Good Seats Still Available!

The 2015-2016 lineup at Binghamton University is looking like another winner. Dan Kahan of Yale Law School has just agreed to come up in the spring for a talk about his work with science communication.

We had a very exciting year last year, too. Michael Berkman visited from Penn State. Professor Berkman gave a great talk to our Evolution Studies program about his work with evolution education. Then in May, Jonathan Zimmerman from New York University delivered our annual Couper Lecture. Professor Zimmerman blew our minds with some of the most provocative ideas from his new book, Too Hot to Handle.

Are you a Kentucky Farmer?

Are you a Kentucky Farmer?

Folks who spend a lot of time with science, creationism, and public perceptions will be familiar with Professor Kahan’s work. His Cultural Cognition Project has explored exciting new directions in the tricky field of science communication. As Professor Kahan will tell you, we’re all Pakistani doctors; we’re all Kentucky farmers.

Details of Professor Kahan’s talk to follow. It will likely be a Monday evening in the early months of 2016. As always, the seminars hosted by Binghamton’s stellar Evolution Studies Program are free and open to the public.

Can’t wait.

Sex Sells, but Who’s Buying?

The kids are alright. And if they’re not, all of our culture-war fuss ‘n’ stuff over sex in schools is not making too much of a difference. Thanks to the inestimable Jonathan Zimmerman, Binghamton University last night enjoyed a mind-blowing discussion of sex education worldwide. Among the many takeaway lessons, Professor Zimmerman argued that culture-war fulminations about sex ed generally have only a very tenuous relationship to what children actually learn about sex.

As the sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, sex education has long been a lightning rod for controversy in the USA. Liberal activists insist that this is literally a life-and-death matter, with the rise of HIV and unplanned pregnancies. For their part, conservatives have blasted liberal efforts as something akin to child pornography. Or even as a scheme by sex predators to loosen up the victims.

In his talk last night on the scenic campus of Binghamton University, Prof. Zimmerman shared some of his work from his new book, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education. Over the course of the twentieth century, sex education has spread around the world, led in many ways by pioneers in the United States. What people have wanted out of sex ed, and the shape sex ed has taken, have continually been subject to withering debate.

Who's for it?

Who’s for it?

Sex ed—and fights over sex ed—have a long history, back to about 1914. But things changed radically with the introduction of HIV. Since that time, everyone involved has agreed that sex ed is a drastic necessity. But there have been bitter disagreements about what sex ed should look like.

Two distinct types of missionary outreach have competed for global influence. On one hand, we have what might be called the “health and autonomy” position. Advocates of this type of sex ed—which, for the record, is generally something your humble editor supports—want children to have maximum information about sex. This might be touchy, but children need to learn how sex works. Perhaps more important, children need to learn to assert control over their own sexuality. Coerced and risky sex are the twin scourges against which effective sex education should be designed to fight.

On the other side, conservatives have preached a moral approach, something we might call the “just say no” school. Around the world, activists have insisted that the best offense in the case of sex is a good defense. If traditional courtship patterns can be preserved, if sex can be something done only within the bounds of a heterosexual marriage, then the blights of disease and exploitation can be eliminated.

From New York to Auckland, Dhaka to Copenhagen, these sorts of culture wars over sex education have raged for a generation. During that time, leaders and organizations have come and gone. Buzzwords and strategies have mutated and metastasized.

One thing that has not changed, according to the good professor, was that the sex education curricula in public schools has not had much direct correlation to the ways young people learn about sex.

First of all, activists tend to debate official curricula, not actual learning. In other words, as with other educational culture-war issues such as evolution and school prayer, adults tend to fight over the official standards for what should be taught in public-school classrooms. In practice, there is a vast and unmeasured distance between official learning standards and real classroom learning.

Also, even if we take official sex-ed curricula as our guide to what kids are learning, in the USA we don’t find much. At most, Professor Zimmerman explained, students in US public schools get about six hours per year of sex education.

It might be no surprise, then, that students don’t learn much about sex in school. Since the 1920s, Professor Zimmerman told us, students have put school near the bottom of their lists of places they learn about sex. Consistently, students respond that they glean about five percent of their knowledge about sex from their classes in school. Five percent! That means that almost all of their sex education takes place outside the classroom walls.

Yet time and again, both sides in our tumultuous sex-ed culture wars have issued dire warnings about the importance of public-school sex-education programs. Do such programs matter? Certainly. But too often, culture-war activists make cataclysmic claims about the positive or negative effects of school programs. And too often, these claims are about building political careers and establishing public profiles, rather than helping kids learn.

Hot & Bothered in Binghamton, New York

Clear your calendars! Next Friday Jonathan Zimmerman will be coming to scenic Binghamton to give a talk about his new book.

