I haven't been giving my blog posts handy labels that could be used for searching purposes. I was good about it with the old blog, but for some reason here I never seem to remember to do it. I'm thinking of going back and editing the posts to do so, if it doesn't look like it will take me too long.

Of course, I have no idea what category that last post would fall under. Grumpy Rant Posted After Reading One Too Many Political Op-Ed Pieces Pretending To Be a News Article? Somehow, I don't think anyone would ever bother trying to read all the posts under that title. Heh.
It seems lately that I have read a lot of articles, news reports, studies, and textbooks that misunderstand exactly what concrete proof is. In some cases, I'm afraid the lack of evidence is deliberate; in others, I have to wonder if this is thanks to the way we teach students how to write essays. The standard for essay writing goes something like this: Choose a topic. Write a thesis. Find evidence from "reliable" sources to support your claim or contention. Submit.

There's an enormous problem with this method. First, it may be that you find, for instance, twenty scholarly journal reports to support your thesis. This would, then, seem to validate your point. Unfortunately, unless you take the time to research the authors thoroughly and follow all their footnotes (assuming they even provide them) to be certain they all used only original source documents, you may in fact have twenty scholarly articles that essentially all quote each other. This is not proof of anything, outside of academic laziness and shenanigans. It also overlooks the possibility that you ignored over forty scholarly journal articles that totally debunked your thesis. Further, unless you fact-check him/her carefully, simply relying on the author's credentials is also a faulty precedent to take. Just because a person claims to be an "authority," it does not necessarily make him so. It doesn't mean he is actually correct or entirely unbiased in his own research. It does not preclude the fact that he may have consciously or subconsciously directed his study in the direction he wanted it to go, whether or not it could be fully, factually supported.

Second, we have an additional problem with whether the data collected genuinely indicates the conclusions drawn. This is where I find *many* studies and essays fall apart. Even if there isn't a problem with how the research was performed, there is often a huge mistake in how it was applied. In other words, logically-speaking, the arguments presented don't stand, once a person carefully thinks things through instead of accepting it all at face-value. (As a side-bar, I have many times also found studies do not mathematically add up.)

Unfortunately, many people are all-too-ready to quote any study, article, or research that fits their pre-conceived opinions. And since we all grew up "learning" that as long as someone states something and then gives "proper quotes" to support himself, he must be correct, we don't evaluate things the way we should. Journalists in particular fall into this trap far too often. Perhaps it is because they are in a rush to get the scoop, but it seems that they feel as long as they have any research or expert quotes to support them, they've done their job. The reliability and credibility of the researcher hardly comes into question - as long as he has the stamp of approval gained by the correct college or university degree, he is considered a "good" source. One would think, when college students who are polled overwhelmingly and consistently admit to cheating, (calling into question the worthiness of many of the degrees awarded), that we would put less credence in these so-called experts and do more research ourselves, but instead, the opposite seems to be the case - we not only accept these "experts," we even rely on "fact-checking" websites and reporters to confirm things for us, taking them at their word simply because they claim to be "neutral" or "non-biased." It is a strikingly dangerous way to get our news and information.

So what can we do?

1. Teach our children to evaluate EVERYTHING critically. There really is no 100% always reliable source, especially when it comes to politicians and the media. If they read a news article or report, have them ask themselves the following questions.
  • Does the data presented fully support the conclusions as stated?
  • Who provided the data and where is the original source?
  • Any time math is involved in any way, can it be tested and verified?
  • Is the article presenting fact or opinion?
  • Can the same data lead to entirely different conclusions, and if so, does the author acknowledge this?

2. Teach our children statistics. This should be a required course for high school graduation. Our children need to fully understand statistics. Often, simply armed with that knowledge alone, they can see where a lot of information reported through the media is not accurate.

