Friday, March 16, 2007

Never Mind

We were all ready to go through Greek history again (the first time we just learn the stories; the second time I actually require learning places, dates, and names), but that was before I learned that it's all a fraud meant to make Iran look bad. From the Islamic Republic News Agency:
[Iran] Government spokesman, Gholam-Hossein Elham said Tuesday that the movie called `300' insults the culture of world countries.

The statement was made in response to the question raised about the anti-Iran movie dubbed `300'.

The government spokesman referred to the movie as part of the extensive cultural aggression aiming to degenerate cultures of world states.
Well, yeah. What's world history about if not aiming to degenerate cultures of world states? Wait until the Tunisians and Turks find out about the insults to their culture in the stories of the razing of Carthage and the conflagration of Troy.
Elham noted that the Iranian nation and those involved in cultural activities will respond to such a cultural aggression.
Oh boy! D'you think they'll send around envoys demanding earth and water?
The movie has fabricated the history with depicting a war between Iran and Greece, whereas, no Greek king dared to stand up to the Persian Empire or the Emperor Xerxes.

Though Sparta's King Leonidas cherished such a dream, but, he lost his head and Iranian fighters threw his head before Emperor Xerxes's feet and told him that he had attempted a suicide attack to Persian Army.
Well there's the proof. The Spartans at Thermopylae lost. Furthermore, the cowardly Athenians fled their city and let the Persians walk right in.

I wonder what the Iranian government thinks happened next? Are they under the impression that Greece was a Persian colony from 480 B.C. on?

P.S. to R.: It's Lee-ON-ih-das. I looked it up.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Book Lists!

Our homeschool group is working on a wiki-format chronology of history resources, which has given me reason to look around at what other homeschoolers have accomplished in the compiling of book lists. Lots more than I have, I can tell you. Check out these sites:

Valerie's Living Books: I don't know who Valerie is, but she is clearly the queen of homeschooling book collectors. I felt like weeping the first time I found her web-page and realized that the partial, painfully compiled lists of various book series that I'd been working on for years were already complete, organized, annotated, and reviewed on her encyclopedic website. In the meantime, she has apparently homeschooled ten children. I bet her kitchen is clean, too.

Paula's Archives: An incredibly thorough list of "Books to Supplement History" (and a movie list too!), organized by time period, with appropriate ages for each item. Lots of other resources for homeschoolers besides, including suggests for various kinds of timeline, plus a cool link to portraits of famous people for putting on your own timeline. Resources for Catholic homeschoolers, with hordes of book reviews (a couple submitted by your Opinionated Hostess), a history resource timeline with a Catholic focus, and many other interesting pages and links.

Sonlight Books arranged by time period: A comprehensive listing of all the history resources used by Sonlight--both now and pre-2004--arranged into The Well-Trained Mind 4-year cycle. Given the number of TWTM fans who already use Sonlight and are trying to combine the two, this looks like a great resource.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Science Texts: The Good, the Bad, and the False

A reader asks:

Need suggestions on physical science texts suitable to a 11-year-old with no science background. Have you ever seen this?
The linked article is well worth reading. A review by the American Association of Physics Teachers of the twelve most popular middle-school physics textbooks found not one to be acceptable.

The committee was particularly concerned with scientific accuracy, and with good reason. Mass and weight were often confused. The speed of light was first timed in 1926, according to one text. Isaac Newton's first law was often incorrectly stated, and although the third law was correctly stated, the examples illustrating it were wrong. Yellow, magenta, and cyan are not the primary pigment colors, as one book had it. The Van de Graaff generator does not store charge in its base. Lamps don't supply voltage and those things in the wall are sockets, not plugs. Absolute zero was defined as the temperature at which molecules are so cold they don't move. One text explained that fusion, unlike fission, does not happen spontaneously. We found that the acceleration due to gravitation on the Moon is one-sixth that on Earth because the Moon's mass is one-sixth that of Earth's.
The textbooks also suffered from the graphics-heavy layout and subsequently fractured text that has been one of my pet peeves since we decided to homeschool.
When I pick up something that claims to be a "textbook," I expect a book of text. Yet, in our study, we found mostly pictures, sidebars, and capsules that interrupted what little text there was. Apparently, text is seen as much too slow a medium for disseminating information. Capsules and sidebars present the story in small units, but at the cost of ruining the natural flow of the narrative. How can middle-school students, ages 11-14, concentrate with such a barrage of information? Borrow a middle-school science text and randomly open it up. It'll be obvious what I am getting at.
For that matter, you might as well open up a history or French or math textbook and see the same thing. Read the rest of the article. I've seen similarly depressing studies of biology and chemistry textbooks, at both middle and high school levels; it's not just physics. I actually tried teaching with a standard high school chemistry text for a while, and found it so impossible that we switched to an intro college chemistry-for-liberal-arts-majors textbook and found it much easier to understand and use.

