Oregon PS teacher flunks student who refuses to buy into homeopathy

Another thread in the long list of “what’s wrong with our school system?”

From a Randi Commentary:

Failed for having an opposing viewpoint? And what the hell is a “wellness class” anyway?

Can a public school teacher bring in any guest speaker and expect students to believe whatever he says? How about a guest speaker with accreditation on the benefits of magnetic shoe inserts? UFOlogists? Dowsers?

Shouldn’t a teacher be obligated to allow opposing viewpoints? Even encourage students to debate (or at least discuss) the subject at hand? On what authority does a teacher pass judgement on students who have the presense of mind to think for themselves?


Um, I see something that maybe you’re missing.

The assignment was not to opine as to whether or not the subject was BS–the subject was to “write down five things they had learned from the lecture about naturopathy”. This Christa’s BF failed to do. From the teacher’s perspective, it looks like someone who apparently hadn’t learned anything from the lecture about naturopathy, and who merely wrote out five reasons why it was crap. So he got an F.

And to answer Bob Pagani’s rhetorical point about whether the administration would have backed up the teacher if the lecturer had been from the Flat Earth Society–well, I would hope that they would. Teachers have the right, indeed, the responsibility, to have lecturers with “different” viewpoints come in, and part of going to high school is precisely that–learning stuff about different things that otherwise you might not be exposed to at home, things like Islamic Fundamentalism, Gay Rights, Flat Earthers, Homeopathy. If the lecturer had been a Flat Earther, and the assignment had been to write out five things you just learned about the Flat Earth Society, I would expect the compliant student to write out five things he had just learned about the Flat Earth Society, not to write out five reasons why it was all crap.

And there’s another aspect to this: Christa and Devon may be “smarter than their teacher” in Randi’s opinion, but Devon loses points in my book for not being smart enough to understand that sometimes what’s required in high school is the ability to regurgitate information on command, no matter whether it’s BS or not. There are probably lots of kids who even as we speak are being asked to regurgitate information on Evolution in their biology classes, although as staunch Fundamentalist Creationists they may personally believe it’s BS.

If the instruction was “Write down five things you learned from the lecture.” then I don’t see how the boy was wrong. It is a totally subjective question. He learned that homepaths are nuts, and said so. Sounds like an honest answer.

If the instruction was “Write down five things that the Quack talked about.” then the boy should have recited five things that the Quack talked about.

Either way, the teacher is nuts.

Similar thing happened to me. I was given the reading assignments, and asked to answer several questions, including, “How does homeopathy work?” As tempted as I was to put down, “It doesn’t” and move on, I instead brought up the placebo effect and the way homeopathy never cures anything that won’t cure itself eventually.
The teacher, wanting me to have mentioned the laws of sympathy and distillation, took off points. However, I got them back by arguing that the article never stated that homeopathy ‘worked’ via those methods: only that people believed that it did. She gave me the points back.

That teacher rocked.

Devon should have written out five things, “Naturopathy believes such-and-such, naturopathy believes such and such…”. That way he would have passed the assignment, without having to register an opinion as to whether it was BS or not.

This is precisely the skill that I teach my three kids–“Sometimes all the teacher wants is for you to spit out what he just told you. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, or even understand it. All you have to do is tell him what he wants to hear.”

DDG No, the kid is supposed to answer the question that is asked. According to the link, the question asked was;

Now, maybe a different question was asked, but since all we have is the text of the article to go on, I think the boy was well within his rights to answer as he did. Ask a stupid question, expect a stupid answer. I would rather teach my kids to be critical thinkers who actually think about the question and what it is really asking, but if you want your kids to be sycophants, then more power to you.

Look, DDG, the teacher screwed up and there’s no way around it:

  1. The question, as asked, was ambiguous and improper.

“Name five things you learned” is not a markable assignment, since the answer could be literally anything. “Cite five key points that Dr. Oram presented about homeopathy” would be somewhat better; “name five things you learned” is meaningless, and almost any response could be correct.

You have a good point that kids should know that sometimes they just need to give the correct response, but strictly speaking, the kid in this story DID give a correct response. If you ask me “what did you learn?” then any answer I give that could be something I learned is correct. I may have learned that my teacher is a fool who believes in nonsensical quackery. That’s something this kid learned. Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer.

Writing PROPER tests isn’t just a matter of asking anything. It’s a skill; a test and the questions that make it up must be carefully written to ask the right questions about the right material. Most people couldn’t write a proper test. It’s a skill that you would hope a professional educator would possess.

