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Are Teachers Overpaid? By Some Standards, Yes November 13, 2011

Posted by Bill in Schools, Uncategorized.
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A new study by conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, has concluded that public school teachers are overpaid compared to their counterparts with similar qualifications in the private sector. This is not a popular stance to take, of course, especially during this particular year when so many states have decided that one way to lower their expenses is to cut teaching jobs.

This happens to be a question that I can speak to somewhat knowledgeably since not only did I used to be a teacher, but I am a Human Resource wonk, with expertise in Compensation. In addition, I have spent most of my professional life working either in the public sector or the non-profit sector, both of which tend to have lower pay than the private sector.

So let’s look at the question of whether teachers are overpaid compared to comparable workers. When looking to see if different jobs are paid on an equitable basis, one of the things we so-called experts do is look at the level of education and experience required for the job. It is possible to walk into a teaching job with no experience, straight out of college. As long as one has a Bachelor’s Degree, one can teach.

Starting teachers in Texas make $40,000 to $50,000 a year, or even more, which isn’t bad for someone fresh out of college with no experience. It’s even better if you consider that this is for ten months of work. If you converted this to a full year salary for 12 months of work, you get $48,000, which, again, is pretty good for someone fresh out of college.

Teachers, quite rightly point to the fact that their job is not an 8 to 5  job, that they spend countless hours after school and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons, that the importance of their job should be considered when making decisions about pay, and that theirs is one of the hardest jobs in the world (well, I might actually quibble with that last one because I have been a teacher and I can tell you that there are jobs that are MUCH more difficult). They will also tell you that they spend their summers working on their Masters degree so they can move into a higher level of pay and improve their level of knowledge, so it’s not as though they are lounging around the pool all summer sipping mint juleps. (Actually, when I was a teacher, I did spend my summers lounging around the pool and playing with my kids. I did not sip mint juleps, however.)

Nevertheless, let’s stipulate that teachers have  hard jobs and important jobs, so we can look at some other public sector employees. For instance, child protective workers. Child Protective workers are a lot like teachers in some ways. You can walk into a Child Protective Services job with a 4-year degree and no experience. The jobs are certainly important, and are difficult and often dangerous. Social workers often go into some of the worst neighborhoods at all hours of the day and night and talk to hostile, possibly violent people, to determine whether the conditions are severe enough to warrant removing a child from the home. Child Protective Service workers work 12 months of the year and frequently have shifts in the evenings or weekends. They are often on call 24 hours a day. If they want to get a Master’s Degree, they do so during their off hours, and once they attain that degree, it won’t necessarily improve their pay, unless they move to a higher level position.

For their trouble, entry-level Child Protective Services workers in Texas are paid about $26,000 to $30,000 a year. It takes them about ten years to get up to $40,000. If you compare hourly rates, beginning teachers in Texas make about $23.08 per hour, compared to $12.50 an hour for Child Protective Service workers.

Librarians are another public sector employee. The average starting salary for an entry-level Librarian in Texas is $40,000, which is comparable to our starting salary for teachers. However, librarians are required to have Masters level degrees. They work 12 months of the year and often work evenings and weekends. Many of them are not able to have two days off in a row on a regular basis because of scheduling issues at their work place. As someone who practically lived in my hometown library when I was growing up, I can attest to the importance of what they do.

So if we compare the hourly rate of a librarian to that of a teacher, the librarian makes $19.23 per hour, compared to $23.08 for teachers. Ironically, many librarians pick up their teaching certificates along the way so they can work as a  school librarian and make more money than their counterparts in the public libraries, while at the same time enjoying better hours and vacation benefits.

I’m not going to compare the salaries of teachers with those of private sector jobs because I think it is apples and oranges. It’s like comparing the pay rate of a police officer to a security guard. It just isn’t a valid comparison. However, it seems pretty clear that when it comes to public sector salaries, at least, teachers don’t do too badly when compared to other pubic sector jobs.

But that is just entry-level salaries. There is a problem with teacher salaries, but it’s not what people think it is. The starting salary for a teacher is actually pretty good, but if you take a look at teachers with ten or more years of experience in the classroom, their salary is not much higher than the starting salary. In Texas, teacher pay caps out at about $60,000 a year. Whereas most people who start a job after college and stay in the same career field can expect to see their pay rate climb as they move into higher level positions, teachers see their pay rate flatten.

The problem is that their job remains pretty much the same no matter how many years of experience they have. After the first three or four years, a teacher with five years of experience is doing pretty much the same job as a teacher with ten years of experience, who, in turn, is doing the same job as a teacher with 20 years of experience. If anything, their job has become a little easier because they can recycle their lesson plans each year instead of having to create them from scratch, and the more familiar they become with the material–  by virtue of teaching it over and over again–  the easier it is to teach it.

Sure, after a few years they might become a “Master Teacher” or they might pick up some additional certifications which they can use to boost their pay a little, but they are still teachers. If they want to make more money, they need to change their jobs: move into administration, for instance, or go into another profession.

Librarians are in a similar situation, but they do have some upward mobility in their jobs– they can become head of a section of the library, or specialize in a particular subject area. Child Protective Service workers rarely stay around for more than a few years, but the ones who manage to stick it out will generally move up into higher levels of administration and will see their pay increase accordingly.

Most teachers say that they want to stay in the classroom, that they went into the field because they wanted to teach and that there are rewards beyond money to what they do.  Having been a teacher, I can agree with that– not only did I love working with the kids and imparting knowledge to them, but I enjoyed being home when my kids were home, having summers off and two weeks off at Christmas. I never expected to make a lot of money as a teacher, and I didn’t.

