Monday, December 21, 2020

Science vs Superstition and Stupid Politics

More than 40 years ago the brilliant musician Stevie Wonder released an interesting and highly relevant song called: "Superstition". Part of the lyrics to the song are as follows: 

When you believe in things
That you don't understand,
Then you suffer,
Superstition ain't the way
Stevie Wonder's song is amazingly relevant today when people refuse to wear masks or practice social distancing because they believe that the whole Covid-19 pandemic is not real. They have chosen to believe crazy political conspiracy theories that the virus is not really dangerous as thousands of people die in overwhelmed ICU wards. Some of the victims of Covid-19, just a few days before they die of the disease continue to spout denial that the disease that has caused them to be hospitalized is not real. So they are actually dying of this crazy political superstition. Note: I wrote this post in early April about the dangers of this disease that so many still refuse to recognize.
Millions of Americans today actively seek out biased "news" sources that somehow claim that the whole pandemic situation we are in today is really not a dangerous disease but a plot by political enemies of the president to help steal the presidential election. This is political superstition that is being maliciously spread by irresponsible individuals who have figured out that many Americans rather believe crazy conspiracy theories instead of the solid advice coming from infectious disease scientists like Dr Fauci, about the dangers of this disease. "When you believe in things that you don't understand, Then you suffer".
Superstitious political beliefs is why more Americans die in one day than the total number of people in Vietnam, Korea, or New Zealand  that have died in the entire 10 months of the Covid-19 pandemic. The government in those countries took important science based steps early in the pandemic that has protected their populations and maintained the strength of their economies while the U.S. succumbed to the destruction of the disease.  
Some of the same people who don't trust scientific advice about Covid-19 don't believe in the scientific principles in the theory of evolution. They lobby hard at our state government to prevent the teaching of evolution in our schools. But evolution is happening right now. Just a few days ago the Coronavirus that causes Covid-19 mutated in Great Briton to become about 70% more highly communicable. This is just another example of evolution. Such mutations are the way that some life forms on earth adapt and become more successful. The Coronavirus is not consciously trying to become more communicable, but the principles of evolution allow more successful mutations to reproduce in greater numbers. But if you don't believe in science, then you don't take necessary steps to protect yourself from the more dangerous mutations of diseases. As Stevie Wonder predicted: "Then you suffer." 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Why Distance Learning Will Always be Just a Supplement to Classroom Learning

The Covid-19 pandemic shutdowns have destroyed a major myth upon which some of the recent attempted reforms to public education are based. The myth is that classroom teachers can be replaced with remote/distance learning. One of the leading promoters of this myth is former Florida governor Jeb Bush. Bush has proposed that computers and distance learning could somehow take the place of in-person classroom teaching by real live teachers. Many of our current education reformers have longed for a way to replace classroom teachers with much cheaper forms of instruction using technology and automated teaching. Jeb Bush and others have invested heavily in teacher replacement technology, even starting technology companies that supposedly could greatly cut education costs and possibly make a lot of money for the companies providing automated teaching systems. 

 These education entrepreneurs were convinced that children could get though K-12 schooling without the need to attend a physical school. These for-profit non-educator executives have welded much political power in convincing state legislatures to allow the creation of a type of charter schools that could supposedly provide a much more efficient means of educating children by piping in instruction directly to children in their homes using computers and various distance strategies. These charter management companies are now profiting greatly by being granted most of the per pupil tax support going to traditional brick and mortar schools for their much cheaper methods of teaching. 


The Federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, had been aggressively pushing for the replacement of traditional public schools with on-line distance learning private schools. School privatization advocates such as DeVos, without evidence, had proposed that such “choice” schools could provide superior education by giving parents the freedom to escape supposedly “failing” public schools. The concept expressed often in testimony to state legislatures was that "parents know best what type of schooling would be most effective for their child" and the parent should be granted the power to place their children in schools of their choice bringing with them their allocation of education tax funding.  None of this type of education reform had ever been field tested to see if it was an effective replacement for traditional classroom based public education. 


Education researchers who have studied this trend to privatization and distance learning have demonstrated for several years that the actual results of distance/computer based learning as measured by standardized test scores are generally much inferior to traditional classroom instruction. Probably because of the powerful political influence of the privatizer advocates, most of the data demonstrating the inferiority of distance learning has been ignored.


But now with the Covid-19 shifting of instruction of many public school students to at-home remote learning, parents have been able to see for themselves how little their children are progressing in their remote learning studies. Many parents have been shocked at how difficult it seems to be to keep their children on task with computer learning even if the teachers are providing assignments and tutorials for children to view online. Education does not seem to work as well when the teacher is not working directly with children in a real classroom situation. 


I am writing this post to highlight some of the most recent research about learning which demonstrates very clearly why remote/distance learning does not work as well as in-classroom learning.


It is a coincidence that I was in the middle of reviewing some of the most recent research on cultural evolution and cultural learning when the pandemic hit, forcing this recent shift to remote learning. Cultural evolution is a relatively new science that is contributing greatly to modern learning theory. It is now believed that the great advances of mankind in just the last 10,000 years have occurred because of a rapid process called cultural evolution. That is, instead of relying on the extremely slow process of genetic evolution to help our species cope with changes and challenges in our environment, mankind has been able to rely on our highly developed brains to help figure out how to survive and to pass this knowledge on to our children. 