  1. No, DDG, teachers should not bring any old speaker into a classroom on the basis of it being a “different point of view.” Quackery isn’t a “point of view,” it’s a scam. It’s essentially the same as having pyramid scheme operators speaking to a classroom. I think you have to accept that there is an element of common sense that has to be used in teaching “points of view,” and quackery and scam artists are not presenting an educationally useful point of view.

I see no problem in having in someone to talk about homeopathy, if it’s part of a presentation that thoroughly covers the lack of scientific backing for this approach to “wellness”. If this teacher’s approach to homeopathy was an uncritical acceptance of its principles, the student is correct, the teacher is a boob and parents should protest. Teaching kids about alternative medicine and focusing on its defects and potential is, in itself, a good idea if you want kids to develop into smart health consumers.

Maybe it’s the skeptic in me, but I don’t accept at face value the story as told on Randi’s website. Everything you are hearing is third-hand, not even “second-hand.” The girl, Christa, tells her parents what was said, then the parent writes to Randi to tell what HE, the parent, was told by Christa. Ever play that game where you whisper in someone’s ear a sentence, then that person whisper it to the next, and so on, until the final person in the line announces what was said? And it sometimes is far from what was the first person said? (What’s the name of that game, anyway?)

In the father’s letter he contradicts himself, saying first that

, and then the father continues by saying


Well, dad, which is it? Did the kid fail or did he get a D? If you can’t even keep the info straight in a short few paragraphs, then how much else can we believe? I believe all of the basic info. I just don’t think we know enough details.

Now, before you excoriate me, I am not on anyone’s side. I’m simply interested in people drawing conclusions which are correct. But you have to be given the correct info to draw logical conclusions.

I say that there is way too much speculation here. And the fact that Randi ran the piece without doing some legwork to check it out doesn’t help.

While I believe that the teacher and school are wrong, perhaps the children learned a couple of valuable lessons. Sometimes people are stupid and life isn’t fair. During my math teacher days I told students that many employers, when asked, said that they feel a student with good math skills is better than a student without. One student asked me if that was true. I replied, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true. The point is, they THINK it’s true. And they’re the ones doing the hiring. You can have the math skills, or you can convince the guy doing the hiring that he’s an idiot. Let me know which one works better for you.”

What is homepathy?


Quackwatch has a good explantaion here http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/homeo.html

Naturopathy and homeopathy are two very different things. Naturopathy can encompass forms of quackery but it’s not totally quackery. Homeopathy and naturopathy are not interchangeable terms.

Don’t forget the Master’s take on homeopathy: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/000225.html


That really depends on the “different” viewpoint. I don’t consider junk science from the likes of flat earthers and homeopathologist to be a positive alternative view. The school is an authority and they should not endorse the views of those who practice bad science or hokey new age philosophies.


Well, it’s an alternative point of view, in the same way that facing a blank wall from 1 inch away is a point of view. Doesn’t mean you can see anything, though.

In all of my classes, a D was considered a failing grade. A C was the lowest passing grade.

The student answered correctly. In fact it is more important that he learned homeopathy was a scam than it would be to learn the elements of the scam.

I have actually gone to a homeopathist (at least I assume that is what they were.) They had me hold out my arm, and then they would push down on it. The number of times they had to push my arm for it to move supposedly determined what my cure would be. Very strange. Anyone know if that was in fact homeopathy?


And I agree. I’m skeptical of the true version of this story by the time it gets to (and is interpreted by) Randi.

There is even debate here over the meaning of

When dollars to donuts the teacher didn’t phrase it that way.

Substitute “peace activist” speaking about the evil of U.S. military incursions into Irag, and Christa’s boyfriend writing a similar diatribe…would the same people be in his corner? Or would they suggest that maybe it’s a good thing that he be exposed to ideas foreign to his preconceived notions…

I would want more details about what the teacher actually about the speaker and the assignment said before getting my panties in a bind.

Assuming that the article reports events accurately, the student should have failed. He was instructed to list five things that he learned, and instead, as reported by the article, “wrote five variations on how it was a bunch of quack nonsense”. One answer written in five different ways is still one answer. One out of five is 20%. A “D” is a generous grade for a score of 20%.

There was a way for the student to express his skepticism and at the same time demonstrate that he paid attention to and understood the presentation. He could have said something to the effect of “Though I believe that naturopathy is an unproven form of medical treatment (ie, begin with a disclaimer stating the student’s skepticism), I learned that homeopathy is based on the following principles” then list some of the things that the presenter demonstrated. Heck, he could then proceed to provide counter arguments to the five things he listed, demonstrating a further understanding of the subject. “It’s all nonsense” doesn’t really demonstrate any kind of understanding.