3. Teach our children what editorializing is and why reporters who engage in it outside of the editorial page should not be considered reliable. Editorializing involves using emotive words to sway opinion. For instance, a reporter can say, "The teachers' strike entered week two, as both sides continue to clash over certain issues." While the word "clash" is descriptive, it is not used to encourage readers to feel a certain way about the issue; that is, to favor one side over the other. On the other hand, a reporter who says, "The hard-working, beleaguered teachers continue to struggle against the policies adopted by the school district, hoping to gain more public support as they take to the streets in a strike." is using certain key words to stir emotions in his readers. "Hard-working," "beleaguered," and "struggle" are all used in a way to make the teachers appear downtrodden and deserved of sympathy and support. This sort of reporting is sometimes blatant and obvious, but more often than not, it is rather subtle. Children need to learn to recognize it for what it is, so that they can dismiss the attempt at making them think or feel a certain way about an issue.

4. Teach children to question the questioners. When data is collected, the questions asked while the research is conducted need to be entirely neutral and without potential bias. As an example, let's suppose a political group decides it wants to "prove" that a certain other group is "racist." It does this by calling a random sampling of people and asking whether they identify with this other group, and then asking, "Do you think Hispanic immigrants to America should learn English?" Because more people in the group say "yes" than the population as a whole, the conclusion is, "This group is racist."

This sort of academic dishonesty should not be tolerated, much less perpetuated, and its presence can be determined by evaluating the questions asked. In our example, the problem is three-fold. First, it doesn't ask if a person believes all immigrants should learn English, if it is not their native language, and why he might feel this way. Second, it takes the answer of some respondents and uses it to label the group as a whole - a logical fallacy. Third, it operates off the assumption that a "yes" answer is inherently racist. It does not allow for other perspectives, such as one that believes that language is specifically designed to allow one person to communicate with another and that, as such, speaking the same language overcomes a huge barrier to truly understanding one another. A person with that perspective may be, in fact, demonstrating the opposite of a racist view-point, instead indicating a desire to connect with and communicate with others. His belief that all immigrants should learn English is not based on racism, but on the fact that the only other option would be to suggest that everyone learn a dozen or more languages in order to communicate effectively and fully, a much less viable solution. The "study" however, gives him no room to explain his position and brands him a "racist" for his answer. If that study is validated by the general public, in the form of acceptance through media and other sources, the group involved has been maligned without genuine proof. Our children need to see how often this very thing happens and recognize the signs of improper and unsupportable research being used to discredit or harm others, push certain political issues or candidates, and/or generate popularity for specific policies and ideas.

5. Encourage our children to always go to the source whenever possible. If the source is not provided, treat any information as potentially suspect. The best example of this is the Affordable Health Care act. Many people claim to know what is in it and what it is all about, yet few people actually read the bill or law. (FYI: Yes, I did read it. All of it. It was long and mind-numbing, but, contrary to what some of our lawmakers claimed, it was not too difficult to understand.)

It is one thing to refer to oneself as informed and educated. It is often something else entirely to actually be either. Reading the newspaper or watching TV or visiting websites, without critically evaluating and testing the facts as presented is not "informed." Memorizing some facts long enough to regurgitate them on an exam, writing essays as described above (absent the careful checking of all sources), reading only the required textbook and not fact-checking the material and information presented - these things do not make a person "educated," regardless of the degree or diploma he may earn from doing so. Make sure your children know the difference and make sure they become strong critical thinkers. Our country's future really does depend upon it.
If you tried to visit the website earlier today and couldn't get it to load, I apologize. The domain name is registered with Go Daddy, and so, along with many, many, many other people out there, my site went down thanks to a hacker who went after Go Daddy. It really is a shame there are people out there who are that smart but utterly lacking in any sense of real principles and so they run around causing trouble like this. (I know they rationalize their actions, but that's all it is in the end - rationalizations.) They are nothing more than cyber vandals.

Please note, if you haven't already, you might want to bookmark (or like) the Facebook page or Twitter page. If our site ever goes down like this again, it will be the only way I can update you. Of course, if these special little snowflakes decide to go after Facebook and Twitter, then I suppose we're out of luck!
Here's an interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher EducationWith 'Access Codes,' Textbook Pricing Gets More Complicated Than Ever.

While I very much appreciate the online "textbook companion sites" that offer things like quizzes and flashcards, the one time I purchased an "access code" for a textbook site, I was decidedly underwhelmed. This was especially true because my access only lasted for 6 months. I just wasn't worth the price, IMHO.

