Currently Browsing: Chemistry

Spelling Isn’t a Matter of Opinion

we didn't just make the word up, ya know

Graham Wegner is annoyed that the rest of the world doesn’t share the same opinion about the spelling of “Celsius.”

In truth, Mr. Wignar, there’s only one way to spell it: Celsius. It isn’t “celcius” today and it won’t be tomorrow. That’s because astronomer Anders Celsius was the first to create a temperature scale with 0 as the freezing point for water and 100 as the boiling point. We pay homage by invoking his name for that system. And, as I’m sure we’d all agree, names aren’t a matter of opinion.

The Fahrenheit system is also named after a guy. We capitalize both Fahrenheit [F] and Celsius [C] because they are names.

Gramm spits some snark toward the oppressive masses that make up Wikipedia:

“I pride myself on my spelling ability. So much that I can get indignant when confronted with the accusation that my lifelong memory of a word is actually incorrect. But who can argue when the Wikipedic wisdom of crowds defines the right spelling for me…”

Well, Grehim, I’m not accusing you, I’m just telling you that you’re 110% wrong and that there’s absolutely no basis for your objection. You could’ve read all the way to the third [!] sentence of the Wikipedia entry on “Celsius” and seen this:

“Celsius” is named after the Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius (1701 – 1744), who developed a similar temperature scale two years before his death.

But you didn’t. You made a cartoon and wrote a blog post instead.

Worghner wraps up with this:

“Luckily for me, perhaps I’m merely contributing to the evolution of the English language…”

Haha! Oh, Grimm, you charming little scamp. That quip is almost as predictable and banal as me spelling your name wrong 5 times in this blog post.

What bothers me most about the post isn’t Wegner’s attempt at the lighthearted/humorous – I’m sure most of his readers chuckled. It’s the 7 comments to his blog post that really concern me.

I’ll summarize them:

  1. Love the hat!
  2. Paragraph citing irrelevant research that has become a pop culture meme
  3. Your hat looks like a pith helmet
  4. I can’t spell accommodation***
  5. Wegner explains that he’s wearing a bucket hat
  6. Commenter mentions something about a surname
  7. Someone posts the full lyrics to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”

The usual drivel – nothing remarkable here. Except for Comment #6, that surname bit, which suggests gently that:

“Well, since it’s a guy’s surname, perhaps we should try to get it right.”

Unfortunately for Commenter Karyn [whose blog is a good read, by the way], no one noticed or cared.

Oh, the Read-Write/Web 2.0 at its finest. It’s not what you publish, it’s just that you participate. Gold stars and hugs for all!

The rest – like the last names of seminal scientists or conceptual/historical links between our everyday term and a man 3 centuries gone – are just pesky details that, as Wegner foreshadows, probably will be lost over time. I just won’t call it “evolution.”

*** There’s a trick for spelling accommodate and its sisters. Say to yourself, “Accommodate is a large enough word to accommodate two Cs and two Ms.” You won’t spell it wrong again.

Vocational Education in Public Schools

welding in shaker heights

The edublogging technocheerleaders say ad nauseam that the most important part of not just blogging but Web 2.0 as a whole is the “conversation.”

One of the many delights I’ve experienced with this site is coming into contact and corresponding with people I’d otherwise never find. I have to assume this is the “conversation” about which I read literally hundreds of articles a month.

Gary Stager of District Administration is largely the black to my white, but I’ve found that fewer – if any – education professionals are more willing to engage in real debate. And the absolute best part is that he’s secure enough to disagree completely in a blog thread or e-mail and not take it personally. After all, education isn’t about us.

Sometimes we match up philosophically – he raised an eyebrow at the Ed in ’08 Kanye Kampaign, too – but in many matters he’s the Douglas to my Lincoln [I couldn't help but choose the better side].

But we’re at philosophical odds again. This time the issue is the value of vocational/technology education.

In “I’m Worried About America,” Stager comments on three current news stories:

  1. Yesterday’s Cleveland school shooting;
  2. Racism and the Jena 6 crimes;
  3. The debate surrounding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program [SCHIP].

I’m not going to comment on 1, 2 or 3 – plenty of other sites address those issues adequately. I’m going to address Stager’s criticism of vocational education.

The shooting in Cleveland took place at SuccessTech Academy, a school in the Cleveland Municipal system that offers technology and vocational training. Stager said:

I do not wish to disparage the SuccessTech Academy where today’s shooting occurred, but it’s a safe bet that few affluent parents in Shaker Heights would choose to send their children there. Many urban schools are being turned into “specialized” career academies where students are “trained” for trades and low-paying jobs never contemplated for children in the suburbs. How many SuccessTech students do you imagine go on to Ivy League universities? (Note: USA Today reports that the school has a 94% graduation rate.)

Affluent parents tend not to choose vocational tracks for their children. That affluent parents insist on a wholly academic track – or that they don’t contemplate the option in the suburbs – does not legitimize it as a better option; it’s simply what they prefer for their kids.

