A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oh, puh-leeeeeze.

Hey, y'all! Only TWO kids in Texas out of 10,000 tested positive for steroids!
The nation's largest steroids testing program caught only two Texas high school athletes taking unauthorized substances out of more than 10,000 students who were tested, according to results issued Wednesday.

The results renewed criticism about the two-year $6 million program approved by lawmakers last year.

The two students who tested positive weren't identified by name, school or sport. Documents obtained by The Associated Press showed that a senior tested positive for the anabolic steroid boldenone, and a 10th grader was found using a steroid called methylandrostandiol.

Four tests came back unresolved and three students refused to be tested, according to the figures released by the University Interscholastic League. One athlete left a testing area without cause or approval, and 18 missed the mandatory testing without an excused absence.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, one of the key figures in pushing the plan through the Legislature, was "encouraged" by the results Wednesday and feels the program's success should be measured by the number of students who never begin using steroids, said spokesman Mike Wintemute.

A critic, Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick, said the initiative is a "feel good" program that is not acting as a deterrent and should be abolished.

"It's turned out to be a colossal waste of taxpayer money," said Patrick. He said he would rather spend the money battling alcohol abuse among teens, arguing that it is a much bigger problem.

UIL spokeswoman Kim Rogers said the two students who tested positive are multi-sport athletes, but that the sports they play are unknown. Rogers said she did not know when conclusive results from the four unresolved tests would be ready.

Testing was conducted at 195 schools, testing 6,455 boys and 3,662 girls. Many participated in more than one sport. More than 3,300 football players were tested, more than three times the number of any other sport.

And no, I am not picking on Texas, because God knows high school sports are a big deal in lots of places. But I think I smell something not quite right (pronounced "rahhht") here.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 124: guess where I am edition

This week's M Cubed covers a remake of a classic, and I'll give you a hint: it was back when we didn't know quite too much about the personal lives of Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid, thankyewverrymuchnowshutup. And later we can talk about the morality of the choices made by the parents in this film.

So put the quotes from the movie in the comments section! And I love Polly Holliday!

"I'll tell you what. I'll make you a little deal. Loser jumps into the lake after the game.
"Butt naked."
"Even more excellent. Start unzipping Parker. Straight, in diamonds."
"You're good James, but, you're just not good enough. In your honor, a royal flush."

"You know, the way your father described you, I expected a little girl, but you are so grown-up."
"I'll be twelve soon. How old are you? "
"Only fifteen years older than me! How old are you again, Dad?"
"Wow, suddenly you're so interested in math!"


Toddler time

On July 28, A Shrewdness of Apes marks its third birthday!

Wow, think of all the time we've all wasted here!

How sobering. Let's go get a drink!

Thanks for coming by here. My conversations with you help keep me sane. God bless! I will talk to you all later after I get back to a place that has the internets.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

A four day school week?

I've heard about this before. But not in schools.
Facing a crippling increase in fuel costs, some rural U.S. schools are mulling a solution born of the '70s oil crisis: a four-day week.

Cutting out one day of school has been the key to preserving educational programs and staff in parts of Kentucky, New Mexico and Minnesota, outweighing some parents' concerns about finding day-care for the day off.

"For rural school districts where buses may travel 100 miles round-trip each day, there certainly are transportation savings worth considering," said Marc Egan, the director of federal affairs at the National School Boards Association.

Egan said about 100 schools in as many as 16 states have already moved to a four-day school week, many to save money on transportation, heating and cooling.

Nevada's White Pine School District switched just one of its schools to a four-day week three years ago. Now, with energy costs soaring, four other schools in the district are following suit.

"We're looking at it district-wide with energy costs being at the forefront of the conversation," said Bob Dolezal, superintendent of Nevada's White Pine County School District, which is facing a 14 percent budget cut due to a shortfall in state funding.

MACCRAY Public Schools in Minnesota, which voted to switch to a four-day week in May, expects to shave 10 percent off transportation costs, which have risen unexpectedly in recent years as fuel costs have shot up.

