Sunday, August 21, 2005

If Thinking Is The Best Way To Travel, We Are Nation Of Stay-At-Homes

Animal%20021%20-%20turkeys According to the most recent on-line edition of The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Sheila Simmons writes:

”The Philadelphia School District’s unexpected decision to award a major contract for curriculum materials to K12 Inc., a company chaired by a former U.S. education secretary, has some science educators wondering why this controversial but politically influential firm got the deal...

K12 board chair William J. (“Bill”) Bennett, now a conservative talk show host, served as Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan. The company’s senior vice president of education and policy is former Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Charles Zogby, a key architect of the state takeover of Philadelphia schools.”
As usual when something like this gets forcefed into a school system, the district's science teachers were the last to know, let alone have their opinions considered. Furthermore, for most of them it was an unknown quantity with little national recognition, which seemed to fly in the face of one of the guidelines for acceptance, that “materials selected have received national recognition and approval for their excellence.” Very few people in the field contacted by Simmons had even heard of the company: experts in the field seemed baffled at best, damning at worst. Said David L. Smith, director of professional development at the Da Vinci Discovery Center of Science and Technology in Bethlehem:

“The portion of a sample earth science lesson that I looked (at) on their web site was of very low cognitive demand, contained no inquiry at all, was oriented toward shallow factual content rather than deep conceptual understanding, and contained numerous errors of fact.”
Of course, I would never suggest that District CEO Paul Vallas' history with Bill Bennett, and Bennett's recommendation of Vallas for Secretary of Education that positioned him as runner-up to successful candidate Rod "Teachers are Terrorists" Paige both in 2001 and again when Paige stepped down last year, had anything to do with the choice of Bennett's company. And the sudden stealth appearance of creationism and intelligent design in the district's classrooms, brought to you by a company whose forte has been home-schoolers and virtual classrooms, shouldn't worry us:

"K12 has received criticism for the receipt of public funds for its services to private, often religion-oriented home-schoolers; for its “anti-scientific” approach to evolution; and for the political influence K12 wields with its use of aggressive, high-priced lobbyists who were active in the Bush campaign."
That's right...ties to the Bushies (check out the back-scratching that went on with Jeb down in Florida), and a religious agenda. In the words of the old High Roller himself:

"Bennett says, "We're centered in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we do not ignore faith and religion, we do not ignore the arguments against evolution, because there are some...I think what we'll say is, Here's evolution, this is a definition, this is what other people think, this is what a lot of the scientific community thinks, this is what a lot of the criticisms are. You decide, parent and child, working your way through this how you want to evaluate this."

[A]ccording to Bennett, the science curriculum presents evolution, creationism, and intelligent design as equally tenable explanations for the existence of life"
Now, according to the article, the religious instruction doesn't begin until K12's 7th grade level, and the contract in question is for K through 3rd grade, but it doesn't matter; the integrity of the entire program is brought into question by this. And the fact that schools will be expected to answer via testing to Bush's No Rich White Child Left Behind mandate starting in 2007, combined with Bennett's cozy relationship to his administration and the religious right, should have taxpayers putting this entire transaction under the microscope.

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