Monday, January 31, 2011

Science fiction

 13 percent of teachers explicitly endorse creationism or intelligent design, and spend at least on hour of class time presenting it in a positive light. An additional 5 percent reported that they support creationism in passing or when answering students’ questions.
from Wired, citing Science.

What if 13% of science teachers announced in class that they didn't believe that our current economic system is sustainable, that there are limits in biology, that capitalism as practiced today will collapse in the face on natural limits? How long would they last?

What if 13% of science teachers made it a point to discuss the biological basis of homosexuality, to explicitly analyze twin studies suggesting that genetics plays a role in sexual behaviors? How long would they last?

What if 13% of science teachers explicitly discussed the phenomenal rise of breast cancer in our land since the 1940's, the rise of carcinogens found in breast milk, the local CEOs who dumped toxins on our towns, the politics of industrial waste disposal?

Heck, what if 13% of science teachers explicitly discussed the threat of leprous leprechauns roaming the countryside?

Ask your child what your science teacher "believes"--then do something about it.

The photo of the book cover from here.
And no, I do not speak of economic collapse in class. 
We do talk about population growth and carrying capacity. I let your children come to their own conclusions.


David said...

And this we totally agree...

you cannot effectively teach something you don't believe in.

Worse, you cannot teach something at which you think is crazy.

doyle said...

Dear David,

True to a point--I was pretty good teaching my children about Santa Claus.

Science isn't about beliefs, it's about evidence garnered from the natural world--though it does lead to some crazy models, which we teach anyway.

Evolution serves as the heart of biology--it ties everything in biology together. If a teacher "believes" otherwise without evidence, she should not be teaching evolution.

I do not teach economics nor gender studies in class--but I do talk a lot about leprechauns!

M. York said...

Dear Doc;
I teach science to seventh graders, and belief comes up a lot when we talk about genetics. What I've found is that in discussion, every kid will agree that species change over time, that natural selection makes sense, that beneficial mutations get passed on to offspring and that the living world is very different today than it was many years ago. As long as I don't actually use the E word, they're right with me. If I do, suddenly children are disagreeing with what they were saying only moments before - and when asked, they cannot explain why.
I tell them, over and over again, that they can believe anything they like so long as they think critically about evidence. I had a wonderful physics professor who taught us the equations of motion and then had us work out Helios' path around the earth every day with the sun. It was great fun for me (and admittedly really frustrating for some of my peers) to base our work solely on the evidence of our terrestrial eyes.
I had excellent evidence for Santa Claus as a child - my father left ashy bootprints from the fireplace to the tree and back one year, for example - and when the evidence changed, so did my ideas about how presents happened. My goal is to get my students to be willing to change their minds when the evidence changes. That's why we spend a whole day of our physics unit outside dropping objects of various weights. That's why we experiment with jars containing different mini-environments before discussing global warming. That's why we talk about genetic variation and mutation before we discuss descent with modification.
And frankly, some of them don't get it and some of them refuse to see what's in front of them and some of them... well, let's just say I'm not 100% successful in my goals (but hey, it's not 2014 yet, right?).
I love reading your blog. I admire the hell out of you, if you'll excuse the passionate language, precisely because of the way you look at science and the way you look at your students. Thank you for being this way.

Anonymous said...

Get two foam footballs. Hollow out one, and fill it with fishing weights. have someone drop them out of a window. Video this. Have the students watch the drop
Ask students if there's any difference. Then hand the footballs around the room. Then have the students watch the video. Hear them change what they say. listen as they try and make the "heavy" ball "go faster." They look for minuscule differences on the video. It's amazing how hard people will fight to maintain their position in the teeth of all evidence.

doyle said...

Dear M. York,

Thank you for your words--at least two of us aren't perfect yet, but you're right, we have until 2014 to get it right.

I do a very limited version of the sun--simply ask the students to notice the evolving shadows as the months pass. I also press them on how they know that the Earth revolves around the sun--because a teacher said so is not good enough (and should never be good enough) evidence.

Dear anonymous,

I climb up a lab table and drop a paperclip and an abandoned HUGE chemistry text.

To be fair to the students, it still amazes me each and every time they hot the floor simultaneously.

But I'm easily amused.....