"The savings for a four-day week just on the transportation alone were $65,000," said MACCRAY superintendent Greg Schmidt.

The plan initially did cause alarm among some parents, who were concerned about finding child-care, but most have managed to find place their kids in day care or with relatives, Schmidt said. In addition, MACCRAY plans to institute a child-care certification program for older students to offer day care for younger kids on the day off.

One of the pioneers of the four-day week, the Cimarron, New Mexico school district, is looking to cut energy costs by getting back to its roots.

Cimarron Public Schools moved a four-day week when energy prices shot up in the early 1970s, but has become more "complacent," letting the heating and cooling systems run even during the day off since the end of the OPEC oil embargo, Cimarron's superintendent James Gallegos said.

With soaring energy costs, that will no longer be the case: "As we start the next school year, it's going to be very minimal on the Fridays that we are off," Gallegos said.

Webster County School District in Kentucky switched to a four-day week four years ago under economic duress -- a state budget crisis left the school in limbo, leaving the district with the option of dropping school days or cutting staff and programs.

The district ended up saving tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and energy costs, helping to cut total costs by 3.5 to 4 percent, said James Kemp, the superintendent of the Webster County School District.

The shortened week at Webster also brought unexpected benefits such as improved attendance and a boost in student performance.

"If we were to go back to a five-day week, the school board and I would be run out of town," Kemp said.

When I was in college during a summer break, I worked at a job where I could work thirty hours a week in any way I wanted. So I worked three ten hour days. It was wonderfully liberating to have the ability to work but still have entire days to myself. I wonder how this impacts kids' abilities to cover material and handle homework, however. But, wow! This sounds tempting! And think of the gas we teachers would save not having to drive to work one day a week.

Fascinating. Hey, y'all remember when gas was $1.40 a gallon? Back before January 20, 2001? God, I love how a weak dollar caused by debt from overspending by "conservatives" and two "oil men" in the White House has turned out, don't you?

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Incongruous. That's the word.

If a picture's worth a thousand words, then why am I speechless?

Seriously, I saw this, took a double-take, looked long and hard, and then had to laugh.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

The Passing of a Great Teacher: Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

Carngie Mellon Computer science professor Randy Pausch passed away this morning, from pancreatic cancer.
PITTSBURGH (July 25) -- Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist whose "last lecture" about facing terminal cancer became an Internet sensation and a best-selling book, has died. He was 47.

Pausch died early Friday at his home in Virginia, university spokeswoman Anne Watzman said. Pausch and his family moved there last fall to be closer to his wife's relatives.

Pausch was diagnosed with incurable pancreatic cancer in September 2006. His popular last lecture at Carnegie Mellon in September 2007 garnered international attention and was viewed by millions on the Internet.

In it, Pausch celebrated living the life he had always dreamed of instead of concentrating on impending death.

"The lecture was for my kids, but if others are finding value in it, that is wonderful," Pausch wrote on his Web site. "But rest assured; I'm hardly unique."

The book "The Last Lecture," written with Jeffrey Zaslow, leaped to the top of the nonfiction best-seller lists after its publication in April and remains there this week. Pausch said he dictated the book to Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal writer, by cell phone. The book deal was reported to be worth more than $6 million.

At Carnegie Mellon, he was a professor of computer science, human-computer interaction and design, and was recognized as a pioneer of virtual reality research. On campus, he became known for his flamboyance and showmanship as a teacher and mentor.

The speech last fall was part of a series Carnegie Mellon called "The Last Lecture," where professors were asked to think about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical final talk. The name of the lecture series was changed to "Journeys" before Pausch spoke, something he joked about in his lecture.

"I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it," he said.

He told the packed auditorium he fulfilled almost all his childhood dreams — being in zero gravity, writing an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and working with the Walt Disney Co.

The one that eluded him? Playing in the National Football League.

"If I don't seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you," Pausch said.

He then joked about his quirky hobby of winning stuffed animals at amusement parks — another of his childhood dreams — and how his mother introduced him to people to keep him humble: "This is my son, he's a doctor, but not the kind that helps people."