Career academies are on the rise for many reasons, one of which is a failure of urban schools to deliver academic tracks through the 12th grade successfully. Vocational programs build on a curriculum of basic skills to offer a student expertise that guarantees them gainful employment after high school graduation.

I’m not sure why Gary put “trained” in scare quotes as if there is a difference between trained and trained. There’s nothing to suggest that SuccessTech Academy’s vocational education programs are illegitimate or substandard. As far as we can tell, a student leaves SuccessTech prepared to develop that trade further once he graduates. A 94% graduation rate is certainly not low, especially in an urban setting.

Stager’s characterization of trade skills as leading to “low-paying jobs” is also grossly inaccurate – I’ll get to that shortly.

After pointing to the school’s typically-vague mission statement, Stager continues:

A slideshow of images is prominently featured on the home page. The following photos represent one-fourth of the images presented. One shows a student welding and other depicts two African American students grooming a dog. DOG GROOMING! That sure is one ambitious educational objective.

Vocational education? An ambitious educational objective indeed.

Dog grooming is a bit suspect, but as Boris Johnson told the world weeks ago, the market has deemed seemingly-odd tracks both economically viable and worthy of study. I’d like to focus on welding.

I received training in welding in high school beginning in the 10th grade. It was one of the most valuable skills I learned in my public K-12 education and it was not training to which I had access or could otherwise afford outside of school. I spent weekends learning fine woodworking and during the week augmented that with metalworking in my school’s technology department. I was able to begin working/teaching welding literally within 48 hours after my high school graduation because of those classes.

I graduated on June 25th, relaxed on my 18th birthday on the 26th and was on a plane to Northern California on the 27th to work. Again, I got that job based on the metalworking education I received in high school.

Stager and others may or may not believe this, but it’s possible to mix technical/vocational education programs like welding with a wildly varied and rigorous academic program.

With students aged 8-16, I used welding as a means to look at everything from chemistry/physics, geometry/trigonometry, principles of design, basic principles of engineering and basic concepts in intellectual property [yes, all of these can be introduced properly to a child as young as 8]. I do wish that Stager and others had the opportunity to sit in on one of the sessions where I explained to 10-year olds the chemical differences between MIG welding and arc welding and its consequences on designing the project we were working on.

Educators are keen on assessment, so it’s important to note that after the design phase of the lesson, not a tyke put forth a proposal for an iron candle-holder that wouldn’t tolerate the weaker joints of a MIG weld. Might that be a 100% success rate using authentic assessment? The Ridgewood administration would approve.

And yes, that came from vocational training in welding, that “low-paying,” shoddy, non-rigorous discipline that a Shaker Heights parent wouldn’t be caught dead suggesting their child explore.

As I developed my skills in high school, I saw with the aid of two solid teachers that welding played quite well with the New York State Regents chemistry curriculum. The connections between that trade and academics somehow managed to penetrate my grimy blue collar and seep upward to mix with the knowledge that one receives as he earns a Regents diploma. I realize only now with Stager’s help that it was nothing short of a miracle.

Though Stager seems to think that a student putting time into vocational study hasn’t a notion of the Ivy League, I stumbled on that, too. After a year of welding one period a day and 3 hours a week afterschool in the Technology Club, I spent a semester studying history and economics at Harvard. If Stager needs an example of one who has sprinkled the salt of the earth on the forbidden fruit that is an Ivy, he need look only as far as the photo on the right sidebar of this site.

Oddly enough, Stager’s argument reminds me quite well of the attitude I encountered time and again on that campus that semester. The other residents of Winthrop House called me “Rube.”

Again: Ambitious educational objective indeed.

Snark aside, the truth is that many trades position those without a college education to earn an excellent wage as they contribute to their communities and the economy as a whole. The average urban high school graduate is, as Stager says, relegated to low-paying positions. There’s simply too much competition for better jobs that require skills many high school graduates don’t have. Trades are an avenue to contributing meaningful, sought-after labor that yields good compensation.

Take a look at this thread on the American Welding Society’s forum – it discusses the pay scale for welders. Although pay varies regionally, this discussion shows the range of wages a welder is likely to earn based on his skills. A quick glance at the discussion shows that a certified welder starts around $12-14/hr. – a solid gain from a minimum wage, “low-paying” job – and a skilled, experienced independent welder pulls ~$70/hr. Shops can charge a bit more and, of course, safety incentives come into play for more demanding jobs.

I’m not sure how much Stager makes, but I’ll freely admit that a welder with as many years of professional experience as I’ve been out of high school makes quite a bit more per hour than I do.

There’s no reason to discount vocational education, consider it a replacement for an adequate high school curriculum or to unfairly categorize trade skills as inferior. It does a disservice to education and ignores the practical application of much of the curricula in which those in Shaker Heights and the suburbs place their unwavering trust.

Those who practice a trade won’t mind if you do, though. They make a good living striking arcs, fixing plumbing and repairing the cars of the pointy-headed. Who did you think pays those $70/hr. bills?

Welders may not be Kant scholars, but they understand that a snob’s dollar spends the same as any other. Then again, they might just be Kant scholars.