Defending science, history, etc.: A promising precedent?

It seems to me that the case of David Rudovsky and Leonard Sosnov v. West Publishing Corporation (United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 2010), provides an intruiging suggestion for defending genuine science and social studies materials for school curriculum.

A December 21 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer reports the outcome of this case. In this case, two law professors were each awarded $2.5 million dollars ($5 million total) for the damage to their reputations caused by the defendant publisher’s actions in publishing a shoddy supplement to a casebook they authored, published under their names.

The supplement was what’s called “pocket parts,” a standard feature of casebooks used as texts for law school classes. A casebook presents excerpts of case opinions, with background information, relevant citations and expert commentary from legal scholarship, and the authors’ commentary, introducing law students to an area of law, as it is actually practiced (at the appellate level, anyway). Since there are new cases every year that advance the area of law in ways that students need to know about, and since it’s not possible to produce a whole new edition of the book each year, a supplemental “pocket parts” is included in the textbook sale, updated each year, until there is a new edition of the entire book.

That’s how it was in the mid-seventies when I went through law school, and apparently it’s still done that way today, despite electronic publishing.

Anyway, apparently West did not want to pay the expected compensation for the authors to do the pocket parts one year, so West went ahead and produced the supplement on its own, without the authors, and then sold it along with the casebook as the authors’ work. The authors complained — and the trial court agreed — that the supplement was beneath the quality of the authors’ scholarship in their area of legal specialization to the extent of threatening to damage their professional reputations.

While the publisher’s conduct threatened the authors’ reputations, the outcome of their lawsuit damages the reputation of West Publishing, itself, as discussed in an article in the Law Librarian Blog.

Although, for purposes of assessing liability and legal damages, the case was concerned with reputation, the same issues present themselves for curricular purposes in terms of credibility and the reliability of sources and media (which on its own is something that students need to learn how to discern).

To provide the current background for the relevance that I’m suggesting, I’ve posted items earlier today on developments in

These all show how the struggle for curriculum integrity will be concerned in the foreseeble future, to a large extent, with conflicts over textbooks and supplementary materials. Developments in all three states involve the integrity of science curricula, for now; but Texas shows that this is not only about science, as it already involves history and the social studies, as well.

Here is the line of attack (or defense) that I think is suggested by the law professors’ case:

I think we need to develop accountability for materials on the part of publishers and the authors whose work is published by those publishers.

This is something I have proposed earlier (on email lists, etc.), before the law professors’ case was decided. One very (very!) knowledgeable veteran of the wars over teaching evolution has told me that this won’t work, because textbook authorship is so lucrative that the scientists would not cooperate.

I’m not so sure; but I feel a need to make this proposal, in any case.

For a more proximate precedent, let’s remember that when the anti-science Kansas State Board of Education based crucial parts of their standards text on text from the NAS national science standards, the NAS and NSTA announced that they were denying Kansas the legal right, under copyright law, to use that material:

. . . the members of the Kansas State Board of Education who produced Draft 2-d of the KSES have deleted text defining science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding. Emphasizing controversy in the theory of evolution — when in fact all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified — and distorting the definition of science are inconsistent with our Standards and a disservice to the students of Kansas. Regretfully, many of the statements made in the KSES related to the nature of science and evolution also violate the document’s mission and vision. Kansas students will not be well-prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world if their science education is based on these standards. Instead, they will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world.

We have notified officials at the State Board and the drafting committee of our decision to withhold copyright permission in separate letters.

What I propose is that the scholarly communities (i.e., biologists, historians, etc.) enforce a standard of integrity for authors and publishers of school curriculum materials. There would be sanctions imposed by each discipline on members who allow their names to be used as authorizing non-scientific (non-historical, etc.) crap for classroom use — just as there are sanctions imposed for plagiarism or fabrication of evidence. This could be a matter of informal or unofficial  (but explicit) blacklisting (as in something like an unofficial “hall of shame”), or there could be more substantial penalties in terms of professional standing and reputation (removal from editorial boards?, mention during elections or selection for positions in professional associations?).

If this would become a generally shared norm within the scholarly community, and member disciplines, to the extent that publishers could not find reputable and respected scientists or scholars (or would have to compromise their standards as to) who would allow their names to be used for corrupted textbooks or materials, then it would be a lot easier for individual authors to confront publishers, and easier for publishers to defend themselves for not being able to acquiesce to demands for corrupted products.

