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Education United States Politics Science

Classroom Clashes Over Science Education 493

Posted by Soulskill
from the preach-the-controversy dept.
cheezitmike writes "In a two-part series, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science examines two hot-button topics that create clashes in the classroom between science teachers and conservative-leaning students, parents, school boards, and state legislatures. Part 1 looks at the struggle of teachers to cover evolution in the face of religious push-back from students and legislatures. Part 2 deals with teaching climate change, and how teachers increasingly have to deal with political pressure from those who insist that there must be two sides to the discussion."
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Classroom Clashes Over Science Education

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  • Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:21PM (#40226791)
    Why 2 sides to discussions that have been scientifically settled? Have the other side of the discussion in Sunday School.
    • by Beardo the Bearded (321478) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:27PM (#40226851)
    • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:56PM (#40227157)

      These are not conservative leaning. They are religious zealots. They need to stop making people right of center seem like that they are all crazed idiots.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "They need to stop making people right of center seem like that they are all crazed idiots."

        As long as rightists SUPPORT Superstitionists they share their guilt.

      • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

        by boorack (1345877) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @01:46AM (#40229621)
        I'm still reading about "religious zealots" but IMHO zealotry alone wouldn't make such big impact. There is big money behind this "zealotry" and someone sponsoring it: lobbyists, think-tanks, corrupt governors won't do anything without sponsorship. It's pretty much like most of radical muslim terrorists US pretends to fight with that are sponsored by billions and billions of petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia (yet US government pretends Saudis to be their ally). Me think our old neocon friends with their corporate buddies are sponsoring it: for example, mixing science and beliefs would would let them declare wars they perpetrate as "holy" cutting off any discussion and squashing dissent. Thus I thing fighting off this creationist crap and all stuff and other stupid things spewed by religious right should be top priority for any wise person. Not letting them expand is a must. Otherwise or we'll see religious right installing nazi-like facism at some point.
    • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kenh (9056) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:58PM (#40227171) Homepage Journal

      Simple, because it is science class - teach the children, don't dictate to them, welcome their challenges as a sign of an engaged, but misinformed, student and work to inform their decisions.

      If a student is forced to accept what is told to him without question by either a person behind a lecturn or behind a pulpit, the pulpit stands a better chance of winning over the student - the church offers snacks.

      • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Moofie (22272) <lee@ringofsatuLIONrn.com minus cat> on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @07:06PM (#40227249) Homepage

        "If a student is forced to accept what is told to him without question" then the student is not in a science classroom.

        However, if when the question is answered with facts and data, the student persists in the Truth of an untenable hypothesis which is not supported by facts and data, the student ought not presume to get a good grade in a science class.

        Science is not a religion. I say this as both a scientist, and a religious person.

        • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Darinbob (1142669) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @07:26PM (#40227465)

          Get the right answers on the test and it shouldn't matter what the student believes. Students should not be graded on beliefs but on results. Generally science classes aren't given essay tests so no philosophy needs to be presented by the student. I've never seen science test that just ask "is evolution a fact", instead they have questions like "what is eohippus" or "what are some of the consequences of a rising global temperature", things that you can answer and get full credit on even if you think the topics are bunk. They can be answered without lying by phrasing certain way (prefix it with "according to many researchers" for example).

          The danger here is rejecting one dogma and replacing it with a different dogma. And this danger becomes apparent when you see statements that a student should fail because of their beliefs, or that a scientist is fired because of it.

          • another danger (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @08:07PM (#40227733)

            If the religious parents of a child explain "give the answers they want even though we know they are wrong thanks to the Bible," the fact remains that the student is being exposed to evidence that undermines his faith.

            This is what the religious practitioners all fear. When a young and impressionable mind is exposed to challenging information, no amount of preparation can prevent at least some of it from making an impression. So, it is not sufficient to keep religious discussions in the church and to allow secular discussions at school. Any exposure to religion-undermining memes *at all* is a threat to parent's goal of keeping control over their child's beliefs.

