Homeschooling In Israel

A shelf with books in Hebrew (click for credit)

Many people think that homeschooling is unique to the United States. However, nothing could be further from the truth! Homeschooling is a worldwide phenomenon. For example, I have spoken at homeschooling conventions in Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Thailand. In addition, I have spoken to homeschoolers in one country that I can’t mention because it is illegal to homeschool there. In my interactions with homeschooling families all over the world, I have seen lots of differences. In South Korea, for example, many families homeschool because they think the school system is far too demanding. In high school, for example, South Koreans use the “five hour rule,” which states that if a high school student gets even five hours of sleep a night, he or she will not be able to go to college. On the other hand, many homeschoolers in the United States (myself included) choose to homeschool because the schools are not demanding enough of their students.

Despite the differences among homeschoolers worldwide, there are many similarities. One example of this comes from a country that I have not yet visited: Israel. Two senior lecturers from Western Galilee College in Akko, Israel recently published a small study in which they interviewed 30 Israeli homeschooling mothers to find out why they homeschool and what benefits they have seen as a result of homeschooling. While reading the paper, I was struck by the similarities between homeschooling in Israel and homeschooling here in the U.S.

For example, the mothers generally thought that homeschooling made their children more inquisitive. I find that is true of homeschooled students in the U.S. as well. I teach at a university where there are some homeschool graduates (and some who are still being homeschooled) as well as a lot of public and private school graduates. I find that the homeschool graduates are significantly more likely to participate in class, and they are even more likely to ask me questions that go well beyond the requirements of the course. The homeschoolers are simply more inquisitive than their peers.

The mothers in the study also thought that their children had more self-confidence and weren’t afraid of being labelled as “different.” This is something I see with homeschooled students all over the world. Regardless of the culture they are in, homeschooled students are more likely to challenge the “norms” of the culture and do what they think is right, regardless of what their peers think. In my opinion, that is one of the major benefits of homeschooling. In this era where people actively seek to punish and even harm you if you rebel against the groupthink that has infected the culture, it is more important than ever to produce young people who are willing to be different.

By far the most important benefit that these mothers identified was that their children were not poisoned with age prejudice. This is also true of homeschoolers throughout the world. Group schooling (government or private) promotes the idea that students should only make friends with people who are roughly their own age. After all, children spend most of their school day cloistered away in ghettos, surrounded by children who are roughly their own age. As a result, they don’t get much experience interacting with people of other ages. Homeschooling is generally quite different.

While homeschooled children will spend some time with friends their own age, they tend to spend most of their time with family members, which span the age spectrum. In addition, when homeschooling groups get together, all ages are generally included. This produces a very healthy environment for socialization that is sadly lacking in most schools. As a result, homeschooled children are more likely to socialize with people of all ages. I remember being struck by this the very first homeschooling event that I attended. I saw the high-school students playing with the elementary kids and actually enjoying themselves. I also had young people introducing themselves to me and engaging in conversation. I have spent time with students of all backgrounds throughout my teaching career, but I almost never see healthy, age-independent socialization except when I am at a homeschooling event.

Despite these similarities, there are differences between homeschooling mothers in the U.S. and the homeschooling mothers in this study. For example, none of the mothers mentioned any religious motivations for homeschooling. While the number of mothers in this study is small, I would suspect that if if the same study were done in the U.S., the majority of mothers would have included religion as at least part of their motivation for homeschooling. Also, while it might have been an artifact of the study, there was no mention of academic achievement. The mothers mentioned many benefits of homeschooling, but academic achievement was not among them. Once again, had this study been done in the U.S., I would suspect that academic achievement would have been mentioned by several mothers.

In the end, it seems that homeschoolers around the world have some differences among them, but those differences pale in comparison to the things that they have in common. I hope more research like this is done, because the more we learn about homeschooling, the more we see its benefits worldwide!

Is This Object from an Alien Spacecraft?

An artist’s impression of the strange object named ʻOumuamua (click for credit)

On October 19th of last year, Dr. Robert J Weryk discovered a new object in the night sky. It was too small and far away to appear as anything but a tiny speck of light in the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope, but it was definitely moving. Subsequent analysis of its path shows that it may not be a part of our solar system. Based on its trajectory and speed, it probably originated in interstellar space and is just “passing through” the solar system.

If that’s true, it is the first object from interstellar space that has ever been seen by human researchers. Its technical name hasn’t been quite decided, since it is apparently the first of its kind. However, its name will start with “I1” – “I” for interstellar and “1” for the first one seen. However, it has been “nicknamed” ʻOumuamua, which is derived from the Hawaiian word for “scout.”

