What if you had commanded the South at Gettysburg?

January 31, 2008

Can you snatch victory from the jaws of historic defeat?

Military.com features this quick-play, script simulation of the Battle of Gettysburg. I played it, and the South won.

Can you figure out how to use this game to stimulate interest in history, in your classroom? Please tell about it.

Getting the story straight: Galileo and the church

January 31, 2008

Galileo observes the stars

One of the great joys of history, to me, is the diving into a story and finding that the details of the true story do not correspond well with the popular myths. For example, most sailors of the late 15th century were aware the Earth is a globe, when Columbus sailed — his crew did not fear falling off the edge of the Earth. This fact raises questions about why the great European powers were not more enthusiastic about exploring to the west, and that question is probably more difficult to answer. That means more work for the historian.

Here’s an essay from Peter Klein at the economics blog Organizations and Markets, on details of the story of Galileo, setting the record straight, but raising a lot more issues about what actually happened in this story from the history of science.

The problem is that the leaders of Galileo’s day didn’t think the sun revolves around the earth. My former colleague Thomas Lessl is an expert on Galileo, and from him I learned that virtually every aspect of the Galileo legend is false.

Consider these facts:

1. Neither Galileo, nor any other scientist, was put to death by the medieval Church. Giordano Bruno, a 17th-century Dominican, was indeed condemned by the Inquisition, not for his scientific views, but for preaching a quirky, New Age-ish view called hermeticism, which was only incidentally connected to heliocentrism.

2. The Catholic authorities of Galileo’s day had little trouble with heliocentrism per se. Many of the leading Catholic scientists were actually Copernicans. Copernicus’s treatise on heliocentrism had been in print for seventy years prior to Galileo’s conflict with the Church.

3. Galileo remained a devout and loyal Catholic until the end of his life. He held no animosity toward the Church over his conflict with Church authorities.

4. Most important, the conflict between Galileo and the Church took place in the context of the Protestant Reformation, a context that is almost always omitted from popular accounts of Galileo’s trial. The key issue in this conflict was not heliocentrism per se, but the authority of the individual Believer to interpret Scripture. Galileo’s argument that scientists should interpret the Bible to conform to their scientific views was close to Luther’s view that the Believer should be his own interpreter of Scripture. It was Lutheranism, not heliocentrism, that alarmed the Church leaders.

Galileo, in other words, was caught up in a larger, theological and ecclesiastical controversy. He was not simply a truth-seeking scientists going up against a bigoted Establishment.

Klein urges that we should be distrustful of scientists who invoke the old myths about the Galileo story. He fails to assert the more powerful point, to me: Christianity traditionally supported good science, and therefore creationism is the odd duck — the Bible, and Christianity, are not opposed to good science.

Preachers should be preaching for the truth, not for creationism. Of course, one should ponder when, if ever, preachers have paid attention to economists.

Maybe it’s a virus: Imagined racism of Darwin

January 30, 2008

Bad enough Tony Campolo feels compelled to accuse Darwin of being racist without reading the story of Darwin’s life (Darwin was anti-racist, and he and his family supported abolition of slavery and racism, with their political work and money), or without reading what Darwin actually wrote. (See responses here, and here.)

I stumbled into a series of posts at Echidne of the Snakes with the same ill-informed theme, based on the same misguided essay from 1998 — but from an author who staunchly insists on quoting what he thought to be offending passages from Darwin without quoting the rest of what Darwin said — a creationist quote miner, in other words.

He claimed in a thread here to have posted his “final answer” to my frequent urgings that he get the stuff accurate. We can hope it’s his last post on the topic since he won’t fix the errors. We’ll ignore the eerie homage to “final solution” that one could find in his phrasing.