            No amount of enlightened philosophizing will convince such parents that it is ok to keep secular education secular. And telling them to send their kid to private school is no good either; most religious parents either can't or won't pay for it. They want the property-tax-funded public education for their child, and they want to filter out anything that might challenge their religious beliefs, and they are going to fight for this tooth and nail.

            You can't silence them through rational argument. There is no convincing them, and we are stuck with them. Your only option is to get just as involved, and just as pushy, and just as loud as they are.

            • by Belial6 (794905)
              You can't silence them through rational argument because their argument is the lip service that our entire country gives to the subject. It is as rational as our laws that prevent discrimination based on religion. It is repeated over and over that we should have religious tolerance. That all religions are valid. That it isn't OK to call the highly religious crazy because they believe in magic beings.

              When a teacher tells a child that their statements are true facts, and those statements are in direct
      • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hughJ (1343331) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @07:57PM (#40227683)
        The problem with this is that the teachers are generally not equipped (educated) sufficiently on any particular science topic to be able to address legitimate questions from the students. Any student that's spent any amount of time digesting anti-Evolution talking points is sufficiently equipped to make your average grade school science teacher look foolish in front of the class. Simple questions are quick and easy to ask, but the answers may require extensive explanation that's either not straight forward, beyond the grade level of the class or even the teacher's own academic level.
    • Re:Why 2 sides (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bmo (77928) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @10:22PM (#40228615)

      "Why 2 sides to discussions that have been scientifically settled?"

      Because in America, the opinion of someone who has a 10'th grade education is equal to that of someone who has a PhD in geology on how old the Earth is.

      Because USA USA USA USA USA!

      I wish I was exaggerating.

      --
      BMO

    • by Fjandr (66656) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @10:47PM (#40228763) Homepage Journal

      I believe we should teach the other side of every scientific theory. After all, if they're right there's nothing to fear from teaching the other side of the story.
      I'll be petitioning the most enlightened Texas SBOE for the inclusion of the following into their public education curriculum:

      Gravity: The law, or is it?
      Thermodynamics: Perpetual motion via the power of belief!
      Newton's Laws of Motion: There's no opposing reaction to stoning a heretic.
      Archimedes' Buoyancy Principle: Jesus > displacement.

    • by xenobyte (446878)

      There are two sides to any discussion, 'settled' or not.

      The discussion about climate change has at least two sides and it has not in any way, shape or form been settled yet. How can anyone even claim that there's a consensus concerning climate change when the basics are still being discussed?

      The issues: We don't know if there's any unusual change occurring now. Some even argue that we're seeing no unusual change now. We don't know what kind of changes are natural and which are human influenced. We don't kno

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:22PM (#40226811)

    Climate change: the majority of climate scientists think it's true and a component is man-made, but a small and decreasing percentage of climate scientists disagree.

    Evolution: There's all but no doubt, and essentially no reputable scientists in the field disagree with the core concepts.

    QED.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by doconnor (134648)

      Appeal to authority is not science. It is a logial fallacy.

      Teachers should present the evidence and have the students decide for themselves. It would be an excellent exercise.

      • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @09:06PM (#40228127)

        Prove to me that a+b=b+a, for all values of a and b.

        Don't just say it's obvious. Don't just give a few examples and assume it will always work. Don't just subtract b from each side, unless you're prepared to prove that b-b=0 and a+0=0+a. Provide a rigorous proof.

        Back from Wikipedia? Good. Now tell me again how we shouldn't have our students trust in scientific consensus, and how they should have to review the evidence and decide for themselves. Because right now, the commutative property is taught by appeal to authority. Teacher says it always works, so it always works. In your world, we would have to give each kid a copy of Principia Mathematica and wish them luck. Except PM has its own critical flaws, so I suppose we'll also need to introduce them to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. Oh, but we can't trust in the translations of experts, so better teach them German first.

        The fact is that people (children in particular) are not equipped to evaluate the truthfulness of every statement. We must trust in the consensus of the experts. The alternative is for society to regress to a point where it was possible for a single person to know all of human knowledge. I'm sure the creationists would love that.

