Pharyngula

Here’s an educational opportunity for everyone!

The Community College of Rhode Island [CCRI] has proudly announced that this fall, a “reiki master” will be holding a seminar on “crystal and mineral healing” at the college. This, we’re told, is

…a type of alternative therapy that involves laying crystals or gemstones on the body. Each student will experience a crystal therapy session and get a really good idea about how it changes your energy and rebalances you.

This instructor at CCRI also does “Cranio Sacral Therapy,” and uses such advanced quackery as “Bio Magnets,” “Light Life Tools,” “Dowsing,” and “Pendulums” She assures students that she is also a teacher and practitioner of many other alternative healing methods, and says that crystals have their own “intrinsic energy,” and will “interact with points on the body’s energy field, known as chakras, to promote balance and well-being.” “Each crystal has its own properties and attributes when laid on the body with a specific chakra,” she says. This collection of talents puts her well up in the tree with the top woo-woos, but she’s teaching at CCRI.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Colleges all over the place are peddling this nonense, and you can tell how administrators are thinking: it’s not about providing a good education, it’s all about what the students will pay for…and if they’ll pay for cheap, meaningless crap, so much the better for short-term profitability. Oh, and long-term damage to the school’s reputation? Let the next chancellor or president or board worry about that.

So someone wrote to the Community College of Rhode Island, and Richard H. Coren, Director of Marketing, Communications and Publications replied.

Let that sink in. A complaint was made about the garbage content of courses at the college, and the Director of Marketing wrote back. Marketing. Damme. Let me tell you, when the academic revolution comes, it’s the marketing drones who have the temerity to pontificate on curriculum and content who are going to get shoveled into the “B” Ark first.

Anyway, so Mr Coren, snake-buggering Director of Marketing to Morons, replies:

Students told us they wanted to further their knowledge of alternative healing methods, and the course was designed to introduce students to the practice of crystal and mineral healing. By offering the class, the college and its noncredit arm, CWCE, do not endorse the practice as science; we are simply responding to demand in the community for personal development courses such as this.

It’s not alternative “healing”. It’s not “personal development”. It’s lies and bullshit. And seriously, there’s a point beyond which what students want doesn’t matter. My students wish there wasn’t a calculus and statistics requirement for a degree in biology; tough. Some students might want a credit for watching a five-minute video on youtube; no way. We’re supposed to have standards, and an education is supposed to mean something.

But no, we’ve got marketing directors who see a fast buck in selling out academic integrity.

Let’s not blame only short-sighted bean-counters at the college level, though. Here’s what we have to look forward to: pernicious effects of NCLB, a program which neglects science and encourages mindless teaching-to-the-test, has devastated science education.

It is time to acknowledge that there has been an unprecedented and precipitous decline in science teaching and learning as a consequence of the focus and implementation of No Child Left Behind. We do not need any more commissions or studies to tell us what is strikingly evident — children of the NCLB era, who entered Kindergarten in 2003 and had little or no science education for the next seven years, are not going to do well in science in middle school or beyond. We are losing an entire generation to science illiteracy.

We’re already beginning to see the consequences.

In 2009, PISA found that 15-year-old U.S. students ranked 17th of 34 developed countries in science and 25th of 34 in math. The same study revealed that the U.S. has among the most unequal performance in the world, with achievement levels highly dependent on socio-economic status. Low-income and minority communities are especially hard-hit by lack of access to high-quality science resources. The results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress drive home the severity of the problem – only 18 percent of New York City’s 4th graders and 13 percent of 8th graders performed at or above the proficient level in science.

Over the next six years, as “Generation NCLB” goes through high school, we can expect banner headlines about further drops in science learning and fewer students taking advanced level courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. That will be a precursor to the hue-and-cry from colleges, four years later, about the need for more remedial science and the falling number of American students majoring in sciences of all types, and then a renewed clamor from employers who need appropriately educated workers but cannot find them.

Maybe Mr Coren and my university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing are being foresighted and wise. They’re cultivating the perfect curriculum for a generation of students who lack critical thinking skills, who know nothing about science, and just want to be pandered to with pseudoscience for the gullible.

(Also on FtB)