Pausch said he was embarrassed and flattered by the popularity of his message. Millions viewed the complete or abridged version of the lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," online.

Pausch lobbied Congress for more federal funding for pancreatic cancer research and appeared on "Oprah" and other TV shows. In what he called "a truly magical experience," he was even invited to appear as an extra in the new "Star Trek" movie.
He had one line of dialogue, got to keep his costume and donated his $217.06 paycheck to charity.

Pausch blogged regularly about his medical treatment. On Feb. 15, exactly six months after he was told he had three to six months of healthy living left, Pausch posted a photo of himself to show he was "still alive & healthy."

"I rode my bike today; the cumulative effects of the chemotherapy are hurting my stamina some, but I bet I can still run a quarter mile faster than most Americans," he wrote.

Pausch gave one more lecture after his Carnegie Mellon appearance — in November at the University of Virginia, where he had taught from 1988 to 1997.

Pausch often emphasized the need to have fun.

"I mean I don't know how to not have fun. I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there's no other way to play it," he said in his Carnegie Mellon lecture. "You just have to decide if you're a Tigger or an Eeyore. I think I'm clear where I stand on the great Tigger/Eeyore debate. Never lose the childlike wonder. It's just too important. It's what drives us."

Born in 1960, Pausch received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Brown University and his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon.

He co-founded Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, a master's program for bringing artists and engineers together. The university named a footbridge in his honor. He also created an animation-based teaching program for high school and college students to have fun while learning computer programming.

In February, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences in California announced the creation of the Dr. Randy Pausch Scholarship Fund for university students who pursue careers in game design, development and production.
He and his wife, Jai, had three children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe.

A great teacher impacts his or her students in a way that impacts them for a lifetime. Dr. Pausch's "Last Lecture" alone made us all his students. God bless him and his family.

Here's the link for those of you who haven't seen it. It is completely worth the time, (and yet another reason why I am angry that my school district's tech people have completely blocked access to Youtube.)

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Well, I'm glad THAT'S settled.

Under the "Is this news?" category, here's a little love for all you math teachers out there. Especially since almost all of the ones I know are, um, female.
WASHINGTON - Sixteen years after Barbie dolls declared, "Math class is tough!" girls are proving that when it comes to math they are just as tough as boys. In the largest study of its kind, girls measured up to boys in every grade, from second through 11th. The research was released Thursday in the journal Science.

Parents and teachers persist in thinking boys are simply better at math, said Janet Hyde, the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who led the study. And girls who grow up believing it wind up avoiding harder math classes.

"It keeps girls and women out of a lot of careers, particularly high-prestige, lucrative careers in science and technology," Hyde said.

That's changing, though slowly.

Women are now earning 48 percent of undergraduate college degrees in math; they still lag far behind in physics and engineering.

But in primary and secondary school, girls have caught up, with researchers attributing that advance to increasing numbers of girls taking advanced math classes such as calculus.

Hyde and her colleagues looked at annual math tests required by the No Child Left Behind education law in 2002. Ten states provided enough statistical information to review test scores by gender, allowing researchers to compare the performances of more than 7 million children.

The researchers found no difference in the scores of boys versus girls — not even in high school. Studies 20 years ago showed girls and boys did equally well on math in elementary school, but girls fell behind in high school.

"Girls have now achieved gender parity in performance on standardized math tests," Hyde said.

The stereotype that boys are better at math has been fueled, at least in part, by suggestions of biological differences in the way little boys and little girls learn. This idea is hotly disputed; Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard, was castigated in 2005 when he questioned the "intrinsic aptitude" of women for top-level math and science.

Joy Lee, a rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., says she always felt confident about math, but remembers how it felt to walk into a science class full of boys. "Maybe I was a little bit apprehensive about being the only girl, but that didn't last for very long," said Lee, president of a school club that tries to get young girls interested in science and technology, along with engineering and math.

"I definitely do encourage other girls to pursue those interests and to not be scared to take those courses just because there are not very many girls or because they think they're not good enough to do it," Lee said.

