Yesterday I took my son to a science fair here in our small city of Washington, PA called STEMfest. It was the first time that such an event has occurred in the city, and after talking with one of the organizers I was pretty excited that this was something I could take my 5 year old. It was your typical science fair for the most part with local tech companies, universities and private high schools doing science demos and activities for kids. For some reason the Salvation Army was there, but they seemed to be just there out of the goodness of their hearts. They had little plastic cups where they helped the kids make slime. Kids love making slime and then put it in a little ziploc bag. I noticed that they also had slightly bigger Salvation Army plastic bags which I thought was just an extra safeguard in case the slime leaked out and didn’t get the other take home stuff from the event wet with slime. However, something else was lurking in the bag.
Fast forward to this morning and my son is taking out stickers in this:
Notice the cover indicates is meant to lure kids into believing this contains scientific information. A bible resides on the science lab desk and somehow a cross appears in the atom symbol.
The pages inside don’t get any better by making their religious nonsense appear to be part of things for which we have scientific evidence.
At least they are promoting women in science right? You can see the attempt to legitimize bible verses and religious rhetoric as scientific. They have the gall to call this a Time Traveler Guide, but Day 1-5 is Creation, Old Testament, Visitation, Preparation, and Celebration. Inside is also a plastic transparency like thing where you are supposed to use a flashlight to find various scientific items, bible verses and symbols in a science lab. A page of stickers, and then finally this exercise which asks the kid to “Complete the timeline with correct daily drawing sticker”
My son was playing with stickers in the book before I saw what this was. Fortunately he can’t read yet and constructed this according to his own logic, which I think you’ll like. He says to me that “fire creates trees and then new leaves, leaves cause clouds and then rain, rain causes evil kings, and evil kinds lead to death.” We watch a lot of nature shows so he know forest fires lead to new growth and he knows trees give off a lot of moisture and creates clouds and rain in rain forests. The evil king thing though remains a mystery. 🙂 Anyway, I told his explanation makes more sense than what this is actually trying to tell you. This booklet is made by “Answers in Genesis”. Which, as many know, is a particular dishonest Christian fundamentalist organization trying to push the Bible as being literally true (except for the parts that make no sense).
I am definitely going to complain to the organizers. Despite this being a conservative county, I don’t expect they knew this was going on. Given the one organizer I had talked to prior to the event, I don’t think the organizers intended for any booth to hand out religious literature. The fact that such anti-science creationist nonsense was being snuck to kids, I’m sure (I hope) will come as a surprise.
My dad always had a soft spot for the Salvation Army as when my parents were starting out life together and didn’t have much money. Salvation Army was helpful to them and was willing to marry them, as many other Christian pastors wouldn’t as they rejected a mixed marriage. As a result I will still thrown in some money when they are asking for donations around Christmas time. No longer. The disturbing part here is how deviously the Salvation Army hid what they were handed out while sucking kids in with a fun activity, and how the booklet itself misrepresents religious claims as scientific with images meant to trick and indoctrinate children. It’s simply appalling. So be aware parents when taking your kids to a science event, you may find a wolf in a scientist’s clothing.
There have been numerous articles now posted in local papers about the upcoming possibility of a state system of higher education strike in Pennsylvania. And with that comes comments. It has been unsettling to see the amount of ire towards educators. I know there are a lot of conservative people in PA. In a way PA is probably a good microcosm for the general breakdown of the country in Republican vs. Democrat. There is a thread in attitude by the critics of the strike and I just wanted to briefly talk about it. I don’t know what to do about it, but it does make me sad.
There is of course general ignorance towards the problem. Nobody really understands what educators go through on a daily basis, but apparently we can all easily be replaced with more qualified people at a lower cost. For most people it’s all about the bottom line. Dollars and cents. Critics don’t think of whether or not changes to our contract might not cause the quality of education to suffer, we are simply greedy people who want more money and don’t care about our students.
There is an overwhelming sense in these hard times that if other people are suffering we should suffer too. One person commented “Let them not work for a year and see them struggle to pay their bills just like us.” When did we become a country who simply wanted to tear each other down. Shouldn’t we be trying to raise people up? I want other people to have good health care…if mine became bad I wouldn’t be asking for others to have their health care reversed. As we tear each other down, it seems like the only people going up are the very wealth in our society. I saw a meme recently that was based on a Harvard Business study on perception vs reality. Most people think CEOs make 30 times what the average American worker makes, when in fact it’s 350 times more. Here is a video that illustration financial perception vs. reality. It seems to me that the wealthy have done an excellent job at pitting us against each other. In the south poor white people blame poor black people or poor Latinos for their problems. Average workers are pitted against educators. Teacher salaries are actually quite low compared to other countries and yet we are painted as people who are draining the system. Poor people are pitting against law enforcement. Yet law enforcement doesn’t pay very well, and pensions are being cut. Law enforcement is an important job that requires intelligent and highly skilled people. Somewhere in lost in the sea of finger pointing are wealthy people laughing at us all and distracting us from who is really
taking away all of our money.