Zimmerman is a prolific historian and public intellectual. You may have read his blockbuster books such as Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools. Now you can get your hands on his latest, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education. You may also have seen him in the pages of the New York Times or on The Daily Show.

Who's for it?

Who’s for it?

Next Friday, May 1st, at 4:15 in the Admissions Center, Binghamton University will host Professor Zimmerman for our 23rd annual Couper Lecture. In the past, this lecture series has brought to our campus such luminaries as Bill Reese, Michael Apple, Maris Vinovskis, and many more.

As the sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are well aware, sex ed is one of the touchiest topics in America’s continuing culture wars. What should schools tell students about sex? How much is too much?

In his new book, Professor Zimmerman explodes the boundaries of these debates. The culture war over sex ed, Zimmerman argues, is not merely between conservatives and liberals in the USA. Rather, worries about the right relationship between sex and children spread from the US to cover the globe during the twentieth century.

So slip on your smarty-pants and come on over to our scenic campus. All are welcome, but registration is requested.

Binghamton: The Place to Be

If you care about our educational culture wars—and you know you do—there’ll be no better place to be in 2015 that Binghamton University in sunny Binghamton, New York. We’ll have two of the world’s best scholars coming to campus to talk about their work. They will share their research into some of the most confounding culture-war questions: Who decides how and what to teach about evolution? How has sex education spread worldwide?

In late March, Professor Michael Berkman will be coming. Along with his colleague Eric Plutzer, Prof. Berkman published a bombshell book a couple years ago about the teaching of evolution in public high schools. Berkman and Plutzer are political scientists at Penn State. They got funding from the National Science Foundation to survey high-school science teachers about their teaching. Their results attracted a good deal of attention.

Required reading for anyone interested in evolution/creation issues

Required reading for anyone interested in evolution/creation issues

In the January, 2011 issue of Science (sorry, subscription required), for example, Berkman & Plutzer described the results of their survey. They found that about 13% of teachers taught creationism in public schools as science. Another roughly 28% taught recognizable evolution. The rest, roughly 60%, are the most interesting. This large majority of teachers reported that they taught a mish-mash of watered down evolution, religious- or religion-friendly ideas about creation, or a menu of evolution and creationism.

But the book was bigger than just this survey. As political scientists, Berkman & Plutzer argued that the important question was the way these decisions were made. Who decides what gets taught? State standards don’t do it. In states with good evolutionary science standards, teachers still teach non-evolution. Textbooks don’t do it. Glittering new science books with all the evolution bells and whistles can’t teach by themselves.

For Berkman & Plutzer, the answer was simple: Teachers. Teachers function as “street-level bureaucrats,” making daily decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. In most cases, teachers fit in with their local communities. If their communities want evolution to be taught, teachers teach it. But if communities want it watered down or kicked out, teachers do that, too.

Professor Berkman will be visiting our scenic campus as part of the Evolution Studies Program. We’re not sure yet what the focus of his talk will be, but he tells us he’s got some new data he’ll be sharing. Can’t wait to see what it is.

Our second campus visit will be from Professor Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University. Over a decade ago, Prof. Zimmerman defined the historical vision of America’s educational culture wars with his book, Whose America? In that volume, Zimmerman argued that two main tensions had divided Americans’ vision of proper education. Since the 1920s, conservatives and progressives had squared off on fights over patriotism and religion. Does loving our country mean teaching students to question it? Or to support it unhesitatingly? And should schools incorporate prayer and Bible-reading? Who gets included in history textbooks, and how?

Professor Zimmerman’s new book looks at sex education as a global phenomenon. Though the United States was an early exporter of sex ed, by the end of the twentieth century the US government joined some uncomfortable allies to battle sex education. As Zimmerman has argued, sex ed has created a new and sometimes surprising worldwide network of conservative alliances. For example, at a 2002 United Nations special session on children, US delegates joined Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, and Syria in condemning a sex-ed proposal.

Who's for it?

Who’s for it?

When it comes to culture-war topics, national boundaries aren’t as important as we tend to think. It’s difficult for historians to look beyond them, though, due to language barriers and the high cost of research travel. In his new book, Prof. Zimmerman hopes to overcome those prosaic difficulties and tell the story of sex ed in its full global context.

And when he journeys north to our campus in early May, Zimmerman promises to share some of his insights from this book.

So whether you care about evolution, creationism, sex ed, history, school politics, school prayer, or any other culture-war issue, there will be nowhere more exciting than Binghamton University in 2015.

Be here or be square.

Liberalism Leads to Campus Rape

Well-intentioned liberal rules—plus “binge drinking”—led us to an epidemic of campus sexual assaults.  That is the equation offered recently by conservative intellectual Patrick Deneen.  Deneen argues that the abdication of control by universities in the 1960s, meant to liberate students, has pushed the federal government to step in.