Still, while there are fewer women in science and technology, there are more women in college overall. To Hyde and her colleagues, that helps explain why girls consistently score lower on average on the SAT: More of them take the test, which is needed to get into college. The highest-performing students of both genders take the test, but more girls lower on the achievement scale take it, skewing the average.

For the class of 2007, the latest figures available, boys scored an average of 533 on the math section of the SAT, compared with 499 for girls.

On the ACT, another test on which girls lag slightly, the gender gap disappeared in Colorado and Illinois once state officials required all students to take the test.

As Hyde and her colleagues looked across the data for states' testing, they found something they didn't expect: In most states they reviewed, and at most grade levels, there weren't any questions that involved complex problem-solving, an ability needed to succeed in high levels of science and math. If tests don't assess these reasoning skills, they may not be taught, putting American students at a disadvantage to students in other countries with more challenging tests, the researchers said.

That might be a glaring omission, said Stephen Camarata, a Vanderbilt University professor who has researched the issue but was not involved in the study.

"We need to know that, if our measures aren't capturing some aspect of math that's important," Camarata said. "Then we can decide whether there's an actual male or female advantage."

A panel of experts convened by the Education Department recommended that state tests be updated to emphasize critical thinking.

While some states already have fairly rigorous tests, "we can do a better job," said Kerri Briggs, the department's assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

"If we're going to be globally competitive, we need students who are able to do higher-level math skills," she said.

Back in 1992, Barbie stopped saying math was hard after Mattel received complaints from, among others, the American Association of University Women.

So far, while her current career choices include baby doctor and veterinarian — and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, too — Barbie has not branched out into technology or engineering.

I loathe Barbies anyway, so that "Math is tough," quote particularly made my blood boil. But perception is the name of the game here. As long as girls believe that they are bad at math, this problem will persist. And where do they get this idea that they're bad at math? It is subtly and sometimes not so subtly reinforced in society, in their families, and sometimes in the schools. Can't be good at math and be beautiful? Tell that to actress Danica McKellar. And to be honest, our society has a problem with encouraging interest in mathematics in our young people in general, whether male or female. But that's another rant.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Movie Madness Monday 123: David Hyde Pierce in hiding edition

MMM continues its summer vacation mode with this little gem-- not my usual fare, I admit, but this contained so many wonderful actors and combined humor and action in a fresh way. Its sequel is blasting off this summer, so I thought we could dust this one off. So put your quotes in the comments section. And if you haven't seen this one, hie ye to Netflicks!

"Remind me why I do this again."
"Rotten eggs and the safety of mankind."

"Second date-- no tongues!"

"Hey Myers, you're a talker. What's a good word, a solid word for 'need?'"
"Well, 'need' is a good, solid word."
"Nah. Too needy."

"I have a question. Why is it, in these pictures, pictures of aliens, UFOs, the yeti, Hellboy, why is it they're always out of focus?"

"In the absence of light, darkness prevails. There are things that go bump in the night, Agent Myers. Make no mistake about that. And we are the ones who bump back."

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

In which I admit yet another failing

As the Red Rocker once opined:

"One foot on the brake and one on the gas, hey!
Well, there's too much traffic, I can't pass, no!
So I tried my best illegal move
A big black and white come and crushed my groove again!"

I think I'm overcompensating for how slow I run. Yeah, that's it.

I try to be a good girl-- I really do. But, oh, I hate to go slow.

Here's a playlist of what NOT to have on the stereo as you see those flashing lights behind you:

Sammy Hagar, I Can't Drive 55
James Taylor, Damn This Traffic Jam
The Eagles, Life in the Fast Lane
Coldplay, High Speed
Alkaline Trio, Live Young, Die Fast
The Format, Faith in Fast Cars
The Go-go's, Skid Marks on My Heart
Fiona Apple, Fast As You Can
Jim Croce, Rapid Roy (That Stock-car Boy)

I'm a bad, bad, puddy tat.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why me, Lord?