This process of cultural evolution happens, according to cultural scientist Joseph Henrich, with the invention or adaptation of various tools and procedures that allow humans to deal effectively with often lethal changes such as harsher climates, food shortages,  deadly competitors, overpopulation and many other challenges to survival. In his recent book: The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Henrich  uses extensive studies of various primitive cultures to show how humans adapt to survive by passing on highly complex learning of skills, tool making, and survival techniques to their young during the long period from childhood to adulthood.


In other words, humans teach their children what they need to know in order to survive and thrive in their environment. These are skills that are learned, not inborn, compared to skills exhibited by many other animals, which are inherited genetically. For example, it is known that bees inherit the ability to direct other bees to a particularly rich patch of flowers from which other bees can harvest honey. They inherit the ability to do a sort of dance that gives other bees the direction and distance to the honey source. Humans on the other hand, would use language they had learned from parents and others that allow them to give much more explicit directions to a food source they have discovered.  This ability to use and pass on learning has given humans a huge advantage over most other forms of life on earth. 


So even though our present system of public schooling funded by taxpayers for all children is fairly new, the process of passing on vital knowledge from adults to offspring has been going on for many thousands, maybe millions of years.  The use of various forms of schooling of children is what allows humans to adapt very rapidly to changing conditions and to pass on knowledge that will allow their offspring to survive. Schooling is actually the process of cultural evolution that has made mankind the ruler of the earth over all other living species. 


This is how an understanding of cultural evolution can be essential to understanding how schooling can be made most effective: It turns out that human beings in addition to being smart, are also social creatures. That is we depend greatly on our close connections with other humans for knowledge about obtaining food, shelter, mental support, security,  and feelings of wellbeing. We naturally cooperate with other humans to provide for the wellbeing of the whole society. Children depend on close connections and communication with adults they trust to teach them what they will need to know to get along in life. Books, video, audio, and other teaching aides are useful tools in the learning process, but the human connection is the most important ingredient in learning survival skills.  A kid can learn a lot from a two-dimensional TV or computer screen, but he trusts much more what he/she learns from a real live human being whom he has accepted is a mentor. In-person adult mentors (teachers) are most effective in passing on the complex culture of human beings. 

Experienced teachers know how to use the social dynamics of the classroom to produce cooperation, healthy competition in learning, encouragement and motivation for each child. That is the secret to effective schooling. Mercedes Schnider makes important points about the social nature of learning in her recent post here. There needs to be a human-to-human connection. That’s what happens in most classrooms in our public education systems that makes learning most effective and efficient. The promoters of distance learning are wrong about this impersonal process as a substitute for the human-to-human connection. 


Friday, July 31, 2020

Warning! Sending Our Children to School This Fall May be Deadly!

Researchers Find That Children May Carry High Coronavirus Loads in Their Nasal Cavities.

Many Louisiana public school parents are in the process of deciding on options for their children's school setting this fall. Based on guidelines adopted by BESE, many school systems in Louisiana are providing options that include some level of actual on-site attendance by children in school this fall. These decisions should be made with consideration of the latest scientific findings about the affect of the disease on children and their immediate families, especially since Louisiana is again one of the hot spots for spread of the disease. Parents may not yet have been alerted to the latest findings about the possibility of children as carriers of the Coronavirus because new findings are occurring almost daily. This post is an effort to alert parents to the latest research findings on children and COVID-19.

Sending our children to school this fall may be hazardous to our health. For elderly or certain susceptible individuals who come into contact with children who have been exposed to the Coronavirus, such contact may be deadly! Just yesterday, the New York Times reported on a study finding that children may carry large quantities of Coronavirus in their nasal cavities. Even though the article cautions that the study does not prove that infected children transmit the disease, the research indicates that small children may carry up to 100 times more virus in their noses than do older children or adults! In my opinion, any sneeze or cough could spread millions of possibly deadly virus containing droplets to anyone nearby, especially in a closed building. This new information may overshadow some findings that younger children seem to have lower risk of serious damage from the disease. It is now well known that many people who are asymptomatic may still be just as dangerous as all other victims in transmitting the disease.  

I am issuing this warning to my readers because parents need to act on the best information possible in choosing to possibly send their children to school in just a few days. Parents, keep your options open, especially if someone in your family has preconditions that may make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. This includes persons who have certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or who are cancer survivors. Persons who are over age 65 also have much greater chances of serious symptoms or even death if they contract COVID-19.

Please, if you care about your family trust the experts!

As you can see from my previous post on this blog, I believe that Dr Fauci is our supreme expert on this disease and its spread. Fauci in an interview just yesterday called attention to this important study on the possibility of children as carriers of COVID-19. I suggest that we all continue to monitor the real experts and the latest scientific findings as a guide to making decisions about sending our children into gatherings of any kind.

Economist Paul Krugman provides this chart showing what happened to Israel when they opened up schools.