Anti-union sentiments are strong. I never really thought much about unions and their value. I know unions can become corrupt. Anything can become corrupt. Churches, government, business. But overall I’ve noticed that when there are no unions, workers are taken advantage of more strongly. This country has a history of workers not being treated fairly and humanely. Unions have helped us rise out of that situation. They have brought us child labor laws and helped workers make living wages. And while there are plenty of examples where workers are treated well without a union, by and large this isn’t always the case. Some companies have no need to form unions, others I think it is very important. Our union is unique because our contract also contains important elements to educational quality. Investing in education pays off, but when we treat it like a business and we don’t invest in that business, the quality suffers.
Education itself may need reform, but the answer isn’t to reduce quality. Let’s look at what research demonstrates as effective pedagogy and make that happen in our schools. Let’s make education truly affordable again. Let’s not bring each other down, and focus on the true cause of our suffering. People on welfare aren’t my enemy. People who have lost their jobs, their benefits, who have had to take pay cuts aren’t my enemy. I would support you every step of the way for you to improve your quality of life, and be treated fairly by your employer. I’m not your enemy either. I’m in the middle income tier in PA, as are many other professors. Your teachers on average are in an even worse place financially. The middle class continues to get thinner and it’s not good for our country. There should be common ground between democrats and republicans to work together to build the middle class. Weakening education and tearing middle class people down, doesn’t seem to be the answer.
I love university. From the very first moment I started as a student, I thought it was great. The buildings, old and new, housing different academic fields, knowing there were extremely knowledgeable people who were dedicating their entire lives to those fields and passing on that knowledge to students. I was nervous my first day. University, I think no matter how small a university you go to, it feels big. Big ideas, a campus much bigger than your high school and anxiety filled visions of getting lost, looking stupid, and feeling small run through our minds. By the end of the first year I realized I was in love. I felt that after 1 year of university I had learned as much as I did my entire time in high school. I was exposed to diverse groups of people, diverse sets of ideas, and could literally feel my mind and my values growing. Now I know my experience is not everybody’s. It’s not everybody’s calling to devote themselves to this institution we call university, but by my junior year I knew it was my calling.
Society is made up of many different parts, and I believe that universities play an important role. Whether a student pursues an Associate or Bachelor degree, or chooses to specialize more deeply in their area of interest through a graduate program, the character and knowledge they bring into their new roles in the “real world”, as a result of their education, is important. We live now in a nation where universities are under attack. Education is becoming increasingly undervalued. Yet history clearly demonstrates that when societies make education a priority, it promotes greater innovation and economic growth, empowers people with knowledge as an antidote against oppression, and gives us the ability to flex our minds and adapt in an ever changing and increasingly technological world. The most current attack on universities in this nation is in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). If a new contract isn’t agreed upon between the faculty union and the state system by Oct. 19th, the faculty at 14 universities across the state will go on strike. This has the ability to cause great disruption to the education of our students and because the state system is trying to spread the message that our striking is out of selfishness and desire for money, and a betrayal to the students we say we care about, I wanted to take a little time to explain why we’re striking and why it matters.
Several proposals by PASSHE remain sticking points in our ability to come to a fair agreement, and most of them have to do with educational quality. The state has conceded on some of the items that would have a negative impact on teaching from their initial proposal. Some of the major ones still outstanding are as follows:
An increase in workload for full-time adjunct faculty. Adjunct faculty are an important part of a university because as faculty retire or move on, as programs grow, we need quality adjuncts to fill teaching roles. When we get good ones and the position becomes permanent and tenure track, it is an easy transition for that faculty in their new role as a permanent professor. By increasing their workload to 5 classes (a lot by any university standards) and reducing their pay by 20% the probability of attracting quality adjunct faculty is reduced. In addition their increased workload will have negative impacts on the quality of teaching and thus the student is not served well. The state also wants to significantly reduce the pay for part time adjunct faculty as well.
Increased reliance on adjunct faculty. Ultimately adjunct faculty would like a job with more security as we all would. Adjunct faculty are only there to teach and generally play no other role in the university. They don’t advise students, they don’t serve on committees or are required to do university service. And why should they? They don’t have the same protections as tenure-track faculty and can be let go at any time. The state wants to increase the cap on the percentage of adjunct faculty at each state university. Coupled with the last point, this means less quality teaching. It means that since adjunct faculty are often looking for more permanent work, this will result in universities constantly utilizing less experienced lecturers who have never taught courses before. Any student who has taken a class from a first time teacher for a course, you know it’s not as good as it could be.