This would all require committed scholarly and professional efforts to be clear in educating the broader publics (including journalists, legislators, etc.) to understand the genuine scientific and intellectual (and not just political or ideological) principles at stake.

Maybe this is too ambitious or naive; but it seems to me that without a broader public understanding of these principles, there’s no way to avoid falling into the abyss of politically and ideologically corrupted curriculum.

And this would be one approach to promoting that broader public education.

What do you think?


A “ray of sunlight” for Louisiana science education

On the decision by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approving the purchase of Biology textbooks for the sate:

“The board’s decision is a ray of sunlight,” commented NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott, “especially because the creationist opponents of these textbooks were claiming — wrongly — that the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act requires that biology textbooks misrepresent evolution as scientifically controversial. It’s refreshing to see that the board withstood the pressure to compromise the quality of biology textbooks in the state. But when will the state legislature revisit this confusing, unnecessary, and pernicious law, which is already opening the door to the teaching of creationism in the public school classroom?”

The NCSE story reports this response from Barbara Forrest to Board chairman who voted against the science textbooks:

Forrest responded, “[Evolution] has exactly the same status as electromagnetic theory, germ theory of disease, cell theory and gravitational theory, and it is about as strong an explanation as science can come up with.” And Joe Neigel, a professor of biology at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, whose teaching and research focuses on evolution, told the Independent Weekly, “To suggest we need to teach both sides is like saying we should be teaching the opinion that the earth is flat because there are some people who believe the earth is flat and they claim they have evidence the earth is flat, so we should give equal time to these people. Or we should give equal time to people who say there was no Holocaust. … It’s an attempt to make it seem like there are two sides that have similar weight when in fact that isn’t the case at all.”

Yet, dispite this “ray of sunlight,” Scott’s reflection on the statute in Louisiana reminds us that the conflict over classroom materials still continues, now more especially in terms of “supplementary materials” that still will be promoted by those who want alternatives to science to be given equal standing in the science classrooms.

Texas bill to politicize curricula

A new bill in the Texas legislature would politicize curricula by reversing legislative action which had previously vested authority over selection of supplementary materials to the Texas Education Agency, removing that authority from the Texas State Board of Education [SBOE]. Read More »

Kentucky anti-science act

Click map for analysis & background at NCSE

It’s that time of year again, when legislatures throughout these united states are opening new sessions after the elections, and fundamentalist legislators renew their campaigns against teaching science in the public schools.

One of the first out of the gate this year is Kentucky, where this “Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act” has been introduced:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:


(1) Teachers, principals, and other school administrators are encouraged to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories being studied.

(2) After a teacher has taught the content related to scientific theories contained in textbooks and instructional materials included on the approved lists required under KRS 156.433 and 156.435, a teacher may use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.

(3) This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

(4) This section may be cited as the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act.

Read More »

Curriculum Consciousness and ‘Education Sciences’: trees, forest, woods

What is the relationship between the curriculum consciousness formed in Curriculum Studies, and the positive findings of the (other?) Education Sciences? Here’s one thought:

However valuable the findings of the positive sciences in education may be as assisting us in seeing both the trees, and the forest, it is in curriculum consciousness that we are sighted for finding our ways around and being in-the-woods.

For a relevant post, see Dewey re: the journey, map, and territory.

Virginia Foxx heads House SubCom on Higher Education ( Heaven Help Us !! )

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Rep. Virginia Foxx to Head House Higher-Education Panel
January 4, 2011, 2:49 pm
House Republicans have appointed Rep. Virginia Foxx as chair of the subcommittee on higher education. Representative Foxx, a conservative from North Carolina, previously taught or served as an administrator at Appalachian State University, Caldwell Community College, and Mayland Community College.

Good Lord !!!

Representative Foxx has distinguished herself in recent years as one of the most inane, un- or mis-deducated (she does have a doctorate), ignorant, dumb-cluck members of the Congress — and that’s saying something!

One of many instances is featured here, (along with a link to Rachel Maddow / Kent Jones’ “get to know Virginia Foxx” video).

Palin on Larry King denouncing Obama’s cookie policy (xtranormal animation)

Here’s a new tool — maybe fun, maybe useful — for creating animated movies.

It took me about 20 minutes to create the animation below. This was my first time doing this, otherwise it would have taken just 10 minutes.

I used the “state” desktop software from It’s easy to use, although documentation is weak so you need to do a lot of trial and error. This is a new thing, so there’s sure to be a lot of improvements and more choices and features. It could be easy for somebody to get sucked in to spending way to much time using this; but there could be uses for teachers and students. I remember educators using dialogue bubbles for 2-D cartoon characters as a device for student writing and invention. This could be more effective, and actually easier, once you learn how to use it.