Yes, in an ideal world we would pay teachers a salary that is representative of the intrinsic value of what they do. In the real world, however, their salaries are paid with taxpayer dollars and in this particular day and age especially, taxpayers are loath to part with those precious dollars to increase wages for those who work for them.

So back to the original question– are teachers overpaid? Well, looking at it using standard compensation practices, yes they are when compared against similarly situated public sector employees. However, I would prefer to say that the problem is not that teachers are overpaid, but that social workers and librarians are underpaid.

Despite what those of the American Enterprise Institute would have us believe, there is an intrinsic value to the services provided by teachers that is seldom matched in the private sector. They may not be underpaid, but most of them deserve every penny they get. To paraphrase the song, “They work hard for the money so you’d better treat them right.”


Good News October 3, 2011

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Constitution, critical thinking, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Schools, Science, Uncategorized.
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One of my passions is keeping up with creationist (and I include Intelligent Design here) attempts to  change what science is.    They wish to supplant the reason and evidence that is the basis for good science with faith instead – specifically their faith. 

Sometimes, actually often, it can become discouraging looking at how many battles must be fought to ensure our schools continue to teach good science; listening to all the politicians expressing their ignorance of science by expressing doubts about evolution; and seeing all the letters and forum responses from those who let their religion totally blind their ability to reason and fairly judge evidence. 

For example, consider these quotes from various prominent politicians:

“There are clear indications from our people who have amazing intellectual capability that this didn’t happen by accident and a creator put this in place,”

“Now, what was his time frame and how did he create the earth that we know? I’m not going to tell you that I’ve got the answers to that,” Perry said. “I believe that we were created by this all-powerful supreme being and how we got to today versus what we look like thousands of years ago, I think there’s enough holes in the theory of evolution to, you know, say there are some holes in that theory.”  Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry


“[Schmidt] knew my position: I believed in the evidence for microevolution – that geologic and species change occurs incrementally over time. But I didn’t believe in the theory that human beings – thinking, loving beings – originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea. Or that human beings began as single-celled organisms that developed into monkeys who eventually swung down from trees; I believed we came about through a random process, but were created by God.

“But your dad’s a science teacher,” Schmidt objected.


“Then you know that science proves evolution,” added Schmidt.

“Parts of evolution,” I said.

“But I believe that God created us and also that He can create an evolutionary process that allows species to change and adapt.”

Schmidt winced and raised his eyebrows. In the dim light, his sunglasses shifted atop his head. I had just dared to mention the C-word: creationism. But I felt I was on solid factual ground.”  From “Going Rogue“ by Sarah Palin, conservative commentator (definitely) and Republican Presidential Candidate (who knows). 

I know that I have quoted Republican and conservatives here for my examples, the reason being is that they have the largest numbers of creationists.  However they do not have the exclusive franchise on creationism. 

According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 38% of Democrats also believe that God created the world and all that is in it only 10,000 years ago.   Independents come in at 40%.  Overall almost 40% of Americans are creationists.

This can be readily seen in the many attempts to sneak the teaching of creationism into our public schools.  Every time we review biology textbooks in Texas creationists try to supplant evolution with creationism or at the very least get both taught as if they are both scientifically valid.  And this is just not a Texas thing.

In 2011 so far there have been at least 11 anti-evolution bills presented in various state legislatures.  This includes the states of New Hampshire (actually had to anti-evolution bills submitted), Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, New Mexico, Alabama, Kentucky,  Texas, and Oklahoma (another with two anti-evolution bills submitted).  Louisiana actually passed an anti-evolution bill and so far it has not been repealed. 

And this doesn’t even consider all the creationist activity happening at the local level – school districts, individual schools or even individual teachers. 

So much determined ignorance is enough to make one discouraged at times. 

But then this comes along – a light piercing the gloom of my discouragement.

Believe it or not my good news came from a Christian radio station.  In fact it came from Ken Ham, the President/CEO and founder of Answers in Genesis.   

He and the host interviewing him were lamenting on the sad state of Christian Colleges.  They went on and on about how good Christian families are sending their children to these colleges expecting them to receive a good Christian education and instead find them being taught things that are totally unbiblical. 

Apparently Mr. Ham had a hunch about this and hired the Beemer’s  American Research Group to do a survey of 90 American Christian colleges associated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and who require their professors to sign a personal statement of faith.  In addition over 100 more Christian colleges that were associated with a religious denomination were also surveyed.   What he found shocked him and delighted me.

While most of these college said the right words in their literature – the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is foundational, etc. when they probed further they discovered that their definitions and interpretations of these words differed from that of Ken Ham and many conservative Christians. 

What I found very interesting is that these differences are not apparent in the teachings of the New Testament.  On that these colleges and Mr. Ham basically agreed.  However the problem came in when they taught science and taught about Genesis.    The great majority of these Christian colleges taught an old earth and evolution as science – NOT a young earth creationism!

So, while we are still fighting, so far largely successfully, to maintain science standards in our public schools it appears that science has made some significant inroads in unexpected places – conservative Christian colleges.   To me this is great news, on many levels. 

First off it shows that the evidence for evolution and how it works is so overwhelming that even those in what has traditionally been a hostile environment for science have to acknowledge it.  Either that or cease to reason and blind themselves to the evidence.  