Statue of Charles Darwin as a distinguished scientist. This statue stands (sits?) outside Castle Gates Library in Shrewsbury, Darwin’s boyhood home. The library resides in the 16th-century building which housed Shrewsbury School when Darwin was a pupil. Photo: Pete’s Favorite Things

Historian (and lawyer) traps thief of history on eBay

January 29, 2008

Another story of another amateur historian going out of his way to save history in the form of a letter stolen from the New York State Library.Is Joseph Romito a Boy Scout? Can we give him a medal?

12 year-old blogger educates . . .

January 29, 2008

How young is too young to blog about education?

Our reader, Dr. Pamela Bumsted wrote about a 12 year-old kid in Southern California who blogs to reach underprivileged kids, at The Edublogs Magazine.

Michael Guggenheim is twelve years old, a full-time 6th grade student in southern California. He’s recently won the Volunteer Service Award from Secretary Spelling of the U.S. Department of Education and another award from the Inland Empire Branch of the International Dyslexia/Dysgraphia Association. He’s been interviewed by Good Morning America, the LA Times, and CNN. And he’s a blogger.

Michael Guggenheim uses his blog for education – as a teacher to document his nonprofit organization and his extracurricular activities teaching even younger students how to use a computer.

S.P.L.A.T. Inc. (Showing People Learning And Technology) was set up by Guggenheim to help him tutor youngsters at homeless shelters, low income housing projects, and community centers. Whatever funds he raises goes to the distribution of used computers, monitors, printers, and donated software. He himself teaches basic computer skills and also shows the younger children how to use computer learning games.

Got a classroom blog yet? This kid is ahead of a lot of teachers in blogging.

40th anniversary, capture of the U.S.S. Pueblo

January 28, 2008

On January 28, 1968, Commander Lloyd Bucher and the crew of the U.S.S. Pueblo were confronted by several armed swift boats from North Korea, and after an exchange of gunfire that resulted in the death of one of the Pueblo crew, the North Koreans took the boat and crew captive.

1968 was a dramatic and mostly bad year for the U.S. The 11-month saga of the crew in captivity often gets lost from accounts of the year.

Among other reasons I track these events, the crewman pulled a series of hoaxes on their North Korean captors that, I believe, helped lead to their release.

New film, “Malaria Parasites,” rips your heart out

January 28, 2008

One more problem that DDT cannot solve, and that the thoughtless campaigns for DDT only make worse. The film comes from Journeyman Productions.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.ipextv.tv posted with vodpod

Tip of the old scrub brush to the blog of IPEX-TV.


January 28, 2008

Bloggers are out there looking for the good posts, the real meat of Bloggovia, to serve it up to you in a tight bundle. Here’s where you find such purveyors:

Moment of silence legal, not enforced

January 27, 2008

Adding legal irony to the Texas legislature’s running from education problems in the state, a federal court in Dallas upheld the state’s “moment of silence” law a few weeks ago, saying it is not an illegal establishment of religion. The fact that many or most of the students in the state refuse to follow the law earned no mention in the decision.

It’s more shooting at education and educators in the continuing War on Education.

So the law is legal, but largely unenforced, and maybe unenforceable. The law is on the books. I have yet to find a school in Texas that is ambitious about enforcing the law. A suggestion that kids should “honor a moment of silence” is often met with laughter, and generally met with conversations and actions that do anything but follow the law. The lesson the kids take away is that laws can be flouted, or maybe that they should be flouted. I’m imagining a bit — I don’t know what lesson the kids are taking away. The Texas moment of silence is not honored by students in many schools; administrators are reluctant to enforce it with any disciplinary action. Students are not learning respect for religion, nor respect for any God. Sadly, they’re not learning respect for others’ faiths, either.

Teachers are charged with assuring compliance with the law. The legislature decided not to punish students for disobeying it, but instead hold teachers responsible for making sure students obey it.

I imagine the defenders of the law, including Kelly Shackleford at Plano’s Liberty Legal Institute, think this law is a boon to faith. It seems to function much as the establishment laws in Europe, however: It discourages kids from making their faith their own, discourages an honoring of faith, and ultimately pushes kids out of the pews. Students do not think the moment is anything other than a time for prayer in my experience. Some schools get around much trouble by making the legally required minute last about 15 seconds.