        • by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @10:47PM (#40228773)

          Prove to me that a+b=b+a, for all values of a and b.

          Don't just say it's obvious. Don't just give a few examples and assume it will always work.

          Umm, that's exactly how the vast majority of science works. We observe a few examples and assume it will always work that way (or at least under whatever constraints the theory was set up with).

          The GP was talking about fallacies in inductive logic. You respond by requesting a formal proof in deductive logic. These things don't tend to play by the same rules. The vast majority of science is not prepared to (and is rarely required to) be as reductionist as trying to prove something like the commutative property of addition. (By the way, what axioms are we allowed? Peano? Zermelo-Fraenkel? Unless you have a specific purpose in requesting this bizarre exercise in mathematical analysis in a discussion about empirical science, your choice would be arbitrary anyway, since this has very little to do with the logic of empiricism....)

          The fact is that people (children in particular) are not equipped to evaluate the truthfulness of every statement.

          Umm, what the hell is "truth" as applied to inductive logic as practiced in scientific empiricism?

          I definitely agree with your point that we, of necessity, have to trust in the opinion of experts. But the rest of your argument about logic is frankly a non sequitur, given that we're talking about science here, not Russell and Whitehead. Science is not formal logic. But that doesn't mean that the scientific method doesn't make use of logic -- but not really the type you're talking about here.

          Aside from your general point about the necessity of relying on authority, I have no clue why this was modded +5 "Insightful".

          • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @11:47PM (#40229099)

            My post was merely demonstrating that people must accept the word of experts because they can't know everything. I chose the example I did because it's kindergarten level stuff. If we all rely on the word of experts for even the most fundamental on concepts, how can anyone claim that trusting experts is a logical fallacy?

            "Appeal to authority" is one of, if not the, most misapplied fallacy there is. Kids learn about it in Logic 101 in their freshman year, and then start throwing around the term all over the place, but they have no clue what it means. In actuality, appeals to authority can be entirely justified. Such appeals are only fallacious if the authority cited isn't an actual expert, or disagrees with the consensus, or has a motivation to lie. No one on this planet can live even a single day without trusting in authorities. From the commutative property, to the health effects of drinking bleach, to the stability of the bridge you drive over. Inductive, deductive, doesn't matter. Unless you've done all the work yourself, you're trusting in others.

            • I chose the example I did because it's kindergarten level stuff. If we all rely on the word of experts for even the most fundamental on concepts, how can anyone claim that trusting experts is a logical fallacy?

              One further point -- I actually don't agree with this. I don't rely on the "word of experts" to believe that the commutative property exists in objects in the real world. Nor do I rely on the "word of experts" to believe that it exists among natural numbers. I can easily see that myself from the way the world works.

              The flaw in your example is that you think that some sort of axiomatic proof is adding to a child's understanding or acceptance of the commutative property. I think the commutative property

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gonna post AC on this since it's a little off-topic, but isn't this the third or fourth 'science/evolution/education' article posted in the past 24 hours? It's an important topic, for sure, but it's beginning to smell a bit of spam sensationalism (not sensationalism as in over exaggeration but rather in over reporting to get ad clicks).

  • Sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:38PM (#40226973)

    ...as long as all churches are required to have an atheist (e.g., Daniel Dennet) or a historic biblical scholar (e.g., Bart D. Ehrman) come in for every sermon or Sunday school lesson to present an alternative viewpoint.

  • by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:41PM (#40226997) Journal

    Quoth TFA:

    McDonald advises teachers to start the year off with a short section on the nature of science. “Once I started to do this, I had fewer challenges in my classroom,” he says.

    Sounds like a good way to deal with the "just"-a-theory crowd.