They apparantly have realized the truth of what St. Augustine said in his ‘On the Literal Meaning of Genesis”  

“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens,… the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.  Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsens on these topics;  and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

What pleases me even more about this is that it also backs up my contention that evolution and atheism are not synonyms and that one can be a good Christian and still acknowledge the reality of evolution and of how it works. 

To my mind a reasoning, rational Christian should realize that if God exists then the evidence of the world cannot conflict with that of Biblical revelation.  If they do then there is something wrong with either the understanding of how the world works or with the understanding of God’s revelation.  

What this means is that if the facts accumulate to such a degree that it is no longer rational to deny a fact of the world then a good hard look needs to be taken at how God’s revelation is understood.  After all, humans are fallible creatures. 

Rational Christians realize that human fallibility applies not only in regards to knowledge of the world but also to understanding revelation.    The latter possibility never seems to occur to creationists.  

This just highlights the fact that the debate between scientists and creationists is NOT that of the atheism vs. Christianity.  Instead it is between science vs.  non-science.  And it seems that science may be winning. 

Ken Ham published his findings in a book called “Already Compromised”.  I may have to read it just for the good news.

Talking the Plane Down March 16, 2010

Posted by Bill in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
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You all have seen the movies. The jet airliner full of passengers and the pilot and co-pilot suddenly stricken with food poisoning and unable to fly the plane. The hapless passenger who gets plucked from his seat and handed the controls of the airplane while on the ground a grizzled old war pilot with a hundred years of experience– usually one who is undergoing a “what use am I to anybody now that I am 150 years old and no longer able to fly?” type of crisis– talks reassuringly to the erstwhile pilot and guides him step by step through landing the plane.  As the relieved passengers leave the plane, the beautiful flight attendant kisses the hero and tells him that he saved everybody’s lives and he replies, “No, I couldn’t have done it without the help of Old Jake,” while the grizzled old veteran blinks a tear out of his eye and rides off into the sunset.

The passengers of that plane were lucky that they don’t live in Texas because if the Texas State Board of Education had been in charge, instead of getting Old Jake to talk the plane down, they would have pulled a minister in to pray with the passengers of the plane after a banker made sure they understood the benefits of the free enterprise system.

Far fetched? Not to anyone who has been following the escapades of the Texas State Board of Education in adopting the standards for Social Studies textbooks in the State of Texas, a process that will have ripple effects throughout the rest of the United States because of the clout Texas wields over all the textbook publishers because of its size.

In a process that was so acrimonious that one member walked out of the meeting in protest, the right wing faction of the BOE succeeded in passing such measures as requiring students to describe how “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” (I suppose twenty years from now a similarly situated panel will be directing students to learn how the search for WMD in Iraq provided justification for the Iraq War.)

Plenty of other columnists have lambasted the individual measures of the proposals– and there is plenty of fodder to lambast– but I have to ask, why are we letting a group of politicians make decisions concerning what will be taught in public schools to begin with? If your car is broken down are you going to call up your local school board member and ask him how to fix it or are you going to take it to a mechanic? If you need to have a tooth pulled are you going to go wait for a member of the Board of Education to have a chance to yank it for you or are you going to go to a dentist? Oh- wait a minute! One of the members of the Texas  BOE IS a dentist, so lucky you can actually get someone there who is qualified to pull your tooth!

But my point is, why aren’t experts in the subject area making determinations about what should be taught? Among the members of the Texas State BOE we have 4 teachers, 1 school administrator, 1 substitute teacher/instructor/test monitor, 2 attorneys, 2 realtors, 1 investment banker, 1 businessman, 1 dentist and a couple of professional volunteers. Very few of these members would be qualified to be hired as a teacher in a Social Studies classroom, yet they are making decisions about what will be taught in those classrooms?

We cannot hold teachers accountable for poor outcomes if the standards are stupid to begin with. If we want to improve education in the United States, we need to look at the top and evaluate the processes whereby curriculum decisions are made– and I do not believe that allowing a group of people who have little to no specialized education or expertise in the field of
Social Studies is the best way to determine what should be taught in such classes.

The United States – A Secular Government, a Christian Culture March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Schools.
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In Texas we have had our Texas School Board discussing what our social studies and history curriculum should be.  Given that this standard will stay for 10 years and that as one of the largest consumers of textbooks this decision could have a national impact. 

 Needless to say, since this is Texas, the religious conservatives have a nice majority on the Education Board.  Which means that this is not going the way that I think it should. 

 For example, there was a proposal to teach students about why our Founding Fathers considered the separation of church and state of such importance.  It was promptly shot down since the majority of the School Board considers the separation of church and state a myth and the United States a Christian nation founded to be so by our Founding Fathers.

 As evidence they point to several utterances of various Founding Fathers supporting the virtues of Christianity or their actions in supporting religion.  However there are three historical facts that to me shout out very loudly that these people are wrong:  our Founders meant for the United States government to be secular and not a Christian one. 

 The first of these facts is that nowhere in the Constitution, other than a dating convention, is there a mention of God.  There is no mention of Christianity or Jesus.  Nowhere.  This is especially telling since there was a motion to mention Christianity or at least God somewhere in the Constitution.  This motion was not acted upon.  Rather a strange thing to do if they had intended for the United States government to be a Christian one.  Especially considering the fact that every state constitution at that time did mention either God, Jesus, or Christianity. 

 The second fact is that the Constitution barely, and I mean barely, passed.  It was voted on by conventions in every state and in each and every state it was a political battle; one that was lost in some and won in others.  One of the criticisms of the Constitution brought up by many who were against it was that it did not include a mention of God or Christianity.  Yet despite the closeness of the vote and the importance they placed on enacting the Constitution none of the Founding Fathers tried to modify it to gain a few votes.