Once again, it is too small and far away to be seen as anything but a white dot in our most powerful telescopes. Indeed, there are many telescopes that cannot even see it, because it doesn’t produce enough light. However, based on the wavelengths of light that it reflects from the sun, it is thought to be red in color, highly elongated, and probably flat. That leads to the artist’s impression shown at the top of the post. Once again, these inferred characteristics are not the result of direct observation but, instead, are based on calculations that explain the wavelengths of light we receive from the object when it is viewed at different times.

Why am I blogging about this? Partly, because it may very well be the first interstellar object we have observed in our solar system. Any first discovery like that is important. The other reason is because of something suggested by Harvard astronomers Shmuel Bialy AND Abraham Loeb. They offer some scenarios that explain both the characteristics and the interstellar origin of the object. Among them:

Alternatively, a more exotic scenario is that ‘Oumuamua may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization. (emphasis theirs)

Since I am on my way to speak at a science fiction convention (something I do almost every year), I thought it was only appropriate to write about it. Dr. Weryk (the object’s discoverer) disagrees, as do I. Nevertheless, I plan to work this in to at least one of the panel discussions on which I am participating this weekend!

Meet The New Apex Predator

A portion of the wind farm that was analyzed in the study being discussed (click for credit)

An apex predator is defined as a predator with no natural predators. People, lions, killer whales, and bears are typical examples. Now we can add one more to the list: wind turbines. Research indicates that in the U.S. alone, wind turbines are responsible for killing more than half a million birds every year. More than 80,000 of those birds are raptors, the former apex predators of the air.

While China and the U.S. lead the world in the amount of power generated by wind farms, India is not too far behind. As a result, a group of researchers from the Indian Institute of Science decided to study the ecological impacts of wind turbines. They analyzed turbines that have been installed in an Indian Mountain Range called the Western Ghats. Some of those wind turbines are pictured above. Specifically, they wanted to see if the predatory nature of wind turbines had other effects on the local ecosystem. Not surprisingly, it did.

First, they found that predator birds were four times less likely to be in the areas where wind turbines are installed compared to areas where they are not installed. That’s not surprising. Animals tend to avoid areas where they are preyed upon. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Animals tend to flock to places where they will not be preyed upon. As a result, the population of fan-throated lizards (a favorite meal of predator birds in the area) is significantly higher around wind turbines.

Interestingly enough, the effect of wind turbines was not limited to populations. The lizards’ behavior changed as well. Apparently, life is so carefree for the lizards living near the wind turbines that they have lost some of their fear of predators in general. The researchers tried to simulate predator attacks and found that they could get significantly closer to lizards that live near the wind turbines than they could get to lizards living where there are no wind turbines. Based on subsequent blood tests, the researchers concluded that lizards living near wind turbines have significantly less corticosterone (a stress hormone) in their blood.

So in the end, the ecological effect of wind farms goes beyond the slaughter of birds (and bats). It “trickles down” the food chain as well. The authors say:

By adding an effective trophic level to the top of food webs [by being an apex predator], we find that wind farms have emerging impacts that are greatly underestimated. There is thus a strong need for an ecosystem-wide view when aligning green-energy goals with environment protection. (bracketed statement mine)

I predict that as more research is done, we will see many more unexpected ecological effects from wind farms.

Another Failed Evolutionary Prediction

A common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster (click for credit)

The acid test of a scientific theory is whether or not it can make testable predictions about things that are not known. If it can’t, it isn’t really a scientific theory. If it can, those predictions should be tested by observation or experiment. If the results of the test confirm the predictions, you can have more faith in the theory. If they do not, you must either alter your theory or abandon it. One of the main reasons I am a creationist is that creationism has made many testable predictions, and many of those predictions have been confirmed. In fact, creationism has a much better track record when it comes to confirmed predictions than does evolution (see here and here).

Recently, I ran across another study that demonstrates another failed prediction of evolutionary theory. It studied the alcohol dehydrogenase protein (ADH) as made by fruit flies. Fruit flies often consume alcohol because they feed on rotting materials, and the ADH they make allows them to do that. How do they make ADH? They have a gene that gives the necessary instructions to the cell. That gene is, in effect, a “recipe” for ADH.

Studies have already shown that the common fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) tends to feed on alcohol-rich things (like rotting fruit) more than a similar fruit fly, Drosophila simulans. The evolutionary explanation that has always been given for this fact is that these two fruit flies had a common ancestor, and that ancestor had a gene that made less efficient ADH. As a result, the common ancestor didn’t eat alcohol-rich things.

The evolutionary line that led to the common fruit fly experienced mutations in the ADH gene, and those mutations ended up making the ADH more efficient. Natural selection then caused those fruit flies to survive, because they could now survive by eating a lot of rotting fruit, while the other flies could eat only a little rotting fruit. That process continued over time, eventually leading to the common fruit fly we see today, which eats a lot of rotting fruit. In evolutionary biology lingo, we would say that the common fruit fly underwent “positive selection” in its ADH gene, while the other fruit fly did not.

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