  • by evil_aaronm (671521) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:47PM (#40227069)
    Just have the Conservatives provide the peer-reviewed science behind their assertions. If it's actually science, there should be something testable to support it. If it isn't science, it doesn't belong in science class.
  • by kenh (9056) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @06:54PM (#40227133) Homepage Journal

    I would imagine it is the role of the science teacher to educate, not pontificate - if students enter the classroom with different ideas, theories, or beliefs I would expect the teacher to entertain their ideas, beliefs, and theories and then work with the student to understand how their ideas, beliefs and theories balance against scientific facts.

    The teacher is not obliged to give equal time to all theories that the students preset, but the science teacher has the task of equiping the students to come to their own conclusions based on facts. A science teacher that can't (or doesn't want to) defend the ideas and concepts they are teaching needs to find another profession.

    Religions typically teach the "One True Belief" on a subject and ask the followers to "believe without proof, as an exercise of their faith," not science.

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @07:01PM (#40227195) Journal

    Is to teach skills that make people able to participate in society. If you're going to be catching alligtor for a living, you don't need much education. However the trend is for increasingly complex jobs as computers fill-in the easy, repetitive parts.

    Then lets look at creationism. It posits a "because god made it this way" which provides a limit to understanding because we cannot possibly do what god has, because then we would be gods ourselves, and that's heresy. But call it "evolution" and "biology" and "chemistry" and we can teach these and they lead to skills and discoveries in genetics, medicine, disease therapy, etc.

    And that's why creationism has no place in schools. It does not teach a skill.

  • by Jaktar (975138) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @07:06PM (#40227251)

    Why do we let politicians write the text books, instead of having a quorum of people in their respective fields with masters degrees? Shouldn't the most educated in their respective fields have a say in what the younger generation is being taught, so they can be more prepared for higher education?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/13/education/13texas.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com]

  • by Barlo_Mung_42 (411228) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @07:29PM (#40227499) Homepage

    We don’t let people who can’t read teach kids how to read.
    We don’t let people who can’t add/subtract teach kids math.
    It should just be a hiring requirement for science teaches that they accept evolution as fact.

    • that isn't science (Score:4, Informative)

      by khipu (2511498) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @09:43PM (#40228373)

      It should just be a hiring requirement for science teaches that they accept evolution as fact.

      No, it should be a requirement that people who teach a scientific subject can explain the evidence for the prevailing theory, carry out experiments to test it, and use this to teach what science is all about. They should teach the scientific method and critical thinking. That is what science is about.

      People who merely believe something without understanding the evidence for it have no business teaching science at all.

  • Attribution error (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shavano (2541114) on Tuesday June 05, 2012 @08:59PM (#40228081)
    The science topics don't cause controversy. The controversy is caused by people who for religious and political reasons refuse to accept scientific evidence.
  • There are also two sides to the discussion of whether (obligatory Godwin) Hitler was right, or pi is three, or the moon landing was faked.

    Ooh boy, that's a lot of controversy to teach.

  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Wednesday June 06, 2012 @05:13AM (#40230329)
    We've coddled these cretins for way too long. We've permitted them the benefit of the rock certain knowledge and advancements that evolutionary "theory" begets, while also letting them bad mouth and lie about the said-same theory and researchers who save their lives daily. Are scientists filled with Satan? Fine. Let's force them to actually live in the world they're knocking themselves out trying to create for the rest of us.

    Let people who don't believe in evolution be forbidden from accessing those medical treatments which are completely, 100% dependent on researchers understanding the ultra-fine details of the evolutionary process and, in fact, dependent on evolution being true for their advancement.

    That pretty much covers everything from the proper use of antibiotics and the avoidance of MRSA, to gene therapy, to the attenuation process that creates vaccines and the defense they give against diseases like polio, rubella and smallpox. Let's see then there's pathogen tracking, so no CDC information for them oh and molecular epidemiology also.

    Oh and here's one just for deniers, the molecules being developed which are capable of binding to bioterrorists agents like anthrax spores and ricin molecules are of course entirely dependent on the artificial, directed evolutionary processes utilized by the biotechnology industry.

    Yes deniers, let's create a generation of students who don't believe in evolution but who do believe you can pray away the gay. What a fucking shining city on a hill we'll become under that regime.

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