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Re: Middle School Physical Science Texts: dishonesty

One thing that seems to have been implied by recent posts is that teachers
are unaware of the errors. It seems to me that many of the teachers I
speak with are, indeed, aware of the errors and, as a result, hardly use
the textbooks. Is that an accurate reflection of the state of things?

| Robert Cohen Department of Physics |
| East Stroudsburg University |
| East Stroudsburg, PA 18301 |
| (570) 422-3428 |

I think it is safe to say that, at the middle school level, most of
the teachers are aware that the books are not too reliable, but they
often don't know just what the errors are, especially some of the
more subtle ones, like one I found some time back that made a real
mish-mash of the idea of diffusion, implying that somehow the atoms
in the high-concentration regions knew where the low concentration
regions were and therefore knew to go there. The results they got
were correct for the level they were aiming at, but any student who
came away from it understanding what was said would have had a pretty
weird idea of how diffusion works. Several teachers I talked to about
this were alert enough to be skeptical of what was being said, but
not knowledgeable enough to pin down what was wrong.

Unfortunately, the books are used more than their sloppy content
would justify, mainly because the teachers depend on the books to
give the students the content that they themselves are a bit shaky
on. It would be better if the books, as bad as they are, weren't
used, although I hate to see the taxpayer's money wasted on buying
book that just sit there and never get opened.

As long as we continue to put teachers into classrooms for which they
are not qualified (note that this is almost *never* the
responsibility of the teacher. I have talked to many middle school
science teachers who wonder why they are teaching science since they
know they are unqualified for it, but they were assigned to it by a
principal who had a slot to fill and the only teacher available who
was junior enough that he or she couldn't complain, was an
unqualified one.

If the teachers had the knowledge to deal with the subject without
having to rely on the textbooks it would be great. We could tell the
textbook publishers to go jump in the lake if they didn't provide
worthwhile texts. And if the publishers stopped having their book
purchased by the states, they would very quickly get their acts
together and start putting out reasonable texts. But, and this is a
big but, we demand a lot of our MS science teachers. They have to be
able to speak intelligently about biology, chemistry, physics,
geology, space, meteorology, ecology, oceanography, they are often
the sex-ed teacher for the school, and they need to be prepared to
defend their teaching of evolution to irate creationist parents. The
depth of their knowledge doesn't have to be too deep, but their
required breadth is dismaying. I am constantly amazed that they do as
well as they do in the face of all the obstacles we put in their
paths, from enormous class sizes and student loads to requirements to
deal with students who are discipline problems, have learning
disabilities, or other impairments that demand extra teacher time, to
the out of class activities that the teachers must take on as part of
their jobs. There hasn't been enough money printed to get me to do it
on a full-time basis. In the days when I would go work with a
class--even with the regular teacher there to assist me--I would come
home absolutely exhausted. I absolutely don't know how the teachers
survive day in and day out. They would still be underpaid if their
classes were half the size they are now and their pay was twice what
it is now.


Hugh Haskell

(919) 467-7610

Let's face it. People use a Mac because they want to, Windows because they
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