Google, "textbook costs" and you will find dozens of articles of the same theme - "Why do college textbooks cost so much?" It's a problem. Everyone knows it's a problem. Even the GAO got involved with an investigation. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that potential solutions, such as Flat World Knowledge, will ever go main-stream. I read not too long ago a comment by a college professor explaining the amount of work that goes into writing a college textbook and why they should cost as much as they do. (Interestingly, she didn't seem to grasp the question posed to her; that is, has the amount of work somehow increased so much from the 1970s and 1980s that it would explain the jump in price that is more than doubled the rate of inflation?) My thought, though, is quite frankly, "Just how many introductory biology textbooks does the world really need?" I own 5 introductory geology textbooks and there are many more out there on the market. The thing is, they really aren't that much different when it comes to content. Yes, they have different photos and may introduce different topics in different orders, but for the most part, they all teach the same thing. Perhaps part of the "work involved" on the side of the authors would be to determine whether or not there is a genuine need for the book they intend to write?

One of the great things about using testing to earn college credits is that you do not have a "required textbook." Not only do you save a bundle on tuition costs, you can also save a lot of money with textbooks as well. You have the option of not buying a textbook at all, or buying a used previous edition, often for less than $10 including shipping. When you supplement your studies with resources found online and at your local library, you can gain a thorough knowledge of your chosen subject matter, without breaking the bank.
So, I have a cold. I caught it from my husband, who got over his in about two days. Me? Not so much. My husband bought me a bag of Vitamin C drops that, according to the packaging, come in "assorted citrus flavor." Is it just me, or should that say "flavors"?

I know I make mistakes all the time. In fact, my joke is that I'm bilingual because I speak fluent English and Typo. I do my best to catch them, but sometimes I see something on the site and think, "Oh, brother! How long has that been like that?"

Sometimes, I get disturbed by the number of mistakes, errors, and typos I see in things that are supposedly professionally produced. Not too long ago I was in a store that had printed signs that read, "Take an ADITTIONAL 50% off." (Yes, I do have photographic evidence!) I couldn't decide what was more unfortunate - that someone had spelled "additional" that way, in all caps no less, or that apparently no one working in the store had noticed. Or maybe they had noticed, but simply didn't care? 

It reminded me again of the importance of editing my own work. If you come across something that needs fixing or cleaning up here at HC USA, please don't hesitate to point it out to me. The conventions of grammar and spelling were created and set down to make sure that as little as possible was left to chance when it came to understanding what is being written or said. I want to adhere to that notion as much as possible. I can be hard enough to understand as it is. I don't need to go making things worse with incomprehensible, typo-filled "explanations." :)

Good news in the Geography department. The book I'd found earlier online at Flat World Knowledge is no longer missing the pictures and graphics. It can now be used to replace the missing PASS textbook.

(Yay! Once again, the internet has not failed me!)
If you dropped in on the blog for info about the new website, just scroll down to the previous post. (This is actually true for the PASS textbooks as well.)

Meanwhile, back at the farm...

Earlier tonight, my husband walked in and set a few books down on my desk and without really thinking, I reached out and straightened them so they were perfectly lined up with the edge of the desk. It wasn't until after I did it that I thought, "Uh, who am I trying to impress here? The dogs?"

Last year, as I was finishing my own degree at TESC, I took a class that had a series of lecture videos. I took copious notes, but when I made a mistake, I didn't simply cross it out. I didn't scribble it out. I used Liquid Paper. Seriously. These were just my notes. Nothing I had to turn in or share with anyone or... well, frankly, I'll probably never look at them again now that the class is done. But I still corrected all my mistakes with Liquid Paper. Who does that?

I even have a hang-up about writing in books. I will not do it. No marks, no highlighting, nothing. If I drop a pen and leave a little mark on a page, I cringe. I blame this on my public school upbringing. Every year when we were issued our textbooks, we were given dire warnings about punishments and fines if we turned the books back in at the end of the year with any kind of markings. I was so paranoid about it, the first day of school I would go through every one of my books and make a note if their previous (temporary) owners had disobeyed the rules, and if I found something, I would show it to the teacher and make sure she/he acknowledged this wasn't my fault. Can you imagine what those teachers must have thought? "Oh, boy. This one's gonna be a load of fun in my class this year."

