Sunday, March 26, 2006

What “is our children learning?”

You only need to watch a couple of the cartoons produced by Neil Bush’s educational software company, Ignite! to get a clear idea of how utterly dumbed-down the curriculum has become. (Ignite! is the company that Barbara Bush earmarked her Katrina relief donations be spent on, thus receiving a charitable contribution tax deduction for supporting her son’s company.)

Illustrating this post are two stills taken from “Heredity,” intended for the junior high school level (according to a teacher who viewed a sales demo presented by Neil Bush, and also as shown by the company’s testimonials).

Above is a cartoon of DNA that is so grossly over-simplified and stylized that it shows nothing at all about what DNA is, its function, how it works, or even what it looks like, while below is a purported “cell” that unfortunately contains more errors than truth. (In vertebrates, condensed and duplicated chromosomes do not exist within a nuclear membrane, so this diagram does nothing but instill confusion that will later have to be remedied.)

What could possibly be the pedagogical point of producing and selling such nonsense? The cartoons speak to the viewers as if they’re idiots, and this dedicated-use video projection system apparently will not even play anything other than the cartoons it comes packaged with, at a reported cost of $13,000, money that would go far toward purchasing some decent textbooks or computers or microscopes or extra library hours or a myriad of other things of genuine educational value.

The interesting thing about education funding is the readiness to spend tens of thousands of dollars on things seen as “quick fixes” but never on something so mundane as teacher salaries. Teachers are the lowest-paid professionals and many have even experienced pay cuts in recent years, but somehow the funds are always found for purchasing such ridiculous junk as this Purple Cow system that will, inevitably, find itself sitting in a back closet somewhere in the miracle technology graveyard, unused, once teachers realize how utterly superficial, inaccurate, and basically useless it is. But then will come the next new thing, as overpriced and useless as the previous one, while teachers continue to be underpaid and overworked. Is it any wonder our students are so unprepared for college work?


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