Increased workload for those supervising internships, supervising student teachers, and teaching lab courses. Any time there is a numbers increase on supervision, the time with each student is less. Good supervisors do a lot of work and it is a very helpful role. The increases in workload for internship supervision is by 67% and for supervising student teachers 20%. The most egregious one for me is the reduced value of lab courses. This is a difficult one to explain, but basically one hour of lab used to count as one contact hour, but now they want to reduce it to 2/3rd of a contact hour. Faculty in the state system are required to teach 24 contact hours an academic year. So those who teach lab courses will have a greater workload even though labs have grading, and take time to prepare just as much as a lecture. This will also discourage faculty from offering lab courses. Lab courses are part of important hands-on experiences. They are usually in smaller settings too, where students have more interaction with their professor. Increased hands-on experience in the classroom is proven in research studies to be an important part of quality teaching. So why doesn’t the state system want that? Because if I am teaching a 3 credit course with 3 lab sections, I have 6 contact hours for a 3 credit hour course. A regular lecture course with no lab is 3 credits and 3 contact hours. So if I teach labs I teach less credit hours. You, as a student, pay by credit hours. You are a dollar sign to them, and nothing more. They don’t care how well you are taught, or what research demonstrates about effective teaching practices. It’s about how much money they can make. This is what’s happening all across the U.S. in public higher education.
Allowing administration to move faculty to different departments to teach different courses. Did you ever have a teacher in high school teach you a subject that wasn’t their specialty? It happens in middle schools and high schools all the time. Have the PE teacher, teach a history class, have the biology teacher, teach a couple of math classes. This could happen at university now as well, where teachers who didn’t specialize in a particular area are forced to teach outside their area of expertise. How much would you expect to learn or enjoy such a class?
Matters of Money
So you might say this is a pretty one sided discussion what about money. Clearly faculty want more money right? So let’s talk about that a little.
Well who wouldn’t like more money? But keep in mind we have already been without a contract for almost a year and a half and have been on a salary freeze. We would also like to be treated with similar salary increases as the state has offered other unions in the state. We would like our salaries to keep pace with inflation. Who doesn’t want that? However, if you talk to any of your faculty, you’ll probably find that they care less about that, than impacts on their work quality, and the quality of education they can provide you. To show you how committed the faculty are to improving education, recently the state system tried to offer faculty more money to their salary to try and have us ignore all the measures they are taking to reduce educational quality.* The union refused to sign a contract based solely on a salary increase, and refused to be pitted against adjunct faculty.
Health care costs are also currently a point of contention. There are many unions who have had to take a hit in increased health care costs. How far we will get in regards to this issue remains to be seen, but we do believe that quality health care should be something provided by employers and changes proposed by the state system would incur additional costs in range of thousands of dollars to faculty. We have taken smaller hits in the past which have essentially negated salary increases. This year, most faculty expect a similar result and don’t expect more net salary given the increased health care costs we are likely to incur.
The mission of PASSHE is to provide the highest quality education at the lowest possible cost to students. The problems that we face in higher education in this country are perhaps broader than just what we are facing here, but if tuition costs are not going down and quality continues to get lowered something about the system is broken. We have less direct say in these larger problems, but we can be advocates for the quality of education you receive as a student. Thus, I felt it was important for students to know that your faculty do care about you. We don’t see you as a customer or a dollar sign. We see ourselves as people who play a role in your future, and thus the future of the region, the state, and the nation, and we feel the quality of education you get is important. We are tired of decisions being made about teaching dictated from a group of people who haven’t spent any time in the classroom. If you are concerned about the strike, you and your family need to send an e-mail to the university president at the university you attend. You need to contact Chancellor Frank Brogan (Chancellor@passhe.edu). You need to write your local state congress representatives. We faculty, still hold hope that a strike will not be necessary, and if it happens a strike is no holiday to us. I’ll be just off the California University of Pennsylvania campus, on the picket line, every day, hoping sooner than later, I will get to walk back on the campus and give students the quality education they deserve. You may not agree with our taking a stand on these issues, and that’s okay, but I hope you can respect my right to see this as important, and I hope that you all will take a stand for whatever you truly care about in your futures as well.
