Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nervous atheists fear exposure of their bigotry

Atheist scientists who have become famous for attacking those who disagree with them are now loudly complaining about supposedly being mistreated in a film -- EXPELLED -- that they haven't seen. The point of the movie is not to prove or disprove evolution or intelligent design. The purpose is to report the personal attacks on anyone in academia who does not toe the line on evolution

Oxford zoologist, Richard Dawkins, has made a lot of money and fame calling people who believe in God "delusional." Yet he is now grumbling that the producers of EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed "tricked" him into doing an interview. EXPELLED exposes the intimidation, persecution and career destruction that takes place when any scientist dares dissent from the view that all life on earth is the mere result of random mutation and natural selection.

"Some of these people -- especially Mr. Dawkins -- spend a lot of time insulting the millions of folks who disagree with them, so you would think they would have a little tougher skin," said Mark Mathis, one of the film's producers. "The funny thing is they are whining about the fact that the film is going to allow them to insult people on a much larger stage."

Other notable scientists who claim they were "deceived" by the producers of EXPELLED include Eugenie Scott, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education and PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, who devotes much of his time to his popular science blog. Myers has attacked the film several times on his blog since EXPELLED announced its arrival in theatres in February 2008.

EXPELLED's producers say they aren't surprised by the academic uproar over the film because it is consistent with what happens on university campuses when students or professors question atheistic materialism. "There is some serious mistreatment and downright reprehensible behavior going on here, but I can assure you it's not coming from us -- we're just the ones exposing it," said Executive Producer, Walt Ruloff. "When our audience sees the stories of the real victims of scientific malpractice they're going to be outraged."

The producers of EXPELLED are particularly amused by Dawkins's complaint that the name of the film was changed from "Crossroads" to "EXPELLED" suggesting that this re-naming was a deception. Dawkins is well aware of the fact that movie titles change. When he was interviewed for EXPELLED he made the comment that the title of his anti-religion documentary, "Root of all Evil?" was chosen as a replacement for the original title late in the process.

Additionally, Dawkins participates in the documentary "A War on Science," which is an attack on Intelligent Design (ID). Producers of that film presented themselves to the Discovery Institute as objective filmmakers and then portrayed the organization as religiously-motivated and anti-scientific. "I've never seen a bigger bunch of hypocrites in my life," said Mathis, who set up the interviews for EXPELLED. "I went over all of the questions with these folks before the interviews and I e-mailed the questions to many of them days in advance. The lady (and gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks."

"Both Myers and Scott say they would have agreed to be interviewed under any circumstances, so why are they complaining?" said Ruloff. "In fact we had a second interview set up with Eugenie Scott, which she cancelled once rumors about EXPELLED began to circulate."

The legal releases all of the interviewees signed were quite explicit in regards to editorial control and transferability, something that is standard in the film business. Dawkins, Myers, Scott and many other scientists were paid for their interviews (Scott's check went to her organization, the National Center for Science Education).

EXPELLED's producers have made it clear the film will portray the scientists interviewed in a way that is consistent with their actual viewpoints or other public statements.

EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed is scheduled for release in February 2008. See the Ben Stein video about the film here and more details and commentary here


All schools are equal according to British government socialists

Oxford and Cambridge universities are unlikely to reach their targets for recruiting more students from state schools, analysis of admissions data suggests. Last year the two universities signed agreements with the Office for Fair Access pledging to increase the proportion of students they take from state schools by 2011. But a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research indicates that, at current rates of progress, their targets will not be met at Cambridge until 2012 and at Oxford until 2016.

The institute's analysis suggests that 36 per cent of students who got three A grades at A level went to independent schools, but the independent sector takes up 46 per cent of Oxford places and 43 per cent of Cambridge places.

Lisa Harker, co-director of the institute, said: "Oxford and Cambridge need to be more pro-active. Students getting three A-grade A levels at state schools are significantly under represented at both universities. Oxford and Cambridge must stop blaming a lack of applications for failure to make progress."

Oxford takes 54 per cent of its students from state schools. Its target is for 62 per cent of applications to come from state schools in five years. Cambridge takes 57 per cent of its students from state schools. Its target is for 60 to 63 per cent by 2011.

Admissions officers at both universities said that the analysis was flawed as it wrongly assumed that all A grades were equal and took no account of what subjects students had studied or what courses were on offer at Oxbridge. Geoff Parks, head of admissions at Cambridge, said: "Independent and grammar school students are more likely to have the right subject combinations that we are looking for at Cambridge."

The figures come days after John Denham, the Universities' Minister, said that he wanted the question of bias against pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds settled before a review of university tuition fees in 2009.