 The third fact is the Treaty of Tripoli.  This treaty was signed on Nov 4, 1796.  After having been read in its entirety on the Senate floor it was unanimously (23 or the 32 Senators were in attendance) ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797.  The treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, on June 10, 1797. 

 Of interest here is article 11, which states:

 “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

At a time when George Washington, Thomas Jeffereson,  James Madison, and many of the other founders were still alive this government document explicitely states that the “Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.   It passed without protest, without debate, and unanimously.  And was signed by another of our Founding Fathers, President John Adams. 

When you put these three facts together it is very hard to see how it could be claimed that we are founded as a Christian government.  Especially when you toss in a couple of other supporting facts:

–         There is no religious test for public office.  In fact it was explicitly prohibited.  And this at a time when the state constitutions often did require a religious test to hold public office.

–         The state governments over the years gradually dropped those religious requirements and also mention of God and Christianity; following the lead of the United States Constitution.

–         That there were several attempts to change the Constitution to include a mention of God or Christianity.  There was a large push during President Jackson’s Presidency as well as again after the Civil War.  All failed.  

 Then how can the quotes and actions those who oppose the seperation of church and state be reconciled with these facts.  There are several items to keep in mind here:

–         Not all of our Founding Fathers thought alike ( After all, one did present a motion to include God in our Constitution even though it was not acted upon).  In fact they often disagreed with each other with a ferocity that makes it even more amazing that they managed to find compromises that allowed them to create our Constitution. 

–         There is a difference between a nation’s culture and its government.  While it is undoubtedly true that our culture is Christian it is also undoubtedly true that our Founders set up a secular government as the best way to protect the religoius rights of all.

–         At the time of our Founding the states were not required to follow the Bill of Rights.  That was a limitation on the Federal government and not on the State governments.  What would be proper for a State official to do would not for a Federal one. 

o       This can be most clearly seen in regards to the abolition movement.  Many of the southern states outlawed any books or tracts promoting abolition and arrested those who spoke out against slavery.  Free Speech only applied at the Federal and not the state level. 

o       It was the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war which changed this and made the Bill of Rights apply to the State government as well as the Federal government. 

In summary then our Founding fathers did indeed set up a secular government amidst a Christian culture. 

The reason why? 

That is my next blog “What Most Have Forgotten”

If It Takes a Village, Why Fire Only the Teachers? March 11, 2010

Posted by Bill in Current Events, Schools, Uncategorized.
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In Central Falls, RI, seventy-four teachers and nineteen staff members at the high school are being fired because of chronic low performance by the students.  I have to wonder why it is only the teachers and front line staff who are being fired. Why not fire the administrators who make up the rules under which the teachers perform? Why not fire the parents for not making sure their children come to school prepared to learn? Why not fire the members of the legislature for putting politics over substance by implementing Teach to the Test policies that don’t actually improve education? Why not fire the local government for failing to turn the town economically so that forty-one percent of the town’s children live in poverty?

To say that the teachers at Central Falls High School are by themselves responsible for the failure of the students to learn is ignoring all the other elements that go into educating students. Teachers don’t teach in a vacuum– they use textbooks that are approved by the state and teach to curriculum guidelines set by the state. They work in conjunction with special ed services provided by the district, oversight from the district, supplies provided by the student, the parents, the school district, the state or private donors. The students themselves come to teachers through the courtesy of previous teachers who were responsible for ensuring that the kids finish the school year ready to tackle next year’s material. The teachers operate under discipline policies set by the district under the auspices of the School Board. They teach students that come to them each day with hungry bellies because their parents can’t afford to put dinner on the table and who seldom see their parents because of the long hours they put in at work. Yet, the teachers at this school are expected to be held accountable for the failures of an entire community.

Firing teachers is the kind of thing politicians like because it makes it look as though they are holding educators accountable, but in reality all they are doing is making the teachers scapegoats for failures that are endemic to the system. If students at Central Falls High School are failing to learn, it is because the entire system has failed them, not just the teachers.

The Creation Museum and Science February 27, 2010

Posted by Bill in Creationism, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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I was recently browsing through You Tube and came across a couple of videos about the Creation Museum.  While watching them I was struck by three items relating to evolution and science.

1)      Creationists have always had a hard time explaining how the different animals wound up where they did after the flood.  How did koalas and kangaroos wind up in Australia.  How did the Gila monster wind up in southwestern North America and Northern Mexico and so forth.  These animals are not good enough swimmers to get from Mt Ararat and there is no land bridge for them to walk all the way there (although in the case of the Gila monster you could postulate that it walked over the Bering Strait land bridge, but given that the Gila monster is a desert animal and that part of our globe is most definitely not a desert this does not seem to be a reasonable postulate).

 However I saw that the Creation Museum had an interesting idea.


When the flood destroyed the world’s forests it must have left billions of trees floating for centuries on the ocean.  These log mats served as ready–made rafts for animals to cross oceans.”

 Interesting.  Very interesting. 

 Now the start of good science is generating ideas on how the world came about.  The Creation Museum postulated one here.  However good science does not stop with just ideas about how things might have come about.  Good science goes on then to devise ways to test those ideas against the world to see if they are true. 

 For example, Darwin looked at the distribution of plants that he saw during his travels on the Beagle and began to look for ways such a distribution could have occurred.  Especially that of what at one time must have been newly created and barren volcanic islands.  He thought it might be possible that the seeds floated from the lands already populated with that plant to ones that were not.

