"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dear Mr. President - Thanks!

Dear Mr. President,

I wanted to write to thank you for what you've done for our country. While I quibble with many of your ideas -- your belief that threats and punishments are the way to improve schools, that invading, destroying, and occupying a sovereign nation is the way to help it achieve peace and democracy, that increasing air pollutants constitutes clear skies, and that logging 300-year-old trees is the way to achieve healthy forests -- there is one thing that you and I are completely aligned on: the need for less critical thinking in our nation's classrooms.

The National Reading Panel --- your hand-selected group of literacy experts -- makes the need for less critical thinking abundantly clear. As you know, the National Reading Panel had the nerve to use "research" and "analysis" to come to the conclusion that "phonics instruction appears to contribute only weakly, if at all, in helping poor readers apply [decoding skills] to read text and to spell words." (quoted in Garan, Elaine. 2002. Resisting Reading Mandates: How to Triumph with the Truth. Heinemann. Portsmouth, NH., p. 47; taken from the NRP Report of the Subgroups, Chapter 2, p. 116) But, thanks to those wonderful public relations people from Widemeyer Communications, the Washington PR firm hired by McGraw-Hill to promote Open Court in Texas and to write the Summary Booklet and produce the promotional video that explains the NRP's "research," phonics has become (once again!) The Next Big Thing.

See? People don't have time to read a 500 page report. That would require us to think. And to read! That's why it's so much better to have our reading and thinking done for us. After all, if you can't believe what a Washington-based PR firm hired by the biggest educational company in the world to promote its products tells you, then who can you believe? Like you, Mr. President, I read the front page. Let all those other lazy folks with too much time on their hands read the rest of the paper. You and I have much more important things to do!

But I know you, you sly old fox, you. You're just waiting for us to raise our hands in the back of the classroom and say, like Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter, "Ooo! Ooo! Mr. President! Mr. President! There appears to be a discrepancy between what the NRP actually wrote and what right-wing pundits say the NRP wrote!" And you, the Firm Believer in Truth, would acknowledge us with a Cookie for Justice.

So, please forgive us for not raising our hands. Please understand that your teaching methods are so advanced that many of us have mistaken you for a dangerous ideological zealot.

I'd like to ask you for your advice, Mr. President. Where do you weigh in on the following?

1) Medical research that shows that up to one-third of clinical studies lead to conclusions that are later overturned, according to a recent paper in JAMA.

2) Fat is good for you.
No, it's bad for you.
No, it's good for you.
Some fats are better than others.

3) Echinacea helps colds.
No it doesn't.

4) Prostate cancer is best cured by surgery.
Prostate cancer is best cured by radiation.

5) Barry Bonds took steroids.
Barry Bonds did not take steroids.

6) Your administration broke the law under the NSA surveillance.
Your administration did not break the law under the NSA surveillance.

I know I might be out of line here, but something jumps out at me when I think about all these things. It appears that Truth is not so much about facts and evidence as it is about belief and hiring the right PR firm. What are your thoughts?

Goodness knows that to be able to address the issues listed above, you'd have to know about things like how medical research is conducted and how research is funded. You'd have to be able to examine arguments and evaluate the evidence. You'd have to have access to reputable sources.

But, thanks to you, 71 percent of the nation's 15,000 school districts have reduced the amount of instruction in history, social studies, and other non-tested subjects. Mercifully, our already over-burdened children won't have to think about issues like Truth vs. truth vs. evidence vs. belief. They have too many other important things to think about, like who is going to win American Idol and whether or not Tom Cruise is gay.

I heard some commie liberal quip recently, "Facts, like history, belong to the conquerors." I'm not sure what he meant, but it sounded a lot like the usual liberal whining we are so tired of.

Thank you for your service to our country.

Best wishes,

Peter Campbell

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