Attempting to revive history education in Australia

AS expected, Prime Minister John Howard's intervention in the culture wars, represented by the proposed Australian history guide for years 9 and 10 of high school, has drawn a chorus of criticism from the usual suspects. State Labor education ministers are one in the argument that each of their history curriculum documents represents best practice and that the guide is superfluous and a political stunt. Historians such as the University of Melbourne 's Stuart Macintyre, author of The History Wars and a vocal opponent of the Howard Government's education polices, have criticised the guide as well meant but overly detailed, solipsistic and difficult to implement in the classroom.

As a result of a 1991 meeting of Australian education ministers, the school curriculum was divided into eight learning areas and history was re-badged as "time, continuity and change", disappearing into the amorphous and politically correct stew represented by the subject known as studies of society and environment.

While the secondary school curriculum in NSW, and more recently Victoria, gives history special status, treating it as a stand-alone subject and detailing significant events, people and historical forces that must be taught, the subject has not fared as well in other jurisdictions.

The more conservative view - where students are taught a narrative associated with significant historical events, individuals and historical forces that shaped Australia's growth as a nation - has been jettisoned in favour of an inquiry-based issues approach that emphasises what is local and contemporary. Teaching what US academic Jerome Bruner has termed the structure of a discipline has given way to so-called generic skills, dispositions and competencies. This is largely as a result of Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education, otherwise known as Essential Learnings.

The Tasmanian and the South Australian Essential Learnings approach defines curriculum in terms of broad and vacuous categories such as futures, identity, interdependence and thinking and communication. In Queensland, the main SOSE values are defined as peace, ecological and economic sustainability, social justice and democratic process, all with a politically correct slant. The West Australian Curriculum Framework document describes history as "time, continuity and change" and, instead of detailing what should be taught, provides teachers with generalised outcome statements, such as: "They (students) can identify the constructive and destructive consequences of continuity and change and describe examples of both evolutionary and revolutionary change."

Unlike the approach associated with SOSE, Howard's new Guide to Teaching Australian History in Years 9 and 10 treats it as a stand-alone subject, and its authors bite the bullet and stipulate in detail a series of topics, milestones and essential content that all students need to learn if they are to understand and appreciate the nation's past. Although it's being attacked as the product of a conservative ideology, it should be noted the new guide is inclusive when it suggests students should study history through a range of perspectives, including those of gender, the environment, and indigenous and everyday life.

History teaching, and education more broadly, was once based on a belief in essential content, and that some interpretations are closer to the truth than others and that evidence should be weighed impartially. But the SOSE curriculums argue that interpreting the past is subjective and clouded by each person's ideological baggage and that it is wrong to stipulate what must be taught about it.

In 1992, the new history within the Victorian curriculum was celebrated on the basis that "there is no single version of history that can be presented to students. History is a version of the past (that) varies according to the person and the times ... each generation reinterprets the past in the light of its own values and attitudes." The 2000 edition of the Queensland SOSE document says students should be told "knowledge is always tentative", that they should "critique the socially constructed elements of text"and understand "how privilege and marginalisation are created and sustained in society".

Instead of providing a clear narrative detailing Australia's unique cultural and social growth and valuing what we hold in common, the SOSE approach emphasises diversity and difference. The Tasmanian curriculum, in explaining what is meant by social responsibility, emphasises the need to endorse "multiple perspectives" and "diverse views".

The South Australian curriculum, in outlining the importance of students having an understanding of cultural and global connections, also emphasises diversity and difference, as does the ACT curriculum, under the heading "Australian perspectives", in saying that students should experience the "diversity of Australian life".

The way studying Australian history is described in the Victorian curriculum also stresses diversity and multiple influences. Significant is that the new federal guide, in opposition to the idea of cultural relativism, acknowledges under the perspective "beliefs and values" the importance of "the influence of Christian churches and the liberal democratic philosophies" that underpin and safeguard our unique way of life.

A 1999 report, The Future of the Past, funded by the federal Government and written by historian Tony Taylor of Monash University, concludes that "Australian history in schools is characterised by lack of continuity, topic repetition and lack of coherence". The national history report also includes an observation by Monash University historian Mark Peel that many students enter university with a fragmented historical understanding.

Peel observed that while they might be strong in terms of questioning interpretations and appreciating the contribution of those voices normally excluded, such as Aborigines and women, undergraduate students lacked an understanding of the larger picture or the ability to place isolated events and issues within the broader context. Peel states: "Students seem anxious about the absence of a story by which to comprehend change, or to understand how the nation and world they are about to inherit came to be. They do have maps of the past. Their maps are more likely than mine to focus on particular visual images, those snatches of documentary film or photographs (that) increasingly encapsulate the past. Indeed, their sense of the world's history is often based on intense moments and fragments that have no real momentum or connection."

In a speech given at the Queensland Teachers Union conference in 2005, Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne effectively argued that the cultural Left had extended its influence in and through the education system. Byrne said: "We have succeeded in influencing the curriculum development in schools, education departments and universities. The conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum." Although yet to be translated into classroom practice, the new guide to Australian history suggests that Byrne should not be overconfident.


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