[CESElist] Promoting Student Inquiry Session at Fall AGU

smossavi6585 at charter.net smossavi6585 at charter.net
Tue Jul 31 22:54:22 MDT 2007

You ask a good question which I will try to answer based on my impressions and 
experiences working with MN state universities compared to schools in NY, New 
England and Tulane in New Orleans. 
The over riding factor involved in MN is something you get a good sense of when 
listening to Garrison Keillor in a Prairie Home Companion with the tales from 
Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, etc. Minnesota is a state 
that views itself as having a strong educational system...a view held so 
strongly that data is neither sought nor accepted that might contradict this 
premise. While this is certainly not true of all Minnesotans, particularly those 
that have spent time in other parts of the country,...it is a dominant 
characteristic within the state university system from which most teachers 
receive their training. Many of these institutions actively seek to hire faculty 
regionally if not entirely from within their own state's boundaries, often 
breaking the academic taboo of hiring their own graduates in LARGE numbers. 
Ideas from other institutions outside MN are resisted if not outright rejected 
as not fitting with MN value and ways of doing things. The result is a closed 
minded academic culture in which no problem is perceived to exist, thereby 
averting any change. (By contrast...the MN Department of Natural Resources takes 
a strong role in professional development of Earth Science teachers through 
summer workshops. Of course...the DNR is responsible for lands and minerals and 
has an active interest in promoting strong public education about the earth 
sciences. The education folks in MN, by contrast, fundamentally don't get the 
earth science argument...just as they struggle with the concept that MN schools 
increasingly serve non-English speaking students who don't fit the MN model. As 
long as MN and its students look good compared to the Dakotas, MN is happy not 
to look further beyond its borders. (Interestingly...there is silence in 
comparisons to Wisconsin the Canadian provinces whose students arrive in MN 
colleges generally better prepared than MN's own children. It's an inconvenient 
truth that is left unspoken and therefore ignored.) MN suffers from 
provincialism combined with an unhealthy dose of arrogance which is allowed to 
persist in the large part of the population with no interest in ever leaving the 
New York schools, by contrast, for years have had to deal with strong school 
systems in New England and the mid-Atlantic states with whose graduates NY 
students must compete for jobs. NY has also had to deal with ethnic and cultural 
diversity which precludes the notion that there is one RIGHT way to do things 
which cannot be questioned by "outsiders". 
Working at Tulane has really provided an eye opening experience here, when one 
looks at what should and should not be taught in science classes regarding 
intelligent design, etc. Tulane students...drawn from a national audience, show 
a view of science education related to controversial issues different from the 
pre-service teachers coming out of the MN state university system. While the 
data have not yet been published...the vast majority of Tulane students stress 
the separation of church and state as a factor in education. In the MN state 
schools examined, a MAJORITY of the pre-service teachers would teach creationism 
and intelligent design in science classes despite being MORE familiar with the 
standards than the Tulane students. 
MN's problem is not hostility to earth science or even science per se. It is an 
unwillingness to look to the wider world and its practices to ground truth their 
judgements of their education system. Such bubbles exist in other areas of the 
country I am sure and form a VERY strong argument for a greater role in 
education for national standards and accrediting agencies. 
Does this help? Dean Moosavi 

More information about the CESElist mailing list