Thursday, February 24, 2011
Hill Buildies, the Footsoldiers of Plate Tectonics
If I were a student doing geology, coming at it cold so to speak , .. well, not exactly cold because I would have seen stuff about it on the telly - I would have been primed as it were, ..already 'set up', ..I would find Plate Tectonics highly appealing because I would know a bit about it already (.. having been set up). I would be positively disposed. I would have already internalised it, appropriated it as 'mine'. I would own it, ..and would view anybody who tried to disabuse me of my internalised belief as a crank. (Must be, ..going against what everybody already knows to be true) (I saw a program on it on telly after all.)
Well, it's how it works isn't it? Get the kids. Get them young. Set them up. Bob's your uncle. It's how it's done. From the military to suicide bombers  . , ..where's the difference? (which is most organised? Which is most committed? It's the whole point of school, isn't it, .. to prepare children for the world in which we live.
Just reading an article here where it says about 13% of teachers advocating creationism in the classroom. and about (which is more disturbing) the cautious 60%, afraid to let their advocacy show. How, amongst that lot, do we encourage the child to develop to independent rational adult assessment, when we drag the baggage of childhood impressionability and belief along?
Now I don't know anything much about biology, nor quantum mechanics, but if I were in a classroom as a child with a teacher telling me, I'd be inclined to believe what he was saying, because ... he's a teacher, and particularly when there's an exam at the end of it all which says, "This is stuff you need to know." And implied would be, not just for the exam, but for it's own sake. It's school after all. You know nuthin'. They're teachers. You learn stuff. Because it's right. I mean, ..they wouldn't be telling you rubbish would they? But it's not really presented as an opportunity for discovery of the mind and what you might think about for yourself. It might masquerade as that to begin with, but the class had better all end up at the same place, or else.
There's a box to tick, ..and you'd better get it right.
I'm an old guy now, but I remember when I was at school a defining moment when I just about jumped out of my skin (maths class) because the teacher (I still remember his name - rest his soul) (good teacher too, generally speaking) had thrown a duster at me, .. one of those hard-backed wooden things that if it hit you would have been bloody sore, but he was a good shot and it just rattled off the desk, as was no doubt his intention. He came up and stuck his red old face right in my young and lovely one, and said (and I still remember it - verbatim) (one way to impress kids, eh?), ..he said, "You, Findlay, ..the trouble with you, ..you're a why-man, ..and you'll find out this world doesn't *LIKE* why-men."
I could not for the LIFE of me work out what he was on about, or why he suddenly had reason to say that. I was absolutely shaken. But he's been dead right (all these years). It upsets people when you ask why. And often upsets you when *they* tell *you* why. Especially when you don't ask in the first place and they just tell you anyway, because they think it would be somehow good for you to know - whether you like it or not. Like here.
But it's been asking why that's led me down this road of Earth Expansion, as answers to why-after-why-have kept clicking like tumblers on one of those fruit machine, and when Plate Tectonics keeps throwing up combinations that just drive you up the wall. Coming at it from knowing a bit about geological perspective (and not as a child having been instructed in the finer arts of plates) I find it mindboggling that Plate Tectonics can be taught in the classroom any more, to the point where I have to recognise that the veracity of the science is not the issue here - it's about the politics of the classroom - about the 'curriculum' and "maintaining standards", .. whether (scientifically) right or wrong.
And societal cohesion.
Which reminds me of another article I came across recently (I don't remember how recent it actually was), ..the gist of it was that a law had been passed (New Mexico, I think) that gave teachers the right to tell the class (if they wanted - because it seemed like they didn't have it before) that alternative views existed to whatever it was that was being taught, but I think they still drew the line at discussing what those views actually were. I more remember one of the comments, which said "It is more important for teachers to teach the curriculum, than to have any personal views on the subject." (and presumably say what they were), which it must be conceded is difficult to argue with.
All of which leads us to arrive at the question, when it comes to the Earth sciences, who sets the standards for the core curriculum in schools (and universities)? ..because it seems that Plate Tectonics gets more than a casual mention. And the further question, in whose interest is it - the students', ..the school's, ..whose, exactly? Because from a geological perspective it might just as well be creationism being taught, as Plate Tectonics. Plate Tectonicists just don't have a leg to stand on, when it comes to occupying the high ground of scientific respectability. Nothing wrong with the core geology of course, just the theory, but these days it's quite a challenge to unravel fact from fiction in whatever field you care to mention.
"Get them young, learn 'em up, and Bob's your uncle..."
<Boom> Canon fodder. Just having a gander round cyberspace, there are a lot of suicide bombers lighting themselves up in defence of Plate Tectonics. For whose benefit? Certainly not theirs, (..trolling that baggage around.) Whose then? Teachers? I don't think so. I'm sure many emphasise the theoretical aspects, but I'm also pretty sure they must find the fact/fiction thing a bit difficult going by the many articles that describe that model. So whose then? In whose interest is it, that this nonsense gets taught in schools? It's fairly easy to identify the multifarious interests of the Christian Right in the case of the 13% creationism, but what cabal is it that occupies the remaining 87%, given the importance of 'institutional kudos' to university administration boards?
[ See also Expanding Earth blog at