Five ideas in chemical education that must die

The following are a series of blogs by Eric Scerri that I think are of interest to the chemistry and chemical education community.  There are five in total and I will update them when the last one is published.

  1. Five ideas in chemical education that must die.
  2. Five ideas in chemical education that must die – part two.
  3. Five ideas in chemical education that must die – part three.
  4. Five ideas in chemical education that must die – part four


“The Value Of Wisdom”

A Meditation for 23 August, 2015, the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year B), based on Song of Solomon 2: 8 – 13, James 1: 17 – 27, and Mark 7: 1 – 8, 14 – 15, 21 – 23

The other day, a blogging friend and colleague (Allan R. Bevere) posted a cartoon showing Jesus telling the four Gospel writers, “If you all don’t pay attention, we’re going to end up with four different versions of this miracle!” And on the side of the cartoon is a little boy holding a basket with 2 loaves of bread and 5 fish.

The catch in this cartoon is that, as best as we can figure, no one was taking notes about what transpired during the three years of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Mark began his Gospel some forty years or so after the fact; Matthew and Luke borrowed heavily from what Mark wrote; and John wrote his Gospel much, much later. All four of the Gospels relied on what people had been saying over the years between the occurrence of the Gospels and when they were written.

Now, I knew that there were four versions of the feeding of the multitudes but I had found out when I began writing this piece that didn’t remember using John 6: 1 – 21 in any of the messages I have prepared over the past twenty years.

Now, before you frantically turn in your New Testament (you remember where you put it, I hope), this is John’s version of the feeding of the multitude. I think that because I focus so much on Matthew’s telling of the story and the fact that there are two stories in Matthew, I forgot that I have used the story in John on several occasions (five times in the past 15 years, including a couple of weeks ago). I also found out that is Luke’s version of the feeding that is not included in the lectionary.

Memory is a funny thing. If you don’t reinforce it, you are likely to forget what it is that you wanted to remember. I can, without much problem, give the first twenty elements of the periodic table in order. And I know most of the elements on the table, simply because it has been a part of my life for almost forty years now.

Even with all the work I have done preparing sermons, messages, and blog posts, chemistry is still my primary interest. So it is not surprising that I sometimes don’t remember what I have written with regards to the lectionary verses for each week. This single cartoon has reminded me that I need to pay just a little bit more attention to the lectionary verses each week and to be little more studious in the coming days.

One of the biggest problems we have today is our willingness to seek an immediate solution, without really understanding what the problem is. Our response to so many problems is something akin to the “old” saying, “A child with a hammer thinks everything looks like a nail” (from “A Collection Of Sayings”). We don’t stop to think about what the problem is and what has to be done to solve the problem.

Over the next few weeks, the Old Testament Reading will come from the section of the Old Testament knows as the “wisdom” section. In one sense, this is, for me, the best part of the Old Testament because it focuses on how we think. This section of the Old Testament bridges the history and law portions of the Old Testament with the prophecies. As you read the various books in this section, you are giving an alternative view to wisdom and an understanding of the nature of God. There is very little mention of God in the Song of Solomon or the books of Proverbs, Esther, Ruth, or Job, the books in the revised common lectionary that will be the source of the Old Testament reading for the next few weeks (from “Forgotten Books”).

Note added on 30 August – “James is a collection of early Jewish Christian wisdom materials.  As with the earlier wisdom writings, it emphasizes wisdom not so much as what one knows about God, but how one lives in response to God.”  (From (I believe) Ministry Matters)

This section shows that there is more to life than simply a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. It also shows that there is a view of the world that does not necessarily end in tragedy and gloom.

The Song of Solomon reveals its treasures to the patient reader who approaches the book on its own terms, searching for and meditating on its meaning. (from “What Does It Mean?”)

Jesus challenges the Pharisees and religious scholars about their rigorous attention to the ritual hand-washing, almost to the point of ignoring the meal. Don’t get me wrong, there are some sound and very good scientific reasons for washing your hands before each meal (and you can hear every mother in this country saying, “see, I told you so.”).

I am sure that if we were to somehow trace the origin of this rule about washing one’s hands before a meal, we would find that is was developed for sanitary reasons. But, as is often the case, this reason got lost over the course of time. And when that happened, it lost its meaning. As Jesus pointed out, the ritual act of hand-washing is meaningless if what comes out of your mouth is dirty and polluted. It does little to wash the dirt and slime off your hands if your heart is not clean, for all that you touch will still be dirty.

Jesus’ point was that you had better understand what the act of washing was meant to do and then turn your life around. Paul, in the portion of his letter to the Ephesians that is part of the lectionary for today, points out that you have to act on what you hear. The catch here, of course, is that you have to distinguish between the Good and the evil. Paul also points out anyone can “talk a good game” but only through acting out your words can the true good be found.

In the end, we are tasked with knowing the Word and then acting out the Word. The closing words of the passage from Ephesians today remind us that our primary task in this world is to “reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against the corruption from the godless world.”

The value of wisdom is first remember that and then doing that.

Daily Devotional: Not Called to Warfare But to Witness


Great thoughts, which I hope echo what I said earlier this week!

Originally posted on progressiveredneckpreacher:

The truth is like a lion you don't have to defend it let it loose it will defend itselfPsalm 35 is a call for God to fight and defend his hurting children.

