important in the lives of Ray Bradbury and other writers, but public libraries, even in Texas, ought to be able to support the education of school children.

I know some large percentage of homeschooling parents aren’t interested in education so much as making sure their children aren’t exposed to any people or ideas the parents find threatening (e.g., science or any beliefs they don’t happen to have), but some of them do have a point.

Textbook battles like the ones in Texas show that plenty of people don’t want their children to be educated. They want their children to believe what they believe, and they want other people’s children to as well.

For the parents who really wanted their children to be educated, maybe it would be better to avoid the schools completely. For most parents, that’s not possible, so maybe supplementing the schools would be a better suggestion.

Supplement the schools with libraries, and when your school district hands out ridiculous textbooks to your children, give them other and better books to read.

For the children caught in the middle of all this, libraries might be their only hope.

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Comments

  1. MD says:

    No, evolution is not necessarily good science. And people don’t need to object to it on the basis of religion. Some elements are good science – measuring stellar expansion rate and microwave background radiation gives very strong evidence for the age of the universe being around 13.75 billion years – but biological evolution is idiotic. It even sounds silly – like something from a fairytale. One animal turning into another animal belongs in the Odyssey, not serious science.

    And unlike stellar evolution, there isn’t anything measurable or testable to base the theory on. Good scientists have tried, in innovative ways – for example, studying short-lived creatures like Drosophila melanogaster, under the premise that evolution is more a matter of generations than years – but after decades of exposing generation after generation of bugs to every conceivable radiation and evolutionary trigger, we have no more evidence than we did before for one species turning into another. Because it isn’t true.

    The creationists have a theory: it was done by magic. But people who don’t believe in magic want to have a theory too, so they made up this fairytale nonsense. It does serious science no favors to keep parroting something like this as though it were credible.

    We wonder why American kids don’t go into science, but we present everything to them as being settled. Why not stop filling the textbooks with foolish-sounding fairytales and present the challenges, instead? Yes, there are still frontiers! Yes, you can still discover something big – after all, we know less than we don’t know! We have no credible theory how life came to be in this variety, but you might be the pioneer that discovers the ‘why’ of it! Kids are notorious for taking dares. Let’s dare them to be great scientists and scholars.

    • Speechless says:

      No, biological evolution is not idiotic. It is, however, a scientific theory with some pretty solid evidence. (Creationism, on the other hand, is not a scientific theory. A religious theory sure, but most definitely not a scientific one. If schools want to talk about it in the context of philosophy or the history of religions or literature that’s fine, but it is not science.)
      The fact is there’s no way that I know of to quickly force evolution. Sometimes it happens, sometimes the species dies out from failure to adapt, and sometimes the triggers used don’t actually require physical evolution.
      Use your library: go read Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould. You can even get started online: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html

    • There is actually some evidence of Evolution, at least at the microbial level.

      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/03/17/replaying-evolution-reveals-the-benefits-of-being-slow-and-steady/

      Which is talking about this ongoing experiment: http://myxo.css.msu.edu/ecoli/

      I’m not saying this is or is not a “silver bullet” proving evolution, but those “short lived creature” experiments are tending towards showing proof.

    • MD says:

      You’ll notice I’ve not articulated or defended a Creationist position. I don’t think Creationism belongs in science classrooms at all. And thank you for your suggestions, but I’ve read both of their writings.

      Like any good scientist, Darwin laid out methods to test his hypothesis. He theorized that many, many transitional species had existed, and the fossil record would confirm it as paleontology progressed. Quite the contrary, transitional species – that is, species with transitional traits – have never been found. Ones that are occasionally puffed up as such – Archaeopteryx, for instance, fail that test (it’s a theropod with feathers – there are no partially-evolved bird characteristics or partially-evolved dinosaur characteristics in the specimen).

      And even Archaeopteryx can’t be placed as an ‘ancestor’ of modern birds – very pro-evolution scientists class it as, at best, a cousin; both evolved from an unknown proto-bird ancestor. All supposed pre-humans like Neanderthal are the same; genetic testing shows they can be no more than other branches from a same, unknown ancestor homo sapiens supposedly comes from. The lack of transitional life forms is a strong indicator that evolution is erroneous.