{Note: For a few times after this was first posted, WordPress was saying that the video “is being processed”. It was done with processing and it was working here hours earlier. I don’t understand what was happening (it may have been a matter of multiple servers, not all refreshed for a time). Meanwhile, you can also see the same video file on Facebook .}

I spent $2.97 making this: a one-time fee of 99¢ for each of the characters and the set, which I can use forever after this, without any further cost for this set and these characters; and they apparently are working out special arrangements for teachers and classroom use.

Anyway, with my pre-service social studies teachers, I make a big deal of insisting that real-world background information is always supplied as a source for testing and verifying more symbolic or artificial representations; so, in the case of Sarah Palin’s crusading against the Obamas’ and the Democrat Party’s anti-cookie nanny-state, here is some real-world documentation:

Silhouettes of knowing as “Potemkin knowledges”

In a 2007 article,* I discussed how our prevailing approach to education results in the production of mere silhouettes in place of genuine knowing and understanding.

Rhetorically, there might be some good occasion for referring to such things as “Potemkin knowledges,” analogous to the old “Potemkin Villages.”

This fragmentary thought is hardly worthy of a blog post; but I’m posting it anyway, partly in my initial experimentation with using Facebook and twitter in connection with this blog.


*Whitson, James Anthony. “Education à la Silhouette: The need for semiotically-informed curriculum consciousness.” Semiotica 164, no. 1/4 (2007): 235-329.

Report calls for “Civic Marshall Plan to Build a Grad Nation”

The report, released today by the “America’s Promise Alliance,” is titled Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic.

I don’t have time now to write about this, but you can read about it and/or download it from here.

Gay 14-y-o Graeme Taylor supports teacher at School Board meeting

Click here for video

Click the photo of Graeme Taylor (at left) to see the video of his very impressive testimony at a local school board meeting, in support of a high school teacher who was disciplined for his stance against a student’s statement regarding homosexuality.

Also, you can click the image at right to see video of Graeme Taylor and the teacher, Jay McDowell, on MSNBC. A public forum on the matter announced for Monday Nov. 15 took place in the High School cafeteria, where speakers expressed different points of view.

The 14-year-old Taylor is certainly impressive, in any number of ways. He reminds us of the also very impressive Will Phillips, the 5th-grader who took a stand for gay rights in Arkansas.

The Michigan teacher, Jay McDowell, might also be admired, but not commended, for taking a courageous stance in defense of gay youth. What McDowell did was an improper violation of the rights of the student he was disciplining, at least according to the facts as I’ve seen them reported. Here’s what happened as reported by the On Top magazine staff:

The incident occurred on Spirit Day, the October 20 event that urges people to wear purple to remember gay teens who have been bullied to death.

Wearing a purple shirt, the teacher asked a student to remove a Confederate flag belt buckle, which prompted a boy to ask how the flag differs from the rainbow flag, a symbol of gay unity.

“I explained the difference between the flags, and he said, ‘I don’t accept gays,’” McDowell said.

McDowell told the student it was not appropriate to say such things in the classroom.

“And he said, ‘Why? I don’t accept gays. It’s against my religion,’” the 42-year-old McDowell said.

School officials say they suspended the teacher, who sent the boy out of the room for a one-day class suspension, because he violated the student’s free speech rights and courted controversy by wearing a purple shirt.

The legal principle is articulated in Judge Alito’s opinion in Saxe v. State College (PA) School District, 240 F.3d 200 (3rd Cir. 2000), with Judge Marjorie Rendell (spouse of PA Gov Ed Rendell) concurring in the result, but not all  of Alito’s rationale. There’s a lot that I don’t like about that case, but it does articulate First Amendment principles that protect the student in this case from being disciplined for expressing the position of his church.

I see this as different from cases in which grade school students harass classmates in the hallways, yelling things like “You’re going to Hell.”

In this case, the offending student made a statement about himself — “I cannot accept homosexuality because my religion is against it” — not making a statement of condemnation against others. I think that makes a difference — and most certainly in high school.

Last updated 9:30 AM EST November 16, 2010

Louisiana Panel Endorses Textbooks, Despite Evolution Critics

Louisiana Panel Endorses Textbooks, Despite Evolution Critics.

New book on teaching evolution or creationism in US classrooms

click for link to amazon.comThis post is simply to call attention to Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms, an important new book by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer.

