Religious Pseudoscience in America’s Public School Science Classrooms: Jesus Better Make Way for the New Age

[Excerpts from my guest post at The Friendly Atheist.]

A charmingly enthusiastic science teacher from Arkansas just received an award for helping her students learn about nature and environmental sustainability:

Hackler [Intermediate School] is one of six schools in the state winning the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge, sponsored by the Arkansas Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators.

A science and social studies teacher, [Barbara] Penrose is teaching her students much more, such as how make compost and how to grow vegetables to feed their families. Actually, Penrose teaches the fourth-graders more than that; she teaches them to appreciate and care for the environment around them.

… Penrose not only teaches her fourth-graders about protecting the environment and recycling, as you might expect, but also “fun” things like worm composting for the school’s vegetable and butterfly gardens. Though an annual butterfly release, they learn about pollination, and they’re developing a marked nature trail to teach identification of trees, wildflowers, birds, and insects.

Wonderful stuff. I wish my school had been like this!

But wait… we’re not done yet:

Penrose uses more than science to teach the students about planting vegetables, trees and other plants. She brings a few traditional, even old-fashioned gardening tricks and techniques into play.

“We plant by the moon, the kids plant by the Farmers Almanac,” said Penrose. “They do an experiment here planting with the moon and against the moon so they can see what results happen with their seed germination … I want them to understand that people have been farming since way before us, and there is something to it. You don’t have to have all these fertilizers, and again it goes back to saving our environment.”

Using the Farmers Almanac will play a role in the next, and Penrose’s last, big project at Hackler. She said she’s retiring this year, her 18th year. She wants to use the $250 the school received along with the trophy for the Arkansas Green Schools Challenge to plant an apple orchard. Since Hackler’s opening in 2010, many trees have been planted, and replanted, around the school. Penrose wants to do something special this time.

“More” than science? How about “less” than science? I’m curious how she rationalizes the inevitably negative results from her lunar seed germination tests as evidence that it works. The Guardian recently noted in an article about gardening myths that “The Royal Horticultural Society’s science committee cannot find a scientific basis for planting by the moon.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s garden columnist  makes a similar point

To celebrate her retirement, Penrose is holding a tree planting for a small apple orchard at the end of the month:

“The astrology sign is Cancer, and the moon is in the light of the moon, and it needs to be in the light of the moon for flowering trees,” said [Penrose]. “It needs to be under the sign of Cancer, which is the best sign for any planting.”

Oh my… Is that on the test?

I contacted Penrose and school officials for more information on their teaching of astrology and the Farmers’ Almanac and will update this post if I hear back.

The environment is not going to be saved by students who study astrology. It’s going to be saved by students who learn

[Read my full post Religious Pseudoscience in America’s Public School Science Classrooms: Jesus Better Make Way for the New Age at The Friendly Atheist].

3 thoughts on “Religious Pseudoscience in America’s Public School Science Classrooms: Jesus Better Make Way for the New Age

  1. You make some good points here – and I agree. Children should be taught using proven and scientific evidence. But then, what if this teacher’s “experiments” do work? What then? Do we dismiss generations of “knowledge” because, although the results are there for all to see, we can’t explain it with reason and science?
    I look forward to hearing more about this intriguing teacher and her projects.

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    • The results are meaningless either way. We’re talking about a single group of plantings, in one location, compared to another group of plantings, offset by two weeks, in the same location. The sample size is too small, and independent prevailing conditions imposed by the location will skew the results of the whole sample in a uniform way. Concluding anything at all about the influence of the Moon’s phase in such an experiment is pure bunkum.

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  2. i wouldnt be surprised if some plants had at least a small physiological response to the shift in nighttime light levels as the moon changes phases, given that they have a response to seasonal daytime light levels. This astrology stuff is bunk tho. I wish that the green movement didnt attract as much woo as it does.

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