I want to conduct a little unscientific survey:

How many of you get stopped by complete strangers anywhere you go who either tell you their problems or engage you in completely random conversation?

This has been my special curse all of my life. Sometimes, it has been cool, like when Vincent Price personally talked to me about a modern art exhibit at the British Museum, or when Ozzie Smith teased me about playing racquetball while pregnant or when Al Gore and I joked for 3-4 minutes over a dropped contact lens.

But most of the time, it's just bizarre. If I am standing in a Barnes and Noble, minding my own business, customers approach me to ask where a book is or who an author is even if the employee is standing five feet away. It has gotten to the point that I feel they should at least give me the employee discount or put me on salary.

If I am waiting for a table in a restaurant, here will come some random dude who will tell me his life story.

Last year, on the way to work, I was asked directions to someplace while sitting in traffic at a stop light. Three times.

Today, I'm zipping along on my bike at 7:30 am, and this guy I had passed a couple of times waves me down. Since there were about thirty other people on the path with us, I stopped, and off this dude goes with this long story about a bicycle safety website he runs and blah blah blah blah freakin' blah. I was shaking him off more than Nuke Laloosh tried to shake off Crash Davis, but it was like there was a giant sucking sound before I could get away and tentacle marks left on my arm. I mean, what part of "I'm working out, here" (said like Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy) doesn't translate? You would think that being in motion would preclude these unscheduled little tete a tetes.

Anyone else out there suffering like this?

Is it my friendly, open expression? Is it that I look like I've got the answer, no matter what the question? Is it heaps of intellect bristling off my brow?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bicycle! Bicycle!

Update, for those of you wondering:

19 days on the weight loss regimen.
224 miles on the bike; average speed 16.5 mph.
3 visits with the personal trainer. Ow.
10 miles hiked. 59 chigger bites. Ow.
8 pounds wandering around looking for a new home.
273 showers taken.
1 funky tan on both legs that begins above the knee.

Really love the bike!


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ah, Life.

Married To The Sea

From the brilliant Married to the Sea.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Good-bye (Or, It took 11 years to finally fire dis guy?)

Holy macaroni. From Mount Vernon, Ohio:
Demonstrations on the town square show how divided people are over the school board's decision to fire a science teacher accused of preaching his Christian beliefs in the classroom and burning crosses on students' arms.

John Freshwater, 52, was fired last month after an outside consulting firm released a report concluding that he taught creationism and was insubordinate in failing to remove a Bible and other religious materials from his classroom at Mount Vernon Middle School.

Some residents consider him a courageous fighter for religious freedom. Others say he has brazenly violated the church-state divide.

"This is going to be a mess," said Dr. Allan Bazzoli, who has written letters to the local newspaper criticizing Freshwater. "Resident against resident, and worse, student against student."

Freshwater's supporters have rallied on the town's square urging school board members to resign. A much-viewed sign about a mile from town reads: "If the Bible goes, the school board should follow."

"The Bible, that should be OK to have," said James Mills, 25, a former student of Freshwater. "Isn't it in the Constitution that we have freedom of religion?"

Mount Vernon, a small city in central Ohio surrounded by farmland, is dotted by churches of just about every denomination. The town has a strong evangelical presence.

Freshwater, who has filed an appeal with the school board over his firing, said Monday he's disappointed with the way the investigation was conducted. His appeals hearing is scheduled for Aug. 26.

"They used half-truths. They didn't interview people who had been in my classroom," he said. "Science teachers at the high school: Why would you interview them?"

Freshwater likely will be suspended without pay during the appeals process, which could extend into the fall, said David Millstone, the school board's attorney.

Messages seeking comment were left with middle school Principal William White and other school administrators.

Freshwater has served as a science teacher and wrestling and football coach in Mount Vernon City Schools since 1987. In their report, investigators noted that some students described him as a great guy.

Some residents blame school leaders for letting the situation come to a boil. Officials knew that Freshwater used a science tool to burn images of a cross on students' arms in December, according to findings by outside investigators.