In recent days, we at ILYBYGTH have wondered about the connection between conservative Christianity and campus sexual assault.  Do overzealous reporters try to use uniformed bluster about “fundamentalism” to smear conservative religious peopleOr does there seem to be something peculiarly dangerous about authoritarian institutions such as fundamentalist colleges?

Professor Deneen has different concerns.  He notes the recent announcement by the federal government that it is investigating fifty-five universities for their handling of sexual-assault cases.  When universities and colleges fail to maintain the safety and security of their students, the Office of Civil Rights will step in.

As Deneen points out, this responsibility for the sexual morality of students used to be the responsibility of the universities themselves.  College graduates of a certain age may remember the elaborate rules that enveloped college-student social lives before the 1960s.  Female students at mainstream colleges—even at public institutions—often had to check in with “dorm mothers” at nine o’clock.  In every aspect of student life, the college took on the role of the parent.  In every way, the college acted in loco parentis—in place of the parent.

Of course, in the 1960s campuses in the US and around the world became hotbeds of political and cultural upheaval.  Students demanded more freedom, and they got it.  At many schools, in loco parentis rules were scrapped.  In many schools, indeed, core curricula were also scrapped in the name of freedom.  For instance, at my own beloved school, Binghamton University, students staged the “Bermuda Revolution.”  Not quite up to the office occupations and shotgun-wielding demands that rocked our neighbors at Columbia University or Cornell, but Bearcats managed to come together to protest strict student rules.  At Binghamton, the Bermuda Revolution brought students out to our Peace Quad clad in Bermuda shorts.  At the time, this was against the stern, traditional dress code that required shirts and ties for men and skirts and blouses for women.  As a result, the university changed those rules, giving students more freedom over their own lives.

Campus Revolutionaries, Binghamton Style

Campus Revolutionaries, Binghamton Style

One unintended consequence of this freedom is that more young people on college campuses have been exposed to sexual violence.  When students have more opportunity to drink alcohol and stay out late, more students find themselves in situations that lead to sexual assault.  As a result, the federal government has stepped in to investigate the way universities respond to charges of rape and sexual assault.

Professor Deneen argues that this tale of freedom gone awry can be seen as the history of liberalism in a nutshell.  As he puts it,

Longstanding local rules and cultures that governed behavior through education and cultivation of certain kinds of norms, manners, and morals, came to be regarded as an oppressive limitation upon the liberty of individuals. Those forms of control were lifted in the name of liberation, leading to regularized abuse of those liberties. In the name of redressing the injustices of those abuses, the federal government was seen as the only legitimate authority for redress and thereby exercised powers (ones that often require creative interpretations of federal law to reach down into private institutions) to re-regulate the liberated behaviors. However, now there is no longer a set of “norms” that seek to cultivate forms of self-rule, since this would constitute an unjust limitation of our freedom. Now there can only be punitive threats that occur after the fact. One cannot seek to limit the exercise of freedom before the fact (presumably by using at one’s disposal education in character and virtue); one can only punish after the fact when one body has harmed another body.

Conservative Christian colleges may have a unique set of challenges when dealing with the issue of sexual assault.  But Professor Deneen argues that sexual assault on other campuses has been a result of liberalism, not traditionalism.  Loose rules and permissive attitudes, Deneen notes, have led to an anything-goes culture.  The resulting “sexual anarchy” has left victims vulnerable to attack, with little recourse after the fact.

 

Friday Night Lights: Evolution in Schools

How can evolutionary ideas help education?  This Friday, biologists and evolution mavens David Sloan Wilson and Richard Kauffman of Binghamton University’s Evolutionary Studies Program will be giving a talk about using evolutionary theory to improve education.  And you’re invited.

Professors Wilson and Kauffman will not just be talking about teaching evolution as a subject, but about ways to use evolutionary ideas to help increase learning in all subjects.  As they put it,

Evolutionary theory is highly relevant to education in ways that go beyond the need to teach evolution in public schools. We will make two additional evolution-education connections in our talk. First, evolutionary theory can be used to design social environments that are maximally conducive to learning all subjects. Second, evolutionary training can increase general cognitive thinking skills, including the ability to transfer knowledge across domains. We will illustrate these points with two studies, involving a program for at risk-high school students and a college course that teaches evolution across the curriculum, respectively.

The talk will take place on the scenic campus of Binghamton University, Friday, May 9, between 5-7 PM, in room 124 of Academic Building B.  All are welcome, but the talk will be targeted toward graduate students and science educators.  There is no need to register and the event is free.

For those of you who are unable to travel to Sunny Binghamton, the presenters will be talking about two academic studies: “A Program for At-Rish High School Students Informed by Evolutionary Science,” and “The Evolutionary Biology of Education: How Our Hunter-Gatherer Educative Instincts Could Form the Basis for Education Today.”

