Science & Society

Science and Society and how they get along.

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Location: Santa Barbara, California, United States

I'm a physicist and science consultant specialized in optics, lasers and optical engineering. This blog, StarkFX, looks at what applications physics is finding today. Or, if you are looking at my StarkEffects blog, it displays my views about and interest in the interface between society and science.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Evolution. It's just a theory.

How could anyone doubt the family relationship between us the other apes? My Natalie has always recognized how closely her Daddy is related to this guy.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blonde in Zero Gravity

Blondes in space. And I thought all the blonde hair at my house was out of control.
She is looking at solar panels in orbit. With oil over $130 a barrel, solar panels are looking better all the time.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Special Education is Special -The average of 6 is 6 and a half.

I´d love for you to read the whole blog here, but if you´re in a hurry, the last paragraph is the punchline.

For the last two years I have had a pretty reliable inside source telling me what actually goes on in one California High School´s special education class. This class is considered an LH class with students having a relatively wide range of IQ level´s but not including profoundly handicapped or severely handicapped students. Several of the students have been competently diagnosed as autistic. These are not the students usually expected to become scientists or engineers but, in my opinion, their education is still important as most of them will be participating members of society and the people responsible for teaching them should take this responsibility seriously. I'm writing to complain that this responsibility has not been entrusted to the best people for the job.

To begin with, the teacher is more concerned with advancing her career into administration than she is with carrying out the duties of her present position. She spends no time teaching, which I thought was a bad thing, but later on I'll explain why maybe it wasn´t. The aid in class has no understanding of learning disorders or how to help these students at all. She has absolutely no patience with their lack of quick comprehension and she chooses to deliberately undermine the efforts of students she has determined to be unpleasant, and, as you might imagine, many autistic or otherwise behaviorally challenged students are unpleasant to be around.

During most of the class days these learning challenged students are assigned to do independent work. There is no lecture to explain the work, they are simply expected to get their books and work on the assignments themselves. Even the brightest students on campus get more attention from teachers than that. A good number of these students fall into the habit of doing nothing and not being noticed at all. These are sometimes students that would actually enjoy learning, but they don´t ask for help.

When students do ask for help they are ridiculed. Not by the other students, but by the teacher or aid. As a matter of fact, the teacher and one aid were sent to a class on working in this type of classroom where one of the points made was that these students are often bullied, and more often than not the bully is the teacher. As a side note, it was mentioned that maybe these teachers may be bullying out of concern. That side note was all it took for this teacher to justify her bullying methods and ridiculing of students. She seemed to learn nothing from the class. She even led the whole class in ridiculing a student who had decided that putting tissue in his nostrils was preferrable to the annoying runny nose... the whole class was amused by the teacher parading in front of the class with tissue in her nose to show how ridiculous it looked. Embarassment is often used as a teaching method in this room, why?

Assignments are given by the teacher with no clear direction. Assignments so vague that many adults would be lost as to where to start. Assignments like: Make a volcano for science class.

Aids sometimes fall into concern for their own status rather than the learning of the students. One aid got annoyed with students not understanding her explanations of how to do a math problem and then asking the other aid for help. She imposed a new rule to solve the problem: If you start an assignment with one aid´s help, then you can´t get help from the other aid for that assignment. What kind of silly-ass rule is that? Such personal insecurities should not be allowed to interfere with the students progress. This same aid was upset that a student that had not put in any effort during the year was suddenly trying to do math homework and and asking the other aid for help in understanding it. She refused to accept work done out of order and actully vocalised her opinion that the student could not avoid a failing grade now and simply had to learn his lesson.

OK, now I´m going to explain why the teacher may have done the most good she could by not teaching these students. She seems not to understand the condition of each student at all, she labels almost everyone of them autistic, which simply isn´t the case. She creates vague assignments and does not direct the students work at all. And to top it off, here is what happens when she decides to teach math:

"OK class, today we are going to learn how to find an average. As an example, we are going to calculate the average of the girls and the boys in this class. What is the average of the girls and the boys in here?" One student volunteers the obvious information: "There are six girls and seven boys if you include the teacher and two aids." The teacher gives a blank stare at the student for a while then: "How did you get that?" With bewilderment the student answers: "I counted." Well, that wasn´t helping the lesson at all so, on she went: She had the boys stand up and wrote each of their names on the board. Then she had the girls stand up and wrote each of their names on the board. Then she gave a number to each name, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 for the boys and 1,2,3,4,5,6 for the girls. ":Now we have to add them together, 6 plus 7 is 13. Now to get the average of the girls take 6 girls plus the 7 boys divided by the 2 possiblities in the class: 13 divided by 2 is 6 and one half. So the average of the girls in the class is six and a half." The math specialist aid has not said a word. No way to know if she had even noticed this amazing result. Of course, the other aid couldn´t resist: "Which one of the boys is half a girl?"