Department of Earth Science,
California University of Pennsylvania
*Note: The article that discusses the offer made to faculty to increase their salary, states that our average salary for faculty is over $100,000. This is untrue. Salaries at public universities are publicly available. Here you can find all salaries of all employees in the university system. You can export this data to excel. I calculated the average salaries from cell B270 to B6315 (which is almost all faculty) and came up with an average of just under $80,000. A big difference from what PASSHE is saying. The data is from 2013, but represents the contract we are currently under.
I was reading a little note in history this morning that sparked my thinking. It was the story of how Washington D.C. was born; a place that didn’t belong to any state, and was federally controlled. Apparently it all started because of unpaid bills; particularly because a large majority of the soldiers in the revolutionary war never got paid. In one military camp in 1777
George Washington (a general at the time) wrote that more than a quarter of the 10,000 men stationed there were suffering from malnutrition and did not even have shoes. Not surprisingly they died. The stories of how much the soldiers from the revolutionary war suffered are startling really. Many of them used their own money initially because they weren’t getting paid and by the end of the war many were destitute and sometimes in debt themselves. Once discharged from the army many of them faced debtors prison. So a group of soldiers from Pennsylvania mutinied and marched to Philadelphia to demand their wages from congress. The state of Pennsylvania refused to use the state militia to defend congress and sided with the mutineers. The mutineers joined with troops in Philadelphia and surrounded Independence Hall 400 strong demanding their wages. Though angry they never opened fire or killed anyone. Congress refused to submit to them, considered them dishonorable and instead congress simply fled. Eventually they decided that they wanted congress to convene in a place that did not have to depend on the states for their safety. Thus Washington, D.C. was born.
In addition to finding this historical fact interesting, it made me realize that we haven’t changed a whole lot in regards to our attitude towards those who fight for us. Although I am a pacifist, I am also compassionate. I wrote a blog post before about how I don’t really understand why anyone would choose to have someone else tell them who they should kill, that doesn’t mean I think soldiers deserve to be treated inhumanely. And the fight for independence from an oppressive state is a just cause to fight. But I look at the 40 years of history and see how soldiers were treated after Vietnam and after our most recent and ongoing conflicts and it is clear that there is a fundamental disregard towards the soldiery who do make great sacrifices. And don’t get me wrong, I am not one to believe that all military are heroes or that there aren’t people who aren’t heroic in other walks of life. This disregard I speak of is not the rhetoric of clueless hippies who would spit on a veteran or jeer at them and call them killers, but I am talking about the disregard from those who would get them to fight and yet not suffer the same fate that many of the soldiers go through. Soldiers going without proper nutrition, proper equipment, proper medical care after or during their service should be the shame of any civilized nation (and don’t worry I’m sure the U.S. is not alone in the treatment of soldiers).
Although not a shocker it really hit home, that with but a few exceptions, politicians are the true cowards. Whether the conflict be just or not, they move the soldiery like pawns to where they want and then, fight the battles that they deem important (whether supported by the general public, or sometimes they lie to the general public to justify the conflict) while never depriving themselves of any of their needs. I think back to those congressmen fleeing Philadelphia, never having to worry about their pay, their nutritional needs, despite the debt they had racked up for the fledgling country. And nothing has changed since the country’s inception, including the fact that we still rack up massive amounts of debt for these military ventures. John Fogerty’s song “Fortunate Son” is an excellent reminder about how even the children of those in congress were protected from going to war, while those that are poor are considered expendable and cannot get out of the draft. I will never understand how
those we elected to serve the people enjoy so many more privileges than those who they send to fight the wars that they deem necessary. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time understanding why someone would join the military because who wants to fight for a group of politicians, who for the most part demonstrate less honor and nobility than they expect you to have as you kill for your country? Why should one sacrifice their one existence on this Earth for somebody who is unwilling to do the same, but is happy enough to send you to fight their battle? Either way it seems to me that we should be taking care of our veterans properly. Those politicians who treat the soldiers like pawns are easily replaced. In fact that’s kind of the point of democracy is that politicians can and eventually will be replaced for one reason or another and the country will go on. Thus there is no additional value to their life than is there is to the soldiers and vets. And on a final note, let’s do something about the large amount of poverty, income inequality, weakening education system and deteriorating infrastructure so that those soldiers can at the very least feel like they fought for something. I am not taking sides politically, I think the issue of taking care of those who need it the most is one that crosses party lines. I am exhausted watching politicians speak rhetoric, distort the truth, outright lie, and play games while the world burns around them only to see them get pay raises, most of their expenses paid, receive kickbacks from lobbying groups and essentially walk away from Washington far richer than when they walked in. So you can be mad at the Michael Moores or the Seth Rogens for their comments about the military (of course those comments are misinterpreted) but the ones that truly don’t really care about those that fight their battles for them are in Washington, D.C. – the city built to absolve themselves of responsibility to their military.