So often we get this backwards in our society, believing God calls us to fight and defend God’s honor. So we raise Cain about the Bible and Christianity being in dishonor, waging little culture wars with others around us.   Mostly those are non-violent, but at times they sure do break out in violence – not just the violence of terrorists from the Middle East (which is an expression of this same desire to defend God) but also in home-grown acts of violence and discrimination.

joan of arcGod does not call us to defend God here, as if God is a helpless child in need of a grownup like us to take her or him by the hand, lead them to safety, and run off her or his bullies. No, God is depicted as able to take care of…

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“Notes On The Common Core”

I would be most interested in your thoughts on this topic.


The problem with the Common Core (or Common Core State Standards Initiative as it more properly known) is not that it is a federally imposed mandate (which it is not) but because it was implemented without prior notice or proper preparation and training. And when any program begins without prior notice, training, or preparation it will probably fail.

There is also a historical basis to the problems associated with the Common Core Initiative and that was the now infamous “No Child Left Behind” legislation. While the NCLB legislation may have been well intended, its implementation has proven a disaster. And the efforts to repair that damage have been as equally disastrous.

A second point to consider is that we had some of the answers to many of our educational problems some fifty years ago when we began what we called the “space race.” But when we won that “race”, the money for education was diverted to the war in Viet Nam and the solutions in place began to disappear.

Let the reader understand that, for me, education is not only the learning of information (which I believe is the present and sole emphasis of the educational process) but the learning of skills that will allow the student to learn on their own, both in and outside the classroom. In essence, the educational process is self-eliminating; we teach our students in such a way that they can begin learning on their own.

Now, I realize this is not always possible. What is possible for a young adult of sixteen is not necessarily possible for a child of seven or eight but we cannot necessarily simply teach for the next year (as happens now).

I also think that we need to think about education at the highest possible level. Right now, our educational process focuses on a rather low-level, ensuring that all children pass. If we shift the focus to a higher level, we can still make sure that all children pass but also have the necessary and proper skills for life outside the classroom.

So how do we achieve a solution where all children receive an equal education, that allows them to achieve whatever they wish to seek (which may not necessarily be what their parents want) and have education be, as Indira Gandhi noted,

. . . a liberating force, and in our age . . . democratizing force, cutting across the barriers of caste and class, smoothing out inequalities imposed by birth and other circumstances.”

We begin by recognizing that there are two sets of goals inherent in teaching children. The first are the goals met during a particular time frame and which allow the child to progress through the educational system. What we also have to realize is that each child learns at their own rate and we have to be careful to keep that in mind and not forcing the child to learn at a rate that they cannot keep up.

Second, there are a set of cumulative goals. These are the goals that represent the sum of the period goals and represent what a person needs requires for success in society.

We must also realize that if we want the highest possible results, we cannot keep up the “test now” attitude. Learning takes place and the only way you are going to know if someone has learned something is to ask them later, say six months after they have learned it. (And the research shows this is most often true. People may understand during class that all objects fall at the same rate but when you ask them later, they revert to the heavier objects fall faster answer.)

An emphasis must also be place on the teaching of thinking skills. This does not end the need for learning information but changes the emphasis from simply knowing information to using the information.

Learning must become an active process as opposed to the passive process that takes place now. And this is especially true in the STEM areas. Right now, in most instructional practices, the student reads the material, do some practice problems, and then take a test over the material. I cannot say whether this approach works in other areas such as English and social studies but it does not do well in mathematics and the various sciences.

A more active approach would be to have the students explore an area of interest (which would be a natural extension of their normal behavior) and develop a concept to explain what they have observed. The teacher/instructor can be the leader or students can do it on their own.

After identifying the concept and relating it to a broader scheme, the students are evaluated. This approach allows the learner to develop the necessary thinking skills as well as calling into play previous learning experiences.

Now, I realize that this method uses far more resources than current methods but we have to realize that a cheap education is

not necessarily a good education. If we are to obtain the desired effects, we must realize that the current funding plan for most schools does not work.

Right now, the economic status of a school district determines the educational content and outcome of the schools in the district. And we have seen that, over the years, money spent on education today yields better economic effects tomorrow.

To go back to the beginning, there really is no problem with the Common Core Initiative; there was and is a problem with its implementation. And we have to realize that the solution to the present problem will not be resolved overnight or next week because we have allowed things to really get screwed up.

We will need to do the following:

  1. Equalize school funding, both across state levels and across the nation. If this means taking funds from the defense and national security establishment, so be it. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”
  2. Make sure that teachers in the classroom are well-prepared to undertake the changes being implemented. This means taking more than just a few days before the beginning of the school year and also that it will be an ongoing process from the first day of employment.
  3. Make sure that the parents and guardians of the students are part of the process. It does no good to make changes in the classroom if they are not understood at home. This will need the involvement of the parents and guardians because they will need to know how things work (and how they have changed from when they were in school; we cannot simply teach children today the way their parents and grandparents were taught).
  4. Finally, society as a whole needs to understand what education means. Education can no longer be a secondary issue in the thought and decision-making process of society. Right now, we need to shift our funds from tasks that ultimately result in the destruction of things to tasks that construction of things.