Russell's Blog

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High school chemistry now illegal

Posted by Russell on March 05, 2006 at 1:06 p.m.
People wonder what is wrong with elementary and high school education in America. Yet, if one is interested in discovering the cause of the decline in the quality of education, one need not look beyond the things we endeavor to keep out of the hands of students. Whether it is because we deem such things offensive, dangerous or "too hard," by denying students and teachers access to the tools, ideas, data and literature necessary to explore the world, we are smothering students.

To wit, it looks like the Consumer Product Safety Commission is trying to outlaw high-school chemistry. They have filed an criminal case against a number of chemical suppliers, including one of my favorite companies, United Nuclear, with the aim of banning the sale of such things as powdered aluminum, powdered zinc, sulfur, nitrate compounds, and a number of other basic compounds and elements, to anyone without an ATF explosives manufacturing license.

Biology teachers have to watch their backs when they teach evolution. If they want to talk about general relativity, or pretty much anything that came along after Issac Newton, physics teachers share with biology and history teachers the sticky "the Earth can't possibly be 6000 years old" problem. English teachers have to watch their backs when they teach banned authors like John Steinbeck, Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Twain and James Joyce. Even James and the Giant Peach can get you in trouble. Math teachers can land themselves in hot water with the DMCA by teaching certain interesting applications of set theory. And, of course, history teachers can get themselves sacked or reprimanded (or at least hauled in front of a PTA court martial) by mentioning such subversive topics as...

  • ...the actual estimated age of the Earth and the means used to calculate it
  • many Arawaks were murdered and mutilated by Christopher Columbus
  • ...the public campaign of multiple genocide carried out by the U.S. Army against several groups Native Americans, including the Sioux (Wounded Knee), Cheyenne and Arapaho (Sand Creek), and many others
  • ...the fact that Native Americans are most closely related to Asians, not Jews (contrary to the assertions of certain folks)
  • ...the idea that Japan may have surrendered to the Allies without the use of nuclear weapons and without an invasion of the Japanese home islands
  • ...evidence and analysis indicating that the campaign of strategic bombing in World War II had little impact on the war-fighting ability of the targeted nations, and that it constituted counterproductive terror tactics
  • ...America's role in sponsoring murder and totalitarianism in South America
  • ...the propensity of some 20th century American policymakers to endorse, sponsor and aid totalitarian regimes in general, and the affinity of these policymakers for the ideals of these regimes
  • ...that even as late as 2003, there was still a segregationist politician in the U.S. Senate
  • ...the ineffectiveness of Wars on $idea or $inanimate_object, with the occasional exception of the failure of Prohibition
Or, for that matter, history teachers can get themselves sued for showing bootleg copies of Eyes on the Prize. Practically the only way to stay out of trouble, if you're teaching history, is to deliberately mis-educate your students by using one of the textbooks reviewed in James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me.

Or, for that matter, if your school happens to be hosting an event for a beverage company, students and teachers might also want to avoid wearing clothes carrying the logos of competing beverage companies. Just, 'cause... you know. It would be disrespectful.

So now it seems that Chemistry teachers are on the list as well. No longer will students be able to perform or observe many titration reaction labs, or watch their teachers demonstrate the relative properties iron an aluminum. Model rocketry would seem to be banned as well. Just how far-reaching the effects of this action remains to be seen.

Maybe they will ban simple bomb calorimeters too, because... you know. They probably have the word "bomb" written on them somewhere. It would be laughable, except that it has already happened.

And we wonder why our children aren't learning.

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