"I think things were just overlooked and overlooked and overlooked and then it just came to a head," said Kelly Montgomery, whose son was a student in Freshwater's class a few years ago. "It's been terrible for the whole community."

Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on three to eight students and described the images an "X" not a cross. But pictures show the images depict a cross, the report said.

Investigators also found that at least one school administrator dealt with complaints about Freshwater for much of her 11 years at the district.

Jessica Philemond, an attorney for the unnamed student's family that is suing Freshwater and the school district, said that raises some troubling questions.

"I want to find out who had complained, to whom they complained and why for 11 years nothing was done," Philemond said. "They could have taken action a while ago."

Bazzoli and other critics say the public's support for Freshwater may be wavering. A demonstration last month in which supporters urged school board members to resign attracted just 25 people.

"When teachers have a contract, they have to follow the state guidelines, and he deliberately went against the guidelines," said Anita Van Winkle, 57, as she sipped coffee at a cafe near the public square.

Where to begin?

1. He was burning students' arms? He was BURNING. STUDENTS'. ARMS???!!??? I believe this is also known as "branding." And branding is a barbaric practice-- and if you've done this to yourself as an adult, uh, oooh-kayyy, but he was branding middle schoolers. The scars may or may not be permanent: I burned my arm severely in junior high, and it took about fifteen years for that scar to fade.

2. And the school administration tolerated this? The parents tolerated this? I could go on all day about this, but really, what more needs to be asked? Apparently, parents HAD complained about this "great guy's" methods for years, and administrators took no action until now? I am sure he is a great guy. But I would put to you that he is not a great teacher of science. Further, the administrators absolutely mishandled this situation-- and apparently for years.

3. This was an interesting quote by a former student: "'The Bible, that should be OK to have," said James Mills, 25, a former student of Freshwater. "Isn't it in the Constitution that we have freedom of religion?'" First of all, apparently his social studies education was apparently also lacking if he does not know the contents of the relatively short First Amendment to the Constitution, of which this is the very first clause:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ...."

To scratch the surface of this, the above clause means that Congress shall not pass any law directing that any particular religion be tax supported (that's what an "established" church is), nor shall Congress pass a law outlawing the practice of any religion. The word "freedom" actually never shows up in this clause. But besides that, one could make the case that a teacher preaching his religious beliefs could be prohibiting the free expression of other religious beliefs. Teachers are enormously powerful influences.

4. I'm sure the case will be made that the majority of people in the town share his religious outlook. This does not matter in the slightest. Even if only ONE student in his class did not every student in his class DOES share his religious sentiments, his proselytizing is completely out-of-bounds.

5. How does Mr. Freshwater's teaching of his religious beliefs fulfill the requirements of the science curriculum? See, there are things that are BELIEVED, and then there are things which are subject to scientific proofs. I am a person of faith, and I believe that this wonderful universe demonstrates divine providence and love in every natural law and in every meteor shooting across the night sky and in every toddler taking her first steps. But this is a religious belief-- NOT something that I should be "teaching" in my classroom.

I do have to teach about what various religious groups believe in my history class. But I outline the beliefs, explaining how those beliefs affect behavior (and therefore history) and then off we go to the next topic. Usually my students are unsure of my exact religious background (the Jewish kids often think I'm Jewish, in fact, which I find amusing and a complement).

My own children attended a private school for several years that was run by a denomination to which we do not belong. And yes, their science curriculum was chock full of stuff like this from that hilarious movie Mean Girls: "And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that Man could fight the dinosaurs. And the homosexuals. AYYY- MEN!" So I was constantly telling my children, "No, honey, we do not believe that Catholics will burn in hell. No, honey, we do not believe that dinosaurs and men lived on the planet at the same time." But I liked other aspects of the school, so we made the sacrifices and knew what we were getting into. And told my kids to just think for themselves.

Bottom line, though, is this: American students have an absolutely ABYSMAL grasp of scientific concepts in any case. Teach the SCIENCE, Mr. Freshwater, and leave the religious content to their parents and their clergy, PLEASE! And if you find that teaching science violates your conscience, then find something else to do for a living.

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