 So far this is similar to the Creationist Museum’s efforts to explain the geographical distribution of the species after the flood.  However from this point on there is a huge difference.  Darwin went on to test his idea. 

 From  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126957.400-darwin-200-planting-the-seeds-of-an-idea.html

 “In March, the BBC TV series Jimmy Doherty in Darwin’s Garden will introduce British viewers to Darwin the experimentalist, as Doherty re-enacts a selection of Darwin’s investigations. Among them are the seawater experiments with which Darwin set out in 1855 to discover whether seawater kills seeds. He feared this question might “appear childish”, but instead it produced intriguing results and unexpectedly profound conclusions.

Darwin wanted to know if it was possible for seeds to survive at sea: if they could, ocean currents might carry them to new lands, thus accounting for the plant distribution he had seen during his Beagle days.

Doherty recreates one of these seed-salting experiments and finds seeds do survive salt. Darwin began with cress, radish, carrots, cabbages, lettuces, celery and onion, at first leaving seeds in salt water for a week before planting out. They all germinated, some more convincingly than others. Only after this success did Darwin try longer periods – such as the month in Doherty’s version. The conclusion is clear: plants that tolerate a month at sea, as many can, could travel the world.”

 Darwin tested his idea.  He went beyond the first step of good science – generating ideas to explain the world – and went to the absolutely necessary second step – testing that idea. 

I have not seen any creationist research on how long dead trees can float.

Do they have any experimental evidence that the global flood they postulate would uproot billions of trees from the ground?   

Do they have any experimental evidence for their idea that dead trees can float for centuries?  

 Do they have any experimental evidence that if they did float for this long that these logs would indeed float to all the contintents from the Mediterranean (I assume this is the starting point since this would be the closest large body of water to Mr Ararat)?

Do they have any evidence on how long it would take such log mats to reach the different parts of the globe?

Do they have any evidence that animals such as the gila monster and the koala and the kangaroo could survive on the logs and oceans for long enough to reach their final destination? 

From what I can tell the answer is no. 

Creationists are good at coming up with ideas (both plausible and, as this one is, implausible).  However they never seem to be able to finish the process off and turn these ideas into actual science.  Instead they seem to inevitably stop short. 

But then I guessed if they finished the process they would have to acknowledge that their ideas have failed.

2)      In another part of the video they showed a sign going over the problem of venom in animals. 

“Though nothing harmed animals before Adam’s sin, venom harms animals in the present.  We do not know exactly how venoms first entered the world. Possibilities include:

Changed use of chemicals (chemicals that once had non-harmful functions at the creation changed to venoms after the Curse).”

What struck me about this is how close this is to evolution.  New structures and features evolved from ones that served a different purpose at the time: the jawbones of  reptiles migrating and changing to become the middle ear of mammels being a good example. 

The only difference, and it is a major one, is the evolution sees this as a result of a natural process occuring over a great deal of time.  Creationists see it as the result of a one time outbreak of God’s anger. 

Perhaps Micheal Behe should consider this sign while thinking about how the flagellum evolved. 

 3)      The final thing that caught my attention was a sign about Noah’s ark and its construction. 

“Building a large door that seals properly is challenging.  Noah could have designed it to seal with a wedge – like fit, but God himself may have solved any waterproofing problems when He shut the Ark door.”

This says volumes about the creationist mind set and why it is not science.  If you come across a difficult problem then use the God did it option instead of keeping on working at it. 

Can you imagine if science had followed that same mindset.  We can’t figure out how disease comes about therefor God did it.  Pray for healing as that is all that can be done. 

Does anyone really want to live without modern medicine. 

In summary I found the my video tour of the Creation Museum a lesson on why Creationism is not science, despite what its all too many believers believe.

–         It does not test its ideas against reality to see if they are true.

–         Even if it did and they failed they could and would use the God did it explanation. 

 Of course I think that most people knew that Creationism is not science.  However it is good to have this idea tested and verified by reality.


As I kept on watching other videos about the Creation Museum I saw a couple of other items that I just could not leave out of this blog. 

Near the entrance of the museum they have a diorama that contrasts the two views of the world – science and religion. It has a dig with two people in it. One of the people is a biologist measuring items, doing calculations, and examining the evidence. The other person is a creationist who is reading the Bible. The clear message is that you do not need evidence, only the Bible to know anything and everything. Any evidence you find must be made to fit the Bible no matter how much you must twist, tear, and distort that evidence.

This fits in well with the second part I noticed. A sign that said “SCIENCE IS HARD, GOD IS EASY”

Finally I loved the one that had WWSD. What Would Satan Do.

The answer. Ask questions.

The more you look at the Creationist Museum the more you see that it is not science. In fact it is the very anti-thesis of science. Which makes the creationists effort to inject their nonscience into schools even more scary.

A Modest Proposal for the Teaching of History January 25, 2010

Posted by Bill in Schools, Uncategorized.
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My dearly beloved, otherwise known as Bill, is reading a book called THE GREAT UPHEAVAL by Jay Winik. The book discusses the invention of America in context with events going on in other parts of the world at the time or the revolution. It is a great book- he says- because nothing happens in a vacuum and it really allows the reader to see the significance of what is happening in the world at the time of our Revolution– and the effect of our fight for freedom upon other areas.

In listening to him talk about the book, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that the way in which we teach history to American schoolchildren is all wrong. In elementary school they start out with a year of state history and then a year of US History, then of World History. They then start over again in  Middle School with the same sequence and finally in High School they start over once again.