I buy a lot of used books now. And when those books are textbooks, they often have highlighting and/or notes in the margins. Sometimes? I have to resist the urge to reach for the Liquid Paper. I guess my frugal tendencies beat out my OCD, though, because I'll take the marked-up, scribbled-in $14 textbook over the neat-n-clean-n-new $140 textbook any day. My favorite resource is Amazon, and so that's why I often link to them when I search for inexpensive textbooks and post what I find, but there are other choices and I absolutely encourage you to check them out. Barnes and Noble has a used seller market, for instance, and there's Alibris, as well.

Total confession time: The OCD thing? Yeah. I've even caught myself straightening books and pictures in other people's homes. *face palm*
Real quick note: If you haven't already done so, READ THIS POST with information about how to order the PASS textbooks for free on CD.

I spoke with some terrific ladies last night and was reminded again of my tendency to assume people know things they may not actually know. My problem is, I've been doing this for so long now, I think some things are "common knowledge," when they are, in fact, no such thing.

If you haven't seen the note on my "About Me" page, I have been working on a new website. I originally planned to write a book, but got frustrated with all the edits I had to keep making because of changes in school policies or tests or anything else and I finally realized, by the time my book would be ready for publishing, it would already need a second edition. And if you haven't guessed it so far, one of my big bugaboos is the whole idea of the constant new editions in textbooks that keep the prices so scary high.

So instead, I decided to put together a second website that I could update as often as necessary. The new site will be much more focused on actually obtaining your degree specifically through Thomas Edison State College, by guiding you through it step-by-step. It will show you how to put together a degree plan and explain such concepts as PLAs (Prior Learning Assessments) and Learner-Designed Areas of Study (Choose-your-own-major!). I am anticipating a go-live date of October 1st. I have chosen to focus on TESC because this is the school I am most familiar with. Eventually, I would like to add information for Charter Oak and Excelsior as well.

What does this all mean to you right now? If you've got questions, now would be a great time to ask! I am working on the FAQ page for the new site and would love to be able to answer your questions, rather than simply assume I know ahead of time what they will be. You can use the contact form here to let me know.
*Bangs head on desk*

I don't know what prompted me to do it, but I went and checked some of the PASS books links on the Wayback Machine. In particular, mathematics. Pre-Algebra was there. Mathematics 2 was there. Algebra? Nope. Click on one of the algebra links and you get an error message. Oh, joy.

But, there is some good news. First, SAS just launched a new Algebra 1 course. (Scroll down a little on the page and there's a box on the right-hand side of the screen you can click on.) Second, between CK-12 and Khan Academy alone, there's lots of algebra stuff available, even without the PASS book. Don't forget, too, that you can still order the CDs for free and get the PASS algebra 1a, 1b and a third book just called "Algebra 1," plus their TEs.

Meanwhile, as soon as I can, I will check all the Wayback Machine links and make sure they are working, or pull them their corresponding HC USA page.
So... I switched here to Weebly some time ago, because I liked all they have to offer. Their free hosting is phenomenal by itself, but the paid hosting is even better and extremely affordable.

Last night I decided that, by golly, I was going to figure out what I could do so that the problem with the blog comments not showing up would be fixed. I tried several things before finally throwing in the towel and submitting a support request.

Robin from Weebly didn't just give me some kind of form answer like those typically generated by support tickets at so many different sites. (You know the kind. They're based on key words in your request and most of the time don't even answer your question.) No, she actually fixed the problem for me. How totally awesome is that?  Hmmm... Robin, if you for some reason see this and you're a guy, my apologies for the gender assumption!

If you have a website hosted somewhere else, I urge you to look into moving it to Weebly. If you are thinking of starting one, even just as a personal blog, again, look at Weebly. This isn't about referrals or anything. I don't even know if they have a referral program, and if you do sign up, you absolutely don't have to mention me or HC USA if asked. I tried to count up the number of web hosts I have had over the years, and there have been at least 9. Probably more that I simply don't remember. None of them have ever impressed me as much as Weebly has. Yeah. They're THAT good.