      Gould was very appealing to me. He wrote about an interesting and innovative hypothesis explaining this phenomenon in Wonderful Life – the ‘bush’ theory – that evolution usually isn’t happening, but only occurs very rapidly during brief periods of upheaval, exploding in numerous directions that mostly don’t survive. This theory was initially quite compelling to me as an explanation for the absence of transitional species – but he provides nothing to usefully test. So, it’s just a possible explanation rather than science. And in all the many generations of short-lived creatures we’ve observed, we’ve never seen one truly useful mutation. Plenty of bad ones – but nothing that makes the organism ‘better’. The lack of results in these well-designed tests is troubling.

      Look, good scientists use serious science to test evolutionary claims. I’m not dismissing their work. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for them. One of the most interesting today involves paleontologist Jack Horner experimenting with purposely genetically altering embryonic chickens to make them more like other species, and his research is fascinating. But it does nothing to explain the absence of this in nature.

      The claim of evolution is far more grand than just selectively breeding out spindly-legged race horses or purse-sized dogs. The idea that, over many generations, a dog can become something that is not a dog… I’m sorry, but the evidence absolutely does not back this up.

    • Development Arrested says:

      “One animal turning into another animal belongs in the Odyssey, not serious science.”

      You didn’t really pay attention in biology, did you?

      Evolutionary theory is far from “settled.” However, the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is currently the best way of learning about evolution.

    • MD says:

      Development Arrested – No, I listened carefully. And evolution was a lot easier to swallow when I just blindly accepted what a teacher in an authority claimed. But once I started digging into it for myself… I was not impressed with the evidence.

      Let me ask you something, and I don’t intend this as an insult. Do you believe in evolution because you have examined the theory yourself, or because smart people you trust said it was true? Like I said, I found it easy to believe in evolution when listening to people in positions of credibility (teachers, etc.) say it was true. But when I started really looking into it for myself… I’m sorry, but the theory is ridiculous. Testable science and the fossil record do not bear it out, despite the truly ingenious experiments that brilliant scientists have developed. And reading the scientific literature itself, versus news recaps of it… well, I’ll just say that scientists are much more cautious in their claims than news writers.

      I’m not arguing that we should counter evolution by presenting it side-by-side with MORE pseudoscience in the classroom. I don’t want James Dobson in the science classroom, any more than I want Richard Dawkins in a Sunday school. But it’s obscene to peddle this as truth. Why do we so desperately need to claim to know everything? Why can’t we just honestly teach children, ‘there are some things we don’t yet know. But science offers us the hope that we may one day know them. And YOU could be the one who makes a monumental discovery’?

    • But doesn’t science education build on what came before it? We used to believe in the clockwork universe, until someone pointed out that doesn’t work on the subatomic level, and we started looking at chaos on quantum theory. (I am not a scientist, so I may have my facts wrong there, but the point is the same)

      Evolution is our best reconstruction of what’s happened given our current knowledge. We aren’t done learning about it yet. Given what I do understand about science, we’re rarely “done” learning about anything.

      I don’t think good biology teachers should teach “we know everything”. But they should teach evolution as the theory (using the scientific definition of theory) that most fits the established facts, and THEN say “Will you be the one who makes the next important discovery, that will revolutionize our understanding of biology?”

    • MD says:

      Librarian of Least Resistance – You speak with a calmness and maturity that most people in this debate lack, myself included. I get very frustrated when I’m told to believe something because of ‘scholarly consensus’, which shifts so much from year to year. I much prefer rigorous, repeatable testing, and wish that was more the experience in classrooms. I consider the admission ‘we don’t know but we plan to find out’ to be a strength of science. But then, as a librarian, I might have a distorted love for searching and open questions where others just want answers.

      And thank you for the links to the Michigan State experiment. I hadn’t heard of it, but I’m certainly impressed with the design of its controls. I’m not sure that it will answer any of my personal problems with biological evolution, but it definitely looks like scientific experimentation at its best. I’ll read it carefully.

    • I tend to be okay with scientific consensus simply because I have neither the time nor capacity to learn about everything under the sun.