When studying US History, they spend about a third of the year on the exploration and colonization of America, then move very quickly through the Civil War and Reconstruction and maybe, if they are lucky, they get to the Viet Nam War before the end of the year. There is just too much to cover in too short a space of time.

Not only is there too much to cover in a short period of time, but this method of teaching makes it seem as though the history of each continent is a discrete entity with no relationship to anything else that is going on in the world. Yet, everything is interrelated. Our current quagmire in Iraq stems back to our history in placing the Shah of Iran on the throne and to the British partition of Israel after WW II and to the colonialism of the late 1800’s.

World War II had its roots in the Weimar Republic which had its roots in the harsh conditions imposed on Germany by the allies after WW I which had its roots on German European history stemming back to the 1800’s.

And the break between Britain and the Catholic church did not come about ONLY because Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Katharine of Aragon, but stemmed back into the history of protestantism.

It seems to me that rather than teaching history as a discrete study of individual nations or continents, it would be more effective to take blocks of time and study what is going on across the entire world during that time period. Devote a year to studying Ancient History and learn about the importance of Mesopotamia, the advanced Japanese civilization and ancient Rome.

Move on to the Middle Ages, the Islamic golden age, the Renaissance, the Asian dynasties and the Indian empires. The move into the early modern era, the 16-18th centuries and finally into the modern era and the post modern era.

There would be many advantages to this mode of organization– it would satisfy the needs of cultural diversity. Students of all various heritages would learn not just the Euro-American view of history but would learn the contributions to history of all parts of the world. They would better be able to examine cause and effect and see the continuity of how one period of history feeds into another.

And it would allow students to apply what they learn in history to other areas of study– at the same time that they are studying the Middle Ages in history, they could be learning about art and history in the Middle Ages, or literature from that era. It would give them a much richer base of knowledge and a better understanding of the arts. Reading AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser is so much more relevant when learning about the Industrial Revolution, for instance.

At this time a curriculum committee appointed by the Texas Board of education is making decisions about what students in Texas will learn about in history classes for the next ten years. Given that these are political appointees who, for the most part, have few credentials in history or social studies, and who seem more concerned with putting a Christian-centric view of history into the curriculum, I’m not real optimistic that history education will improve in Texas over the next ten years. But if anybody is really interested in trying to change the way history is taught, they might consider looking at a curriculum organized by time periods worldwide. Forget studying one continent per year and focus on one era at a time. Maybe then our kids will grow up and actually STOP repeating the mistakes of the past.

OMG! They Were Right September 9, 2009

Posted by Bill in Obama, Politics.
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It is now the day after President Obama’s education speech. Enough time has passed to evaluate the true effects of his speech. And much to my surprise the Christian and Conservative Hard Right were right. An initial report by a panel of eminent sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists shows that the predicted deleterious effects of his speech have rapidly manifested themselves in our children. According to this report, out of all the students who listened to President Obama’s education speech:

– 63% are now reading the works of Marx and Lenin and are calling each other comrade. When you look at the age groupings you find that the younger the child, the more pronounced this effect. Among 1st graders 79% of those who listened were affected this way.

– 64% are now atheist. This group largely overlaps the above group. There is however a gap of 1% between those students who are now atheist and those who are communists. This 1% consists of atheist capitalists. The experts surmise that this group, although obviously affected by President Obama’s speech, were not as strongly affected by it due to their having read Adam Smith’s On The Wealth of Nations at home.

– 12 % are now Satanists. According to reports from school officials and local police they are now actively searching for virgins to sacrifice to Lucifer. Fortunately they seem to be having difficulties with this due to their tendency to rape all the virgins they find.

– Another problem for the Satanists is that there seems to be a significant decrease in the number of virgins after the speech. School officials reported widespread orgies immediately after President Obama’s speech. Also according to reports just now coming in, those students who listened to President Obama’s speech got together this morning before school and engaged in massive orgies. It promises to be the new way to start the day for our students and lends a whole new meaning to “See You at the Pole”.

– 82% of the students turned gay. This effect, though, may not be permanent as it was noted that during the orgies very few students had sex with one sex exclusively.

– 99% of the students visited the local Planned Parenthood centers for abortions. Many appeared disappointed when told that they were either prepubescent, not pregnant, or male. I understand that there is now a petition making the rounds demanding the right to an abortion without regards to pregnancy status or gender. – On the downside for Planned Parenthood and the plus side for the Religious Hard Right the experts are predicting a significant and substantial drop in the use of birth control. It remains to be seen if the significant and substantial increase in abortions will make up for Planned Parenthood’s losses in contraceptive income.

– 83% of the students have turned black. Those that were already black turned even blacker. This has obviously caused great consternation in their families with many of them having to discontinue going to their church and becoming home churched instead.

– A rather surprising finding is that the whole population of Kenya is now claiming to have been born in Hawaii. It is not sure if this is related to President Obama’s education speech or not. Research is ongoing.

The United States – A Secular Government September 5, 2009

Posted by Bill in Politics.
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In Texas it is time to decide upon school curriculum again. Last time it was science standards. This time it is social and history standards. And, as is unfortunately usual, the committee assigned to review the textbooks and advise on the curriculum has a significant number of “experts” from the religious right.

One of the “experts” is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders. Wallbuilders purpose is to:

“WallBuilders’ goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena. ”

Further, in regards to education:

“In the first part of this goal, we develop materials to educate the public concerning the periods in our country’s history when its laws and policies were firmly rooted in Biblical principles.”