There’s no law on the books that says legislators and judges must be intelligent and show common sense. One wishes they would use common sense once in a while. Mark Twain noted that God goofed in prohibiting the apple to Adam; God should have prohibited the snake, then Adam would have eaten it instead, Twain said. In this case, the legislature has prohibited talking. Guess what happens.

Plaintiffs plan to appeal according to David Wallace Croft, the chief plaintiff, at his blog. Teachers and students are stuck with the law as it is (see the actual opinion), an embarrassing moment in the day. According to an Associated Press story in the Houston Chronicle:

David and Shannon Croft filed their initial lawsuit after they said one of their children was told by an elementary schoolteacher to keep quiet because the minute is a “time for prayer.” The complaint, filed in 2006, named Gov. Rick Perry and the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, which the Crofts’ three children attended in the suburbs of Dallas.

District Judge Barbara Lynn upheld the constitutionality of the law earlier this month, concluding that “the primary effect of the statute is to institute a moment of silence, not to advance or inhibit religion.”


Read the rest of this entry »

Readers rebut Campolo

January 26, 2008

Readers of the Philadelphia Inquirer rebutted Tony Campolo’s amazingly off-the-mark opinion piece that claimed Darwin and evolution as racist. They did it more briefly and with greater authority than I did (I have deleted e-mail addresses); from today’s paper, Saturday, January 26:

Wrong on Darwin

Tony Campolo argues that Charles Darwin supported the kind of racism that would eventually lead to Nazism and, by extension, the Holocaust (“The real danger in Darwin is not evolution, but racism,” Jan. 20). This point cannot be sustained upon closer examination of Darwin’s writings. In On the Origin of Species, Darwin made use of the term race on a number of occasions, but almost exclusively in reference to animals and plants. He did not relate his conclusions about plants and animals to the human world, and he never advocated “the elimination of ‘the negro and Australian peoples,’ ” as Campolo insists.

In Descent of Man, Darwin did not rank “races in terms of what he believed was their nearness and likeness to gorillas,” as Campolo states. In fact, Darwin did the exact opposite, taking apart theories about the origins of humanity that suggested that different races originated from different (and inferior) species. Darwin’s fundamental position was that any differences we have are either overshadowed by our similarities or so mutable that they have little explanatory power.

Jonathan C. Friedman
Holocaust and genocide studies
West Chester University

Science has evolved

Tony Campolo’s rant draws a tenuous connection between what he sees as Charles Darwin’s personal prejudices and Nazism in an effort to make us think twice about teaching Darwin’s scientific principles (Inquirer, Jan. 20). Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Should we not study the Declaration of Independence? The fact is that the science of evolution, with 150 years of substantiated science behind it, has evolved well beyond Darwin. David Messing
Willow Grove

Teaching equality

Saying Charles Darwin’s “theories are dangerous” (Inquirer, Jan. 20) is like saying Newton’s Laws are dangerous. Darwin’s concepts have been proven by developments in biology, geology, paleontology and other sciences since his time. Fortunately, as Tony Campolo notes, few people currently read Darwin’s works, so we hardly have to feel threatened that “he sounds like a Nazi.” In the last 50 years, we have gone from a society that accepted Jim Crow to one that recognizes it is a diverse, multiracial nation. We have a long way to go to be fully accepting of that diversity, but teaching evolutionary science in the schools is vital and necessary, hardly dangerous. Let’s leave teaching the humanity and equality of all persons to our religious institutions.

Richard S. Greeley
St. Davids

BBC’s Horizon: Intelligent design a threat to science

January 26, 2008

Greg Laden’s Blog noted the program on intelligent design from Horizon, a BBC Two series somewhat similar to PBS’s NOVA, but without political shackles.

A YouTube video exists (below); and the Horizon website has some text and several useful links — and a picture of Bill Dembski doing his best Big Jule routine.