As described at

Who should decide what children are taught in school? This question lies at the heart of the evolution-creation wars that have become a regular feature of the U.S. political landscape. Ever since the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” many have argued that the people should decide by majority rule and through political institutions; others variously point to the federal courts, educational experts, or scientists as the ideal arbiter. Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer illuminate who really controls the nation’s classrooms. Based on their innovative survey of 926 high school biology teachers they show that the real power lies with individual educators who make critical decisions in their own classrooms. Broad teacher discretion sometimes leads to excellent instruction in evolution. But the authors also find evidence of strong creationist tendencies in America’s public high schools. More generally, they find evidence of a systematic undermining of science and the scientific method in many classrooms.

Table of Contents:

List of Figures vii
List of Tables ix
Acknowledgments xiii
Introduction 1
1 Who Should Decide What Children Are Taught? 5
2 The Public Speaks: “Teach Both” 32
3 A Nation Divided by Religion, Education, and Place 64
4 Is Evolution Fit for Polite Company? Science Standards in the American States 93
5 Teachers and What They Teach 115
6 State Standards Meet Street-Level Bureaucracy 147
7 When the Personal Becomes Pedagogical 174
8 Teachers in Their Schools and Communities 194
9 The Battle for America’s Classrooms 215
Appendix to Chapter 2 229
Appendix to Chapter 3 238
Appendix to Chapter 4 245
Appendix to Chapter 5 247
Appendix to Chapter 6 249
References 259
Judicial Opinions and Court Cases Cited 275
Index 277

Shortlink for this post:

Why do adults force kids into hostile environments? (via John Raible Online)

This recent post, reflecting on the recent rash of suicides by bullied teens, is posted on a blog by Dr. John Raible, dedicated to “Supporting the Transracial Adoption community through education and research.”

Why do adults force kids into hostile environments?.

Recent events over the past few weeks have been taking a major toll on my emotions. I walk around feeling anxious and raw. I lose sleep and have strange, vivid dreams. A lot of it boils down to the growing concern I feel over the vulnerability of certain young people in my life. Some of them I know personally, and others are unknown members of targeted populations that I care about (e.g., transracially adopted children and queer youth). My main c … Read More

via John Raible Online

Welcome, Rachel Maddow

Deer Park tavern & Willard Hall Education Building

Deer Park tavern & Willard Hall Education Building

Rachel Maddow is dropping in on us to do her show from here, tomorrow night, Tues. October 5.

I’m not kidding. The announcement is here, on her blog.

She will be broadcasting from the Deer Park tavern here in Newark, Delaware, which is right next to the Willard Hall Education Building, home of the University of Delaware School of Education, where I work and teach (although Curricublog has no formal or official association with the School or the University — views expressed on this blog are solely the responsibility of myself or other contributors).

The Google Maps photo at right also shows the entry to the parking facility across the street, which she mentions in her announcement.

street-level view of Deer Park (left) and the Willard Hall Bldg. (right)

The photo on the left shows the Deer Park tavern and the Willard Hall building from street level. (The building is named after a gentleman named Willard Hall, so the building would be “Hall Hall,” not “Willard Hall”; so we call it the Willard Hall Building).

Rachel will be doing her show from Deer Park after spending the day in Wilmington covering the contest between Chris Coons and Christine O’Donnell for election to Joe Biden’s seat in the U. S. Senate.

In her show tonight (Oct. 4) and on her blog post with links for tonight’s show, Rachel uses an idea inspired by the children’s book Swimmy, by Leo Lionni.

Rachel uses the graphic displayed here at the right.

Swimmy is also used in a more substantive post here on curricublog.

Board Takes Up Anti-Muslim Measure « Texas Freedom Network

Board Takes Up Anti-Muslim Measure « Texas Freedom Network.

By Dan

The Texas State Board of Education is about to take up a proposed resolution attacking Islam and claiming that social studies textbooks are anti-Christian. TFN Insider will keep you updated on progress.

9:53 a.m. – We notice that board members Barbara Cargill and Don McLeroy have been going through world history textbooks currently used in Texas publics schools. Cargill has them stacked at her desk. We anticipate that she and McLeroy will use examples from those books to try to prove that they reflect an anti-Christian, pro-Islamic bias. But those textbooks were approved for Texas schools by this board in 2002, and social conservatives at the time were very happy. Why? Because, as news reports from the time explain, they were able to force publishers to make numerous changes, including the addition of positive references to Christianity and the deletion of neutral or positive references to Islam. From a Houston Chronicle article dated Oct. 30, 2002 (now archived on a conservative Christian website): [Continue Reading at Texas Freedom Network blogRead More »

GOP Congress candidate: Church|State separation comes from “Hitler’s mouth” (video)

Wilmington NewsJournal: Glen Urquhart said Hitler coined "separation of church and state."

