Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Let's go, GMOs! Some recent lowlights from science textbooks

Today's edition of La Presse has an article on an elementary school science textbook that contains the follow rather unbalanced content on GMOs (genetically modified organisms):

In the future, we will see more and more genetically modified fruits and vegetables that are capable of defending themselves against disease and insects. We will therefore have less need to use polluting pesticides. Nutritious and hardy, these fruits and vegetables will, we think, be even tastier than before. Apples won't have any more seeds, strawberries will be sweeter and juicier, and pears will keep for longer. It is also foreseeable that medicines and vaccines will be integrated in foods... (my translation from French)

This extract reminds me of some of the gems that I uncovered while researching Québec junior high school science textbooks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When the Pineapple Races the Hare . . .

Note: if you haven't been following the story of the New York State test that offered the Pineapple and the Hare story, followed by questions, this won't make sense.  (Actually it will, but not as much sense.) The gist of it is that the test borrowed a story from Daniel Pinkwater, changed a few details, and then asked questions about it that baffled eighth graders taking the test.  New York announced that the questions related to that passage wouldn't count towards students' scores.  Critics say this shows the flaws in standardized testing.  I say it makes perfect sense, and here's why:

 Once there was a huge capitalist democracy that included a lot of children, some of them well-off, some of them poor, and most of them somewhere in the middle.

 "Hey," said the parents with a lot of resources, "how about our kids have a race?" Now, the children of the parents with a lot of resources, as you know, came to school with pretty good early literacy skills, numeracy skills, books at home, health care, financial stability and more. Or, as the sociologists like to say, capital: financial, human, social and cultural. The poor children, as you also know, had less of all these things.

Most of the American public bet on the poor children because America is a land of equal opportunity, in which any child can rise to the highest peaks of achievement simply through will-power and dedication. (The best-off parents bet on their own kids -- sending them to private schools, skillfully manoevering them into top-notch public schools, paying for summer camp, etc. etc, but when it comes time to answer the questions, remember that this is extraneous to the story.)

The race started and there was a lot of cheering.  "We're number 1!" the spectators shouted. "Just look at what happened to those European Socialist democracies -- stagnation! Deficits! Vacation time and welfare and wine and cheese and, um, um, well, look at the stagnation and deficits!" "USA! USA!"

 The well-off children streaked out of sight. The poor children looked out the window. They played with their friends on the playground. They squinted at the blackboard. They doodled and said "I don't know".

Everybody knew that in some surprising way this had nothing to do with the political choices that shaped their circumstances and that still, somehow, America was the land of equal opportunity and they would end up winning the race. Nothing of the sort happened. Eventually, the well-off children took the winners share of the spoils, while the poor children lost all around.

The capitalist democracy ate the poor children and said it was all their fault anyway.

Moral: The Pineapple and the Hare story is no more absurd than the notion that standardized testing leads to equitable outcomes for America's children. 

(Credit goes to Daniel Pinkwater for the original story of the Eggplant and the Rabbit.)