Horizon also reported on global dimming — no, that’s not what happens to intelligence when intelligent design is taught. At least, not yet.

Sheesh! Are creationists in Texas feeling the heat yet?

More but not enough freedom of speech in Turkey

January 26, 2008

Turkey changed its laws that completely forbade criticism of the government. Recent changes promoting freedom of conscience and speech do not change the fact that this blog, and a million others on WordPress, are still blocked in Turkey.

Remember the old Radio Free Europe? We need a Blog Free Turkey; a Blog Free China; a Blog Free Duncanville Independent School District.

Why eugenics doesn’t work

January 25, 2008

Dog and cat breeders, pigeon fanciers, racehorse breeders, and others whose livelihoods depend on their trying to do better than nature at the Darwinian game often offer anecdotes about breeding failures. They thought they might get a faster horse, but they got a skittish one instead; they thought they were getting a good bird dog, but the dog would panic at the shot of a gun.

Breeders know genetics carry a lot of traits, and trying to select for one is difficult. One may amplify a bad trait in addition to the desired trait.

In short, as the actors told us in the old Chiffon Margarine advertisements, it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, and not always easy.

Enron tilted E sign, Associated Press photo

In one classic paper that more critics of Darwin should read, researchers discovered that instead of getting better egg production, they got mean chickens that damaged production of the entire flock.

Adam Lerymenko at Greythumb.blog notes the paper, and notes how the phenomenon was demonstrated among humans at the now-failed and discredited Enron Corp. (While informative, the piece may not be wholly safe for profanity filters in schools; the comments may be a problem, too.)

One of my favorite papers in evolutionary biology, which I have mentioned here before, is this:

Muir, W.M., and D.L. Liggett, 1995a. Group selection for adaptation to multiple-hen cages: selection program and responses. Poultry Sci. 74: s1:101

It outlines the group selection effects observed when trying to breed chickens for increased egg production in multiple-hen cage environments. In short, selecting individual chickens for increased productivity in a group environment didn’t select for increased productivity. Instead, it selected for mean chickens. The result was an overall reduction in productivity. Only by selecting at the group level was productivity increased.

The topic is a worthy one for discussion in economics courses, especially with regard to incentives for certain behaviors.

There is this caution: Adam notes that Enron annually fired the “bottom 10%” as a matter of policy, trying to encourage everyone else to work harder, trying to reward productive people, trying to prune deadwood from the corporate vine. At one point, some divisions of GE Corp. would purge the bottom 25%. That’s even more intensive selective pressures, for evil as well as good.

W. Edwards Deming was right, in his 14-point program for getting quality production from corporations and other organizations. He said no corporation ever appears to get it right when they select individuals to blame for problems with annual performance reviews, rather than working to improve processes to improve quality of their products. (See Point 12)

And when legislators try to purge education of bad teachers? Can they possibly hope to get anything but mean chickens? Economists indict our reliance on standardized tests of students.

So much to learn, so many a–holes.


Photo: Enron tilted E sign from the Houston headquarters; Associated Press photo via ABC News, January 22, 2008.

Teacher sources: Battle of Hastings, 1066

January 24, 2008

World history teachers should note this site: Samurai Dave the Roving Ronin.

In a series of posts, the last of which appears to be December 11 (Wes’s birthday!), Samurai Dave posts the history of the Battle of Hastings, with videos of battle recreations, photos of recreation events, and commentary on the meaning of the battle in history.

I wager you’ll learn something. If nothing else, there are a lot of great photos for students to see what it was like (minus the blood and gore).

Dawkins fans take on Campolo

January 24, 2008

Richard Dawkins’ blog reposted Campolo’s opinion piece. Comments are rather brutal, on both sides — I think it’s all semi-safe for work, not safe for classrooms.

Creationists get nasty when they can’t find evidence to support their claim that Darwin was racist, or to make any kind of signficance argument.

Earlier post on Campolo’s piece here.

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