For all the attention being given to Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell’s upset of long-time popular Congressman and former Delaware Governor Mike Castle for the GOP nomination for Joe Biden’s seat in the U.S. Senate, relatively little notice has been paid to fellow Tea Partier Glen Urquhart’s upset of the mainstream GOP favorite for the nomination to run for Delaware’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, vacated by Castle in his run for Governor.

That’s completely understandable, of course, since Castle was being counted as an unbeatable candidate in November’s general election, one that could be counted on in figuring the chances of the GOP regaining control of the U.S. Senate. Urquhart’s mainstream opponent was also favored to win in the Republican primary, but she was considered something of an underdog for the general election; and it’s far less likely, in any case, that this one seat in Congress would tip control to either party in the House of Representatives.

For educators, though, it’s worth noticing Urquhart as another instance of a movement to establish an ideologically driven false version of history both in the public consciousness, and in the schools. Here’s one example:

Urquhart actually tells his audience:

So the next time your liberal friends talk about separation of Church and State, ask them why they’re Nazis.

First, he asked if anybody in the room knew where “separation of Church and State” comes from. One guy said “I do … I know — but I’m the history teacher …” (He’s also a Republican party activist in southern Delaware, who happened also to be the person making the video that’s excerpted above.)

The history teacher started giving the correct answer — that this comes from Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists — but Urquhart cut him off, and said that’s not where the phrase comes from, but that “the exact phrase” (in English, I wonder?) actually “came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth.”

Actually, in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson did in fact write:

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

Referring to Glenn Beck’s more systematic efforts — enlisting and promoting David BartonWill Bunch observes:

Most moderates and liberals aren’t even aware that this Hollywood-size script doctoring of U.S. history is taking place — and the political consequences may be enormous. George Orwell wrote that “who controls the past … controls the future.” Beck and his fans may reclaim a lot more than the legacy of 1960s civil rights this weekend — unless America’s too silent majority is finally ready to start fighting back for our past.

Bunch elaborates: Read More »

Tea Partiers & anti-democratic ignorance

The fact that GOP and Tea Party candidates can get away with this nonsense — at least to the extent of garnering enough support to force runoff elections, if not to secure GOP nominations — demonstrates the sad state of historical education in this country.

Alabama GOP runoff candidate Rick Barber is running this ad featuring his kooky Tea-Party fantasy of leading George Washington, Sam Adams, and Benjamin Franklin into armed conflict against the United States:

He couldn’t be more off-base on the facts. As David Weigel points out:

He appeals to Washington as the owner of a distillery who “knows how tough it is to run a small business without a tyrannical government on your back.” But President Washington presided over, and approved, the first tax levied by the federal government — the 1791 whiskey tax. When the tax met resistance, he approved the assembling of militias to enforce the law and mobilization of agents to collect the revenue. So the Barber daydream of Washington angrily ordering a “gathering of armies” to oppose a tax is… well, entertaining, I guess.

But I keep coming back to the more basic flaw in this rhetoric: The attempt to identify today’s tax protests with the Colonials’ protest, not against the “tea tax” as such, but against the regime in which such taxes were imposed by a government in which the colonists were denied any representation.

Today, of course, our taxes (which are now at the lowest level since the 1950’s) are enacted by governments which we elect, i.e., in which we do have representation.

The Tea Partiers’ complaint is not against government without representation. They are protesting, rather, against democracy itself, since democracy means that their little minority doesn’t get its way when the majority of voters don’t agree with them.

Photo by: Liz Margerum Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle participates in the GOP debate Friday in Reno. (RGJ)

Consider this, from GOP nominee for U.S. Senate from Nevada, as reported by (a/k/a the Reno Gazette-Journal):

“What is a little bit disconcerting and concerning is the inability for sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock,” she said. “That tells me the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of their government? They’re afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways?

“That’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?”

In other words, if the majority of the people vote for their representatives to be people who will not do the bidding of Angle’s minority, then she thinks, I guess, that the historically precedented remedy is for the minority to bear arms, in armed conflict against the democratically-elected government.

I find this anti-democratic rhetoric deplorable. The fact that it gets any traction at all, with any public, is a disgrace to the state of social education in this country.

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