Friday, February 15, 2013

Private Schools or Public Schools?

In deciding the type of school to send your child to, the choices come down to either private schools or public schools. While the consensus on whether one is better than the other is mixed at best, there are differences in the two choices that you should consider. For starters public schools are part of a larger political structure that resides in Washington D.C. and is part of the American wish to offer all children in this country the opportunity to enjoy an education, at least through the end of high school. Because of this political agenda schools in America are, to some extent, standardized with similar curriculum throughout the country. So it doesn't matter where you live, the education you receive in a public school in Detroit, Michigan is going to be very similar to the education you would receive in Austin, Texas. Another factor that is standardized in the public arena is teacher certification. All teachers employed in public schools are certified and credentialed to teach according to the rules and regulations of this gigantic federal scheme. This isn't always a bad thing; it's just the way it is in the system.

There are variations to this of course, with the incorporation of magnet schools and schools for the handicapped. On the other hand, private schools are under none of the curriculum hindrances of public schools. Private schools are free to choose and offer a wide choice of class options. Teachers on the private side are also not restricted in the credentials. Many private school teachers are chosen for the mastery of a particular subject rather than having a teaching certificate and background more in keeping with the requirements of a public school. Is this better or worse? There are many opinions on this question but nothing definitive as far as a clear-cut answer.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

May a Theory of Evolution Ever Be 'Complete'?

Ever since human beings became sapient, we have wondered where we came from, and in the absence of obvious solutions, we settled on the simplistic explanation of a divine origin. Then came 'On the Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin, which tried to offer a scientific explanation to the variety of creatures on Earth, and their origins.

The basic principle of his theory of evolution simply put is this: species have originated from a single common ancestor, and have evolved into what they are today through changes in inherent characteristics that have been passed down through numerous generations.

Although, at the time it was first propounded, evolution as an explanation for origin of species attracted great controversy, it is far more widely and commonly accepted today. However, there is agreement on the fact that there are still gaps in the theory, primarily due to the shortage of tangible evidence on which evolutionary theory depends. This material evidence primarily takes the form of fossils, which are remains, or impressions, preserved in rocks, of plants or animals that lived in a past geological age. Over the years, billions of fossils of different species have been found, which are like pieces of a giant puzzle that, when complete, would present the picture of how life has originated and evolved. The problem with fossils is that not all organisms fossilise well. Besides, fossils are often buried deep beneath the earth's surface and frequently remain undiscovered for decades. Therefore, while fossils clearly demonstrate evolutionary connections between species, there are sometimes missing links due to the unavailability of sufficient remains.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

New Biotechnology, New Controversies

Genetically engineered nutrients saturate our eating habits nowadays: in the USA alone, over 80% of commercially-processed foods contain modified organisms, although buyers don't realise what they're actually consuming. However, there are risks associated with these foodstuffs.

These GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) are mostly soy and corn crops, engineered to contain innovative pesticide residues, as they have been altered to be herbicide-tolerant or to produce mutated Bt toxins. Serious potential risks associated with the consumption of GMOs may derive from unforeseeable insertion mutagenesis effects, metabolic effects, or even from the introduction of newer, untested pesticide residues.

The most meticulous regulatory tests on the GMOs are three-month long feeding tests on laboratory rats. However, these kinds of procedures are neither obligatory, nor independently performed. Moreover, the test data, along with the related outcomes, are kept confidential by the companies.

Does the Theory of Evolution Fully Explain Our Natural Origins?

The clash between science and religion was partly because religion got something badly wrong. This was religious people claiming that the Bible is literally true as a source of knowledge about our natural origins. The Darwinian view easily saw off the creationists within conventional academia. So, how do you answer the question about your natural origin? Have the scientists got it completely right?

Prevailing scientific opinion
Much of how evolution works is now biologically clear. Genetic information is stored in the DNA. The genes in the population of offspring are a random sample of the genes present in the parental population. This sampling causes variability in adaptability. There are also tiny changes in genetic material caused by random mutations.

Natural selection is said to come about from the reproduction of those organisms best suited to their environment. This is the survival of the fittest. Mainly successful characteristics are passed on at each generation. The features of the offspring of the successful parents will differ in a tiny way from the characteristics of the previous generation. Over a long time, this results in the gradual evolution of plant and animal species.

Humans and animals
One historical difficulty with this account is that there is no fundamental difference between humans and animals, which differ only along a continuum. In other words human beings are not unique according to science.