      Heck, half the time I crowdsource answers on subjects I am not an expert in. I first learned about the microbe experiment in discussions with a microbiologist friend.

      I’m good at precisely 2 things: helping people find information and managing people. Hence, my career in librarianship and my career trajectory towards management. Everything else, I learn what I can, but still need experts to get me the rest of the way.

    • Development Arrested says:

      @ MD

      I believe evolution because it is a coherent, testable scientific theory. I have seen several of the pieces of evidence ranging from the fossil record to studies demonstrating micro-evolution.

      Yes, there’s a bit of gap between micro and macroevolution. But it’s certainly easier to swallow than the belief that all animals are completely static and don’t change over time. I can look at my dogs (one a toy and the other a medium sized) and know that’s certainly not true!

      I find the truth of Darwinian evolution to be so much more satisfying than the extremist Baptist ones I once had. The world is now filled with so much mystery and intricacy.

      Creation truly is amazing. Maybe you should read a popular science book about evolution. I hear Gould has some great books, and he believes that religion (answering the why question) is distinct from science (answering the how question). I mean yes, I believe that we’re all just hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, caffeine, and other things, but science can’t explain why these molecules came together into a functioning nervous system.

    • Development Arrested says:

      And I’m sorry that my first comment was insulting. It really shouldn’t have been phrased as a put down. I honestly don’t think you understand evolution. Look into Darwin’s four postulates, the basis of his theory. They’re all testable and bear out.

      Life is amazing. (My life… meh)

    • JW Librarian says:

      MD must mean Mad Dog.

    • JW Librarian says:

      It seems like what it comes down to for MD is that he/she simply cannot get his/her head around the evolution of species morphing from one form into another, even though this can simply mean that one species is divided for enough time, perhaps geographically, that over time they become reproductionally incompatible. Whatever the case, evolution as a science is in a constant state of developing, no where near “resolved” as there really is no such thing as a “resolved” scientific theory or even fact. Think quantum theory, for instance. However, some individuals want everything on the table now or nothing at all. I’ve been in many conversations like this and the end result is usually stalemate. To me, MD can believe what he or she so chooses, just as long as he/she is not in a position to affect real scientist’s work in progressing our understanding of the development of species.

  2. Cristy says:

    “I know some large percentage of homeschooling parents aren’t interested in education so much as making sure their children aren’t exposed to any people or ideas the parents find threatening (e.g., science or any beliefs they don’t happen to have), but some of them do have a point.”

    How do you ‘know some large percentage’ aren’t interested in education? Is there a study out there? Please provide more than your misguided opinion.

  3. Garren says:

    Cristy,

    Here’s a non-scientific experiment I just ran:

    * Google for: homeschool textbook

    * Click on the first link: http://www.homeschoolingbooks.com/

    * Under ‘Subjects,’ click on ‘Science’

    * Under ‘Science,’ click on ‘Biology’

    * Search page for ‘evolution.’

    First hit: Evolution Exposed https://www.homeschoolingbooks.com/pages/itemdetail.asp?ItemID=4961

    “This unique book from Answers in Genesis effectively counters evolutionary teaching in a powerful and organized fashion by synchronizing answers to the common teaching found in each of the most commonly used biology textbooks in public high schools.”

    Second hit: Evolution: The Grand Experiment https://www.homeschoolingbooks.com/pages/itemdetail.asp?ItemID=9825

    “In children’s books, science textbooks, kid’s television shows, and movies, evolution is presented as fact – even though it is only a theory.”

    On the assumption that the marketing and the audience line up, this doesn’t reflect well on reasons for homeschooling.

    • Cristy says:

      You had me laughing at using Google for any experiment. Then as I watched you purposely hunt down what some in the homeschooling object to, I realized I wasn’t dealing with library science’s best and brightest. This proves that homeschoolers aren’t interested in education how?
      Next?

  4. Development Arrested says:

    Jon Stewart’s America the Book is a great parody of awful civics textbooks that all students are rented at the beginning of the semester.

  5. Janson says:

    “People opposed to evolution don’t have an alternative theory to explain incontrovertible facts. They just don’t like the facts. Like the belief I found out about while researching this post – young earth creationism – which seems to be held by close to half of Americans. I didn’t know that was still a thing anymore. Apparently half the country hasn’t progressed intellectually since the 16th century.”