 

 

Binghamton University On Top!

You all can take your college basketball and shove it.  My beloved employer, Binghamton University, has topped the college charts this week in the only way that really matters: annual snowfall.  We Bearcats come in sixth overall, trailing behind only Syracuse, Northern Arizona (?), Montana State, University of Colorado—Boulder, and SUNY Buffalo.

They Couldn't Have This Much Fun with a Mere 85.2 Inches of Snow!

They Couldn’t Have This Much Fun with a Mere 85.2 Inches of Snow!

Don’t get me wrong: students come here for more than the snow.  Binghamton has consistently ranked among the top schools for its combination of academic excellence and affordability.  The university is home to unique and marvelous institutions such as David Sloan Wilson’s EvoS program.  Without leaving snowy Binghamton, it’s possible to meet and greet some of the most exciting minds in the world of evolution/creation debates.

But as I look out my window this spring afternoon at a sheet of ice and crusty snow in my backyard, I realize that such top academic rankings and fancy special programs can only get people to CONSIDER Binghamton.  We STAY for the snow.

 

Registration Is Open!

You are invited.

In a few weeks, Binghamton University’s Graduate School of Education will be hosting a terrific event.  Documentarian Trey Kay will be sharing his new radio documentary, “The Long Game: Texas’ Ongoing Battle for the Direction of the Classroom.”  You probably remember Trey from his award-winning documentary about the textbook battle in West Virginia, 1974-1975.  In his new work, Trey explores the themes so close to the hearts of ILYBYGTH.  Should schools teach creationism?  Should they teach sex?  If so, how?  And what sorts of history should public-school students learn?  Should students be taught that America is awesome?  Or that the United States has some skeletons in its closet?  There has been no place more interesting than Texas to see these politics in action.

long game

After the listening session, Trey will offer a few comments.  He’ll be joined by the world-famous historian Jonathan Zimmerman of NYU.  ILYBYGTH readers will likely know about Zimmerman’s books, including especially his seminal work Whose America.  In addition, BU faculty member Matt McConn will say a few words.  McConn is new to New York, fresh from a long career as a teacher and school administrator in Houston.

There will even be cookies.

So please come on down if you’re in the Upstate area.  It will take place on Thursday, February 27, at 6 PM, in room G-008 in Academic Building A, on the beautiful main campus of Binghamton University.

We’d love to have you.  The event is free and open to all, but registration is required.  To register, please go to the BU registration site.

Save the Date!

Keep your evening free on Thursday, February 27th.  Here on the beautiful campus of Binghamton University in sunny Binghamton, New York, we’ll be hosting a listening session and panel discussion about Trey Kay’s new radio documentary, “The Long Game: Texas’ Ongoing Battle for the Direction of the Classroom.”

Readers may remember Trey Kay’s earlier award-winning radio documentary, “The Great Textbook War.”  In that piece, Trey explored the 1974-1975 battle over schooling and textbooks in Kanawha County, West Virginia.  In that fight–a fight that is also the subject of a chapter in my upcoming book–conservatives worried that a new textbook series presented students with perverted values and distorted grammar.

In his new documentary, Trey looks at ongoing ideological battles in Texas.  As filmmakers such as Scott Thurman and activists such as Zack Kopplin have demonstrated recently, there has been no better field for exploring cultural conflicts in education than the great state of Texas.

The details of our upcoming February 27 event are not yet finalized, but the general plan is clear.  We’ll be listening to “The Long Game,” then Trey and NYU’s electrifying historian Jon Zimmerman will offer a few comments, followed by a general discussion and Q & A.  I’ll post more details as they come available.

Allmon at EVoS

Clear your calendars!

Next week Professor Warren Douglas Allmon will be traveling down scenic Route 96 from Ithaca to talk about creationism.

Allmon’s talk, “Creationism in 2013: Not in the Headlines but Never Far Away,” will be on Monday, November 18, at 5:00 in room AG008 on the beautiful campus of Binghamton University in sunny Binghamton, NY.  The talk will be free and open to the public; no registration is required.

It will be part of the continuing series of Monday seminar talks hosted by the Evolutionary Studies program here on campus.

Allmon is the Hunter R. Rawlings III Professor of Paleontology at Cornell.  He also runs Ithaca’s Museum of the Earth.

I’m excited to hear what Professor Allmon has to say.  A couple years back, Allmon argued in the pages of Evolution: Education and Outreach that evolution educators must begin by understanding the reasons for resistance, not just riding roughshod over it.  As he put it,

This multiplicity of causes [for rejecting evolution] is not sufficiently appreciated by many scientists, educators, and journalists, and the widespread rejection of evolution is a much more complicated problem than many of these front-line practitioners think it is.

Hear hear!  If you want to hear what Allmon has to say, come on down.  Hope to see you there.