Both quotes are taken from the Wallbuilders website:   http://www.wallbuilders.com/ABTOverview.asp

Barton’s qualifications – other than having some very factually challenged opinions? He graduated from Aledo High School and received a BA degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. His lack of knowledge about our history and founding is evident.

What I would like to address here is not a point by point refutation of his misuse of the ideas and words of our founders, or even what he and compatriots on the board are recommending, but instead deal in general with the whole concept that we are a Christian nation. Something that many on the religious right claim and whose support Barton is both riding and leading.

The idea that we were founded as a specifically Christian government is not just oversimplistic but wrong. And dangerous. What this claim does is pervert and distort much of our founding history by only providing a very small part of a much greater and much more complex history.

First I would like to make a distinction between government and culture. We are a Christian nation in the sense that the vast majority of our population is and always has been Christian. Our holidays reflect this. Our landscape dotted with Christian churches reflect this. Our many cultural references to Christianity reflect this.

However it is important to note that even though our culture is Christian, our government is not. It was purposely set up by our founders to be a secular government providing no preference for any religion over another. Our founders, quite rightly, saw this as the best way to protect the religious liberties of all its citizens. Given the carefully selected little quotes and facts given by Barton and others you would never know this. Let’s look at some of the facts that belie the idea of our founders having created a Christian government.

First the Constitution itself. Aside from a dating convention (in the year of our Lord) at the end, it does not mention God, Jesus, or Christianity. This is an astounding fact. All governments at the time made mention or reference to some sort of religious ideals. Even most of the state constitutions of the time mentioned Christianity, God, or Jesus. Many even had very specific religious tests for office. For the United States Constitution to not make mention of religion, except to prohibit religious tests for office and prohibitions on the government from making laws regarding the establishment of religion or the free exercise of religion by its citizens was something new. Something very different from any other government, even that of the individual states.

In fact during the Constitutional Convention delegate Luther Martin stated that since some delegates believed that “in a Christian country, it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.” This view was rejected. Instead there was no endorsement of one religion over another and an explicit rejection of any sort of religious test for office.

How does this great difference fit in with the idea of us being a Christian government? It doesn’t.

Especially since the Constitution was criticized by many at the time for its lack of references to Christianity and God. This was used as an argument for those who argued against its ratification. But the founders, despite the closeness of the vote, never tried to insert God or Christianity into the Constitution during the ratification process.

It also should be noted that nowhere in all the notes taken by the founders during the Constitutional Convention were there any mention of Christianity or of Christian values. There were no discussions of how to apply the words of the Bible to the workings of the government. The works of Locke, British laws, Greek and Roman governments and much more were mentioned and discussed but not the Bible or Christianity.

Many mention Benjamin Franklin’s resolution to start the day with a prayer. What is not mentioned is that when he urged prayer the convention had already been meeting a month without prayers. The records of the Constitutional Convention also show that after Franklin made his resolution the delegates voted to adjourn rather than debate the resolution. The matter was never brought up again and the Constitutional Convention continued on without opening prayers. This too does not fit in with the idea that our government was set up to be a Christian government and not a secular government.

Another item that does not fit this idea is the Treaty of Tripoli. This treaty between the United States and Tripoli was ratified by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by John Adams on June 10, 1797. There was no controversy or dissent in the whole process. Article 11 of this treaty states:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

This is about as blatant a statement about the intent of the founders to create a secular government and not a Christian one as can be possible. How then to reconcile the seeming meaning of the quotes used so often by those claiming that our founders set up a Christian government?

First we need to recognize that these statements were made by individuals. They did not all think alike, reason alike, believe alike. It is a mistake to talk about the intent of the founding fathers as if they all spoke and believed alike.

Second, many, if not most of our founders, made a distinction between what they believed would be good for society and what they believed the government should do. While many believed that religion and Christianity might be good for individuals and society, they did not believe that the government should be in the business of favoring one religion over another. In fact they believed that such actions by the government would actually result in the destruction of religious liberty.

Third, many of the quotes selected do not tell the whole story. For example, most people who read some of the quotes from Thomas Jefferson that are used to support the idea that we are a Christian nation would assume that he believed in the Christian God. He did not. He was a deist who believed that God created the universe and then let it run its course without any more actions on his part. Jefferson did not believe in a God who intervened in human affairs, he did not believe in miracles. Reading his revision of Gospels in which he eliminates all miracles – the virgin birth, healings, the loaves and fishes, and even the resurrection – make this abundantly clear.

Another popular piece of evidence is a quote from the 1892 Supreme Court ruling in Church of the Holy Trinity v U.S. which states that the Supreme Court ruled that the United States was a Christian Nation. However this comes from the writings of Justice David Brewer and his statement occurred in dicta. This is a legal term meaning that what he writes reflects his own opinion and not that of the court and that such writing is not an official court ruling that sets precedent.

What is also interesting here is the question of what did Justice Brewer mean when he stated that the United States was a Christian Nation? Did he mean Christian government or that our society and culture are Christian? In light of an 1897 ruling of his in L’Hote vs New Orleans, I rather think the latter and not the former as the insert is trying to claim.

In the L’Hote vs New Orleans case, a Methodist church in New Orleans sought an injunction to keep the city from allowing prostitution in one area of the city. The Methodists argued that the measure would “destroy the morals, peace, and good order of the neighborhood.” They cited the Holy Trinity decision as support and argued that the ordinance allowing prostitution in one area of the city was inconsistent with Christianity “which the Supreme Court of the United States says is the foundation for our government and the civilization which it has produced.” Justice Brewer wrote an opinion for an unanimous court that completely ignored the church’s arguments and upheld the New Orleans law.