    Hate to break it to you, both creationism and evolution are considered theories. If you were seriously as intellectual this side of the 16th century as you like to think, you would know the difference between a scientific law and a scientific theory.

    Laws of Gravity

    Theory of Relativity

    Law of Thermodynamics

    Theory of Evolution

    Kepler laws of Planetary Motion

    Theory of Creationism

    You may not like the idea that some people think the Earth is 6000 years old but they are free to theorize as much as people that think one species can, over time, morph into another.

    “I know some large percentage of homeschooling parents aren’t interested in education so much as making sure their children aren’t exposed to any people or ideas the parents find threatening (e.g., science or any beliefs they don’t happen to have), but some of them do have a point.

    Textbook battles like the ones in Texas show that plenty of people don’t want their children to be educated. They want their children to believe what they believe, and they want other people’s children to as well.”

    Remarkable ignorance!

    Home-schooled children routinely score higher on college entrance exams and in standardize testing. IQ tests also show them achieving high marks.

    They are also avid users of the library. And yes they check-out books on science despite the silly stereotypes floated around amongst anti-Christian circles.

    What on Earth is with this shameless bashing of people that have done nothing to you? And where is the screed regarding the multitudes of public school students that are, by any reasonable measure, receiving diplomas based on a complete garbage education….that is if they actually graduate.

    And for all of the nasty bashing of anything conservative and Christian apparently, you only as a fig leaf, gave a tiny tweak to similar ideology-driven situations on the left:

    “But it’s equally stupid to want everyone to believe the Robber Barons were all evil or the Black Panthers were all good.”

    Wow, way to fail at balance, AL.

    • Cristy says:

      Exactly. Most homeschooling families I know are very deliberate in wanting their children educated. Thanks for this.

    • Jane says:

      Bill Nye had a really good interview with HuffPo on Creationism (or maybe you would protest his “liberal bias?”). I don’t think it’s unreasonable or “anti-Christian” to suggest that it shouldn’t be taught alongside Evolution. They may both be theories, but some theories are more rooted in evidence-based reasoning than others.

    • erl.endur says:

      There should be no balance here. Creationism is not science. Scientific illiteracy is a real problem and creationism is definitely a part of it.

    • roymacIII says:

      Hate to break it to you, both creationism and evolution are considered theories. If you were seriously as intellectual this side of the 16th century as you like to think, you would know the difference between a scientific law and a scientific theory.

      One would think that it might also be a good idea to understand what a scientific theory is before trying to claim that creationism is one. A scientific theory means something a lot more specific than the way non-scientists use it. Creationism is a theory only in the “I have a theory about why socks go missing; trolls take them!” kind of way. A scientific theory is a “well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”

      Unless there have been some amazing improvements in the “theory” of creationism, it fails that test.

    • JW Librarian says:

      Hate to break it to you, Janson, but Gravity is still considered a “theory” that needs further elucidation because of certain phenomenological inconsistencies that current understanding does not account for. Again, evidence that you really have no clue what science is or what it purports to be. There ARE SIMPLY NO ABSOLUTES in science. Period.

      Next.

  6. The Librarian With No Name says:

    The really interesting thing about this plan is that it works for all sides of a given issue. After all, if someone was just fed up because the local schools were peddling evolution and scientific reasoning, they could supplement their child’s education with books about young earth creationism, global warming denialism, the anti-vaccination movement, and an impressive variety of works claiming that the queen of England is actually a malevolent space lizard. (For an amazing unified theory of this last fringe, I highly recommend Bob Frissell’s “Nothing In This Book Is True, But It’s Exactly How Things Are.”)

  7. Michelle S. says:

    Janson, etc.:
    Please stop conflating the general public’s definition of “theory” with the scientific defintion of “theory.” People do this all the time and it automatically makes their arguments fail. Here is a post that lays it out: http://thinking-critically.com/2010/07/08/theory-scientific-vs-laymans-definition/

    “As we can see from these definitions, when one refers to a scientific theory, the typical layman’s concept of that word is not just different, but diametrically opposed to it. In the layman’s terms a theory is the opposite of a fact with nothing to differentiate it from other theories. In scientific terms there really are no “facts”, there are only theories with various degrees of probability, but once evidence comes to light to disprove a theory it is rejected in favor of a new theory which takes the new data into account.”

