Monday, September 01, 2008
Massimo Pigliucci has the best and most succinct answer I've seen to what is wrong with the claim that "teaching the controversy" is intended to improve students' "critical thinking" skills:
Learning critical thinking is not a matter of being exposed to a "fair and balanced" view of everything and be told "you decide." Rather, it proceeds through learning about logic, about assessing evidence, and about the many ways in which human senses and reasoning abilities can fail us if we are not on guard. If students really do assimilate all of that, just one look at creationist claims would make it painfully clear that they don't need to be further entertained.
Professor Pigliucci is right that John McCain and Sarah Palin have to answer the question of what their vision of science education is. If they won't do it on their own, it is up to us as part of the electorate to keep clamoring for the answer and to make it as politically painful as possible for them to keep silent.
For example, the DI lists 40-odd scientific papers in support of ID. According to google scholar there are 261,000 papers on evolution in the biological sciences alone. Meaning that the "controversy" amounts to 0.0165% of all published scientific papers.
Maybe teaching the controversy is they way to go - as in there is no scientific controversy; only a political/social one.
In a perfect world, it certainly would be. Knowledgeable teachers could lead children through lessons in logic and evidence, focusing on hands-on work in science and on the history of science as it abandoned creationism and why.
Unfortunately, what we have is an overcrowded curricula that, at best, has a few days in which to cram in evolution in between preparing students for rote regurgitation of factoids on standardized tests, all taught by ill-trained teachers, many of whom are, themselves, creationists.
At the moment, the best we may be able to hope for is that some of that rote learning will include evolutionary theory, from hopefully decent testbooks, that isn't too distorted in the process.