This is one of many examples showing that, whatever their personal beliefs about the value of religion and Christianity, the majority of our founders purposely and expressly set about to create a secular government as the best guarantee of religious freedom for all.

There have been movements in the past where a group has tried to change our secular government into a Christian one. In the early 1800’s, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, Pastor Ezra Stiles Ely tried to change our government to be more Christian through such things as making elected office subject to religious tests and eliminating Sunday mail. Andrew Jackson was a devout Christian. However he also recognized the value of the separation of Church and State. “Amongst the greatest blessing secured to us under our Constitution is the liberty of worshiping God as our conscience dictates – or not.” Because of Andrew Jackson and others of the time, Pastor Ely’s efforts were defeated.

Another time was during and after the Civil War. A group of eleven denominations from across the United States got together in 1863 and deciding that the Civil War was God’s punishment for leaving out mention of God in the Constitution, started to work to rectify that. They wanted to alter the Preamble to:

“We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government, and in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the inalienable rights and the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves our posterity, and all the people, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This movement became known as National Reform Association. It too failed. Similar proposals were considered by Congress in 1874, 1896 and 1910. They all failed.

These movements at least recognized the secular nature of the United States Constitution. Now the descendants of these groups are trying something different. Instead of trying to change the Constitution so it promotes a Christian government, they are claiming that we are a Christian government already and have always been so. Their methods are the quoting of misleading sound bites and ignoring the full scope of our history. Their hope is that our collective ignorance will be their salvation.

Finally, as some food for thought for those who say that our nation was founded on Christian values, here are a few questions.

Where does the Bible promote freedom of religion? You can find numerous instances of religious repression of those who did not believe in the same God of the Jews but there are no instances of religious tolerance.

For that matter, where is there an example of a democratic government in the Bible? Or Freedom of Speech? Or Freedom of Assembly and the Press? None of these are in the Bible. It was not until the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and skepticism and its transformation of a hands on God of miracles to one of a hands off creator that these concepts start to become important in political thought.

To let those such as David Barton and Peter Marshall change our history to support their religious bigotry would be the start of the end of our founders grand experiment in setting up a secular democratic government. Let us not give up our secular government that has so ably protected the rights of each individual to decide what they do and do not believe. Let us not fall victim to the sound bites of those who promote a Christian government and give up the true liberty enshrined in our secular Constitution.

Indoctrination Indeed September 3, 2009

Posted by Bill in Politics, Uncategorized.
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I wonder if everyone else is as….. bemused?…. as I am by the furor President Obama’s speech to public school students is arousing.   It is amazing what people who are firmly convinced that the President is out to do in the country will come up with.

Folks – and by folks I am referring to all of those who are going to keep their kids home from school that day, write letters of protest, and yell loudly “Socialism! Socialism!” (thanks to my daughter for that observation) over and over again –  all President Obama is going to do is use this wonderful new means of communication called television to deliver a message to students on the importance of being in school, getting a good education, of persevering even when times are tough.  The only difference between what President Obama is doing and what every other President has done when they visited schools is that he is reaching more of them at once using television instead of going to schools one by one.  I believe that even President Bush visited schools and talked to the students there.

I did not really think that the religious right and conservatives could hate a President more than they did President Clinton.  Well, I was wrong.  I have this habit that irritates my wife and children.  I like to listen to religious right and conservative radio talk shows.  It is fun arguing and yelling back at the people whose views I can count on disagreeing with at least 80% of the time.

Anyway on listening in on what they are saying it quickly becomes obvious that they have taken the dislike, distrust and outright pure hate that they used to pour on President Clinton and heated it up enough to make lava look like ice and poured it over President Obama.  President Obama is setting up death panels, he is evil, he is similar to Hitler, he is, he is, he is, he is every bad thing imaginable.  I have even heard some speculation that he is the Antichrist.

Good grief.

If you are a conservative there is plenty to honestly disagree with.  That’s fine.  I know I did my share of bashing President Bush and his policies.  But nothing like this.  This goes way beyond rational disagreements.  I cannot but feel that there is more going on here than an honest disagreement.  I can’t help but wonder if some of this is fear driven.

The changes that our old world has been going through for years – birth control, the rise of science and its often unsettling findings, civil rights, the ubiquitous showcasing of people whose values and beliefs are different on TV, movies, and the Internet and so many other changes – has been challenging the comfy worldview of the religious conservatives.  What is worse they perceive themselves, rightly I think, as being on the slowly losing side of the changes.    For awhile they could console themselves that at least they had a conservative in the White House, that Congress had enough people that thought like them.

And then came President Obama.  He personified all that they found threatening.  He was black with a foreign Arabic name.   He was educated and sounded it.  He supported the findings of science.  While acknowledging his faith he also acknowledged the importance of the separation of church and state.  He supported a woman’s right of choice.

President Obama is all of their fears personified.  Because of that instead of trying to see him as he is and dealing with their honest disagreements about his policies, they project all of their fears on where the world is going and what might happen unto all of his actions and words.  Instead of a man trying to do what he feels is best for the country he becomes the symbol of all that they see is wrong.

I was going to end this with one of those witty or enlightening “All I can say” sayings.  But in the face of such blind unreasoning hate I really can’t think of an appropriate one.  All I can do is sit, watch, and try to counter the many falsehoods being said so that the real policy disagreements can be honestly and rationally argued.

Oh, and I can continue to watch and listen and be both amusedly concerned about the fury.