    Seriously, this mistake makes me cringe every time I see or hear it. Which is very, very often.

    • Joey says:

      Yes! Thank you! It is troubling to see the “OMG their both THEORIES you guyz!” argument touted, especially by those in our profession.

    • Janson says:

      So what?

      Both cannot be proven beyond all doubts.

      To date we’ve still not found a missing link between any species. Have we? Have we found where a monkey turned into a hairless creature called a human?

      We also haven’t found any proof of a garden of Eden either.

      So RIGHT NOW neither are anything more than a conclusion, like it or not. No matter if one seems more outlandish than the other.

      But because the weight of academia says that evolution as theorized by Darwin simply HAS to be, then it is?

      And no I don’t believe the Earth is 6000 years old or that Adam and Eve spent all day naming the millions of species God supposedly creating all at once, but Evolution hasn’t made the sale either as to how all of these millions of species just magically developed from a single thing that we have yet to ID.

    • Michelle S. says:

      Janson:

      “Humans did not evolve from monkeys. Humans are more closely related to modern apes than to monkeys, but we didn’t evolve from apes, either. Humans share a common ancestor with modern African apes, like gorillas and chimpanzees. Scientists believe this common ancestor existed
      5 to 8 million years ago. Shortly thereafter, the species diverged into two separate lineages. One of these lineages ultimately evolved into gorillas and chimps, and the other evolved into early human ancestors called hominids. ”
      -PBS

      Learn something about evolution before trying to argue against it please.

    • JW Librarian says:

      I’m glad we have Janson to set things straight! Janson I highly recommend you read this book before you start making yourself even more foolish: “Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort Through the Noise Around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies” Sherry Seethlayer

  8. don't know much about science says:

    MD, what in the world are you talking about? I know almost nothing about science, but c’mon, one animal turning into another animal? Evolution is defined as change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. Not one animal changing into another animal. Ever heard of bacteria becoming resistant to an antibiotic? Evolution. The bacteria doesn’t change into a dog. Jeesh.

  9. I do not understand something. Therefore this something is a) nonsense, or b) out to get me, or c) both. In any case, my children must be kept far, far away from. They’re at those formative years, you know.

  10. Mary Jo Finch says:

    The reason we all have to care about what the Texas State Board of Education believes is that Texas is such a huge purchaser of textbooks, other states are forced into accepting the edits that Texas requires. “As Texas goes, so goes the nation” is what they were preaching way back in the 80s when I was studying to be a teacher and it still holds true to a large degree. Perhaps as schools turn to electronic textbooks they will have more say about what is in them.

    http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/culture/so-goes-texas-so-goes-the-nation/754/

  11. Y’all may wish to know the American Library Association has inserted itself into yet another non-library matter, namely, “the ongoing Texan school textbook wars.” Click on my name to see:

    “ALA Double Standard on Accuracy in Texas State Board of Education Proposal on School Book Content; ALA President Plagiarizes to Promote Matter Outside ALA Purview.”

    • Alex Kyrios says:

      Dan, regardless of how many people have fretted about ebooks, internet filtering, and the relevance of 21st century library, books are assuredly still a library matter.

  12. Mlisa says:

    I wouldn’t normally comment here as I think giving any attention whatsoever to the scientifically illiterate does more harm than good. It’s like arguing with my barking dog.

    But to answer the question about homeschooling,this (admittedly 9 year old, but freely available) government report http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/homeschool/parentsreasons.asp shows that roughly 30% of homeschooling parents listed religious or moral reasons as their primary motivation. I think it’s safe to say that these folks are seeking to shelter their children from education–e.g.,subversive ideas in science, English and history class. On the upside, 70% are motivated primarily by other goals. After seeing our wretched educational system from the inside, I might be tempted to homeschool myself…and anyway, no amount of traditional education will train the ignorance out of those committed to keeping it.