Then, when you're thinking that surely by now private schools and homeschoolers have spent the last few precious decades of independence coming up with a better alternative, you may view the homeschooling science text wars. The University of California, having apparently had someone finally take a look at the Bob Jones and A Beka science curricula--which between the two of them pretty much make up the entirety of the homeschooling science textbooks available--are refusing to certify science courses based on these curricula for entrance to UC schools. It doesn't take a long, hard look at the texts to figure out why:
The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second....The position expressed by Dr. Bob Jones Sr. when he said, “Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,” is the only one a Christian can take. Some of the conclusions a Christian must reach differ from those expressed by secular sources. (Biology, Grade 10, p. xi)
The upshot is that biology, astronomy, and geology are all corrupted by the need to fit science into a six-day creationist ideology. To manage this, the "scientific method" is consistently presented as boiling down to "if it can't be observed, your ideas are just guesses, and better a guess based on the Word of God than on anything else." Mainstream scientists are described as "evolutionists" at all points, whatever their field; generally accepted science that differs from fundamentalist creationism is described in misleading terms, the evidence for it misrepresented, and then the straw man knocked down by "creationary scientists." An example:
According to the evolutionary theory of star formation, stars develop from immense clouds of molecular hydrogen that collapse under the influence of gravity to form what astronomers call a proto-star, a huge, dark ball of gas similar to the planet Jupiter. Eventually, enough mass is accumulated by the proto-star that the crushing gravitational force at its center is able to ignite the fusion process within it and a star is born.... There are several problems with this evolutionary model of star origins. First, gases tend naturally to disperse, not concentrate into a dense mass. Unless a shockwave, such as from a nearby supernova, compresses the gas cloud so that gravitational force overcomes the tendency for gas to disperse, the proto-star will never begin to form. The likelihood of such a convenient supernova occurring is extremely low. That it occurred unnumbered times to form the stars throughout the universe has a probability very close to zero. Also, the evolutionists have the problem of explaining where the first stars came from, since thee were no preexisting stars to form supernovas to start the proto-star evolution.... Creationary scientists agree, based on the book of Genesis, that the sun and other stars were supernaturally created--fully formed--on or before the fourth day of the Creation week. This explanation is simple and accounts for all the observable features of the stars and the sun. (Space and Earth Science, Grade 8, p. 94)
The shame of it all is that, unlike the horribly inadequate public school science texts, BJU science texts are readable, thorough, free from distracting visual clutter, and easy to understand. Unfortunately instead of teaching science, their chief goal is to innoculate the student against actual science.
A Beka science texts that I've looked at aren't quite so careful about preparing the student from believing scientific theory should he encounter it in college, but suffer badly from a tendency to present lots and lots of memorizable information--great for objective tests given by teachers or parents without much science background, but not so good for educating in science. As a bonus, the A Beka texts I've looked at feature extensive introductions explaining how real science couldn't get underway until the Reformation because of the Roman Church's oppressive extirpation of all scientific discovery and determination to keep mankind in the dark ages of ignorance and illiteracy.

So what else is there? Not much, as far as I can tell. The author of the first article, a professor of physics, in a footnote recommends these texts for middle school: U. Haber-Schaim et al., Introductory Physical Science, 7th ed., Science Curriculum, Belmont, Mass. (1999); and Force, Motion, and Energy, Science Curriculum, Belmont, Mass. (2002). For the middle school years, we've had good success with the hands-on science of TOPS, which does a good job of going past the ooh-ah factor of kitchen-table experiments and actually teaching principls and theory. And it's cheap; always a plus. Introductory college-level textbooks can work well for high school age, and these days come with nifty interactive CD-ROMs that show experiments that can't be done in the home, but aren't so useful for middle-school science.
Suggestions, readers?