Thursday, March 27, 2008

Boston NSTA '08 Follow-Up (Teaching Evolution to Religious Students)

I appreciate the time those of you took to attend my session at NSTA's national convention in Boston. Please let me know any thoughts or questions you have on the session by making a comment here.


Anonymous said...

Our school board just rejected our science curriculum due to its inclusion of the theory of evolution. We now must sit down with them and revise our curriculum to suit their needs.

Any hints or tips on teaching evolution to ADULTS?

Lee said...

That's a tough one, and I think it's something that I'm wondering about myself. Adults often have much bigger agendas than kids do. A pastor who opposes evolution has a congregation watching and a career to protect. Many people on the political right see evolution connected to other issues they have deep passions about, such as abortion. I'm hesitant now about taking on people like this in public. I probably won't win, because I'm fighting much bigger battles than evolution, and it's a big one by itself.

I'd listen to what the adults on the school board are saying. Maybe you can find a common value that you can build on. For instance, if they're really concerned about your students, then you can help them to see that not teaching evolution actually SHUTS doors. Listening well is always your best first action.

Anonymous said...

Here's what the adults of the school board are saying (as well as some adults of the community in the comments section):

plm said...

Wow! What a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of science, but I'm beginning to see that this misconception is prevalent in people who oppose the teaching of evolution. It's a theme out there in the opposition. In my understanding, it goes something like this:

"We all know the scientific method, right? Science is about conducting controlled experiments. Well, there's no way that you can conduct a controlled experiment about the origin or life or the development of species. So, therefore, evolution is not science!"

Well, there's fundamental misunderstanding here that there's a single scientific method. Science has many methods, depending on the what's being studied. A good example might be forensic science. We can't go back and study the crime as it happened, but we can study the evidence from the crime in scientific ways to determine what the evidence tells us about the crime. Our understanding of evolution has come through a method that is totally different, yet very scientific, from controlled experiments.

The Morning Sentinel article, quoting Linkletter, says "'"If it's not scientifically verifiable, then maybe we should leave it out of the science classes. When you make a statement that's not backed by facts and just represents a world view, then it has no place." Linkletter said he wants the best science for SAD 59 students, who should "be armed with the truth." They should be able to explain the origins of life according to evolution if it is taught in the schools, he said."

Almost everything taught about evolution in a science class is scientifically verifiable because it flows out of scientific evidence, but it's not coming out of a controlled study. Am I making any sense on this? It's a tough issue because it requires the public to have a good understanding of the nature of science itself.

The other mistake that Linkletter is making is to think that Truth should be taught in the science classroom. Truth, with a "T" (vs a "t'), is the domain of philosophy or religion. Science can disprove something and show that it's false, but it can't ever prove that something is true. More importantly, science never deals with Truth. When he says that he wants students to be "armed with the truth," he's advocating an agenda that is NEVER appropriate for the science classroom. In fact, I'd suggest that you call him out on that, and say something along the lines of, "I will never impose my view of Truth on any student. That's never the place of a science teacher. My job is to help students understand the evidence for evolution and the explanations scientists have developed from the evidence. Truth is something that students have to arrive at on their own under the guidance of their parents and their pastors" (or other religious leaders).

josh said...

It is interesting that some people would rather remove something they don't believe rather then try to understand why other people believe it. The Science classroom should be set up in such a way so as to cause the students to think. Whether one believes something or not does not mean they do not have a responsibility to make their students think and make a decision on it based on the evidence available. However, since we all have some level of personal bias it is clear that we can twist the academic process to cause students to go down a path to a decision without giving them all the facts. I believe the best thing to do would to give, by the power of the school board, each teacher the right to teach freely in the classroom. I don't mean they can teach anything they want because they still need to teach students. A teacher should be allowed to cover information that is not on the state standards. If a teacher in that situation wished to teach evolution go right ahead and teach it because a student needs to understand the concept of evolution (but not believe it) in order to function in college or a scientific career. If that same teacher wishes to expand the students mind to alternate theories then they should have the freedom to do so as long as the students are prepared.

I am a Christian Biology teacher in a Christian School. I do not have to teach evolution as I am in a private school, but i would be doing my students an extreme disservice to them if i would not teach them. You have a responsbility to understand and interact on some sort of common ground or else you will be at a disadvantage.

This school board has made a mistake. It should not be the removal of something it should have created the freedom to teach not restrict.

plm said...

Good points, Josh. I need to ponder more about the fear factor that you're talking about. Of course it's out there, but as I've gotten closer and closer to the issue, I've forgotten about how much fear it induces. Also, as I've become more and more comfortable with it, I again forgot about the fear that many people feel.