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Arm-chair Paleontologists



A  short while ago a thread was going on about various paleo types. Today a
new type was introduced to the list. I hope it was meant in a joking manner
and not to cause offense. Maybe an explanation of what an Arm-chair paleo....
is needed to clarify what was meant. Does it mean an elderly retired individual
no longer able to do field work or does it mean a non-professional type of
individual expressing views that seem trite to the professional type. Lets be
a little more respectful of people expressing viewpoints regardless of whether
you think what they have to say is worthwhile or not. 
        A few years ago I sat on a government appointed committee of p 
educators,
professional paleontologists and other citizens interested in promoting paleo
resources in the state. I stayed with the committee from beginning to end. This
was not the case for everyone. I'm a fairly thick skinned individual that is
usually not intimidated by snide remarks or other negative commentary that is
bound to occur in a setting of folks with some having large egos. I wasn't
even certain that some of the negative comments were stated with a presence of
mind to intentionally offend people. What I did observe with the group was that
over time a number of people dropped out of having any kind of participatory
role in the recommendations submitted by the committee. The professionals
ended up dominating all of the subcommittees and the tenor of the final report
was more a set of recommendations from the professional side of this group.  As
I said, I am to this day not certain if some of the professional members were
even aware that their posturing and taking over of the discussion on an issue
was intimidating to some non-professional types. I really felt that some of
the people that stopped attending had important points of view and insight
to certain issues that could have been included in the final committee  report.
        At the very last meeting of the committee, my wife attended as did the
wives of some of the other committee members. She asked whether there were any
women members on the committee. I said that there had been but all stopped
coming except for the one from the government that had to be there. Following
the meeting she asked how could you stand this for a whole year? There are
people here that are so smitten with themselves that it must have been awful
to put up with that kind of nonsense. Truth  is, sometime it was.
        Back to some of the other issues that were a part of the content with
the arm-chair paleontologists. The USPS didn't want to confuse the public  by
putting the correct name on the Brontosaurus postage stamp. Maybe the USPS
knowing what the correct name should have been figured that if they did
something correct then the public might come to expect better mail service.
The real issue here is the contempt of govenment officials toward science and
contempt for citizens. The USPS doesn't want to confuse the general public
with accuracy. Does this sound like any other agencies within the federal
government you may be familiar with? I can name several that have done their
best to keep accuracy and the truth under wraps.
        I really enjoyed JP and never felt an over concern for accuracy. I
too believe that overall the movie did a great deal to generate interest
in dinosaur science. The inaccuracies though are still there and again reflect
an condescending attitude towards the public. The public is too stupid to
notice so why be concerned with accuracy in your content. There actually do
exist fictional dramatizations that are entertaining and where a lot of
attention is given to minute details regarding costume, architecture,
table settings, hair styles, transportation methods etc. I don't think it
is an over concern to point out some deficiencies and in the interest let
the movie makers know that their audience is sophisticated (the kids) to
recognize some of the bogus aspects of the film.
        Another person sent a post suggesting that the "arm-chairs" were up in
arms over the lack of current and correct info in our schools. Helping to get
our schools back on the right track  by getting more people involved in vol
unteering and the providing of special programs and services is a step in the
right direction. The participation needs to come from the professional side as
well. Schools all over are looking for partnerships with businesses, govern-
ment agencies and other public institutions. The education issue is a  national
issue. Everyone needs to take  some ownership and responsibility with what is
going on in public education. Professionals maybe don't necessarily have to
be in the trenches everyday or week with students although a genuine and
sincere effort to go into a school and provide a service is a sign of
character and altruism that can be rewarding to students and volunteers alike.
Professionals can and perhaps should consider working with advisory  boards
trying to establish attainable science learning outcomes. They can help
by participating on curriculum or textbook committees. One reason many text
books are so poorly written or full of inaccuracies is that they do not
get a review by local school committees composed of people that are truly
familiar with  the science content.
        I saw  an excellent earth science text turned down by a review
committee on the basis that the cartoon characters in the book did not
reflect the racial diversity of the community. Is that any way to judge
a science textbook?
        More importantly, professionals can be a conduit between their
home institution and the wealth of resources they may have available to 
them that can be shared with an adopted school. Before people start
getting incensed about who is this guy telling me what I should do to
help with the schools.  I barely have enough time on the job to do what is alr
already expected of me, condider this.  In order for a good teacher to
get the job done they have to spend more time at their place of work
than the 61/2 hours spent with students. This sometimes involves being
after school  2-3 hours after students leave in order to prepare labs
for 5  or 6 classes the next day. When the teacher goes home, several
more hours of work will follow a dedicated teacher. Grading papers,
writing evaluations,  letters, phone calls. Some of these same teachers
have families and will also do weekend activities related to their job
with little or no compensation. Some still manage to do volunteer work
in their own communities. Teachers are not all like this. Like any
profession you have people that will do what they only need to get
by. There are enough of the dediccated types out there that every
professional paleo person wanting to make a sincere effort could find
someone that would use and appreciate their assistance. 
        The PR payback for you and your institution will reflect positvely
on you as an individual and on your profession as a whole. You have a
captivated audience out there that thinks what you do and know is really
neat. Show them how you like your work. Show them that you actually
look forward to going and doing your type of science. Convey to them
that your job is not just a grind to earn a buck but is what you would
rather do anyway. Students need to see positive examples of people
working at what they like to do. People that took control of their
lives and ambitions and pursued their dream and made it. You folks
and other professional scientists could and should be as glamorous
as the sports or tv personalities. Last year I came across a set of
trading cards that were of current scientists in the state of Oregon. I
have never seen anything like it. These people were selling themselves
to the public. Educated professionals may need to through their pro-
fessional organizations work on a strategy that can establish realistic
goals for assisting public schools. This communication technology may
provide the vehicle for getting much of this organised.
        I'm out here, I follow this list and several others. I have
learned from this list and I have taken ideas back into my classroom
and tried them out. I think that some of the professional people
participating on this list are top shelf. Many of you are setting an
example that maybe your colleages are unaware of. Let them know what
is going on here and how this may be a beginning for a brighter future
in science education. I'm running out of steam. Probably  shouldn't
have had coffee with caffene after 6 p.m. Anyway, I'm stepping down
from my soapbox for now but will gladly respond tomorrow or later
to your reactions and comments.
Sincerely,
Martin Tillett
Science Instructor
H.B. Owens Science Center
9601 Greenbelt Road
Lanham, MD 20706
301-918-8750  fax 301-918-8752
mtillett@umd5.umd.edu