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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

"Unbiased" is Tricky. Fairness is Key.

I sit alone in a home office-which overlooks a pond and trees and Colorado mountains, so I’m not complaining—but I don’t have as much contact with my readers as I used to have, and I often wonder how they are reacting to what I write.

So I was delighted with two emails I got this week.

One described my books as “unbiased.” Which is nice to hear, except that I, as a writer, know there is no such thing as an unbiased book. Even those dreadfully dull textbooks (which aren’t written by real authors, mostly they are put together by editorial ghosts) are the product of choices. No one can tell it all, so by necessity we bring our backgrounds and our purpose into whatever we write.  Read More 
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Lessons from Homeschoolers

Speaking at a homeschoolers conference recently I was asked in the Q and A, “Do mainstream educators take homeschooling seriously? Do they know what we accomplish?” Thinking about that question, I believe the answer is “no.” Which is too bad, homeschoolers have a lot to teach us.

It’s not a path for everyone. To be successful at it you need some teacher genes, you need to be dedicated, and you need the luxury of available time. But I believe those who do it well are offering their children an education that may be without peer.  Read More 
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American Society of Microbiologists Conference

Last week 8,000 microbiologists gathered under one roof (a big one) in San Diego. I was with them at an annual convention, carrying a 350-page schedule of events. Thumbing through that monster catalogue I found sessions with titles like this: Use of Luminescent Trypanosomes to Explore the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Chagas Disease and African Sleeping Sickness.  Read More 
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When I Go Into a Classroom...

When I go into a classroom, in order to get a dialogue going, I usually ask an uncomplicated question or two. Here’s one I’ve tried a few times: ”When did Christopher Columbus arrive in the Americas?” I ask. At first I was astonished when no one knew the answer to that question. Now I’m no longer surprised.

But I am disturbed, for several reasons. Yes, it makes clear the historical illiteracy of our time. But there is something else. It points to the rejection of memorization as a tool of teaching.  Read More 
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VA's Textbook Muck

The Washington Post reported on October 20th that a Virginia social studies textbook, purchased widely in that state, is not only something less than scholarly, it seems to have been written to push an agenda. According to an article by Kevin Sieff, “A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War — a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery’s role as a cause of the conflict.”  Read More 
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History vs Hogwash

A dedicated 5th grade teacher wrote to me recently about the way she teaches:

In social studies we focus on essential questions such as, “What makes a good leader?” Or, “What has stayed the same throughout history, and what has changed?” We never study the Civil War as a topic, but we do study civil war and use many examples, including our own, to understand the concept. . .otherwise they would simply walk away with dates, names, and answers to dreadful end-of-chapter questions.  Read More 
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Jury Duty

Like most people who get a jury summons I had mixed feelings when mine arrived last week. Yes, trial by jury is a foundation of our democratic system of government. I know that it is my civic duty to take part in the system. But last week I also knew that I’d probably spend a lot of time waiting in a jury room and then I might be dismissed. I’m trying to finish a book; could I put up with the frustration that usually comes with anything bureaucratic?  Read More 
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