RE: [asa] The fight in Texas over evolution training in schools

From: <>
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 11:58:07 EDT

Responding to Rich & Ted's posts below...

I am acutely aware of another level of discussion that needs to happen that
doesn't even have to come from ID/creation/evolution controversy. And that is
this: high school students need to be aware of the difference between the
actual practice of cutting edge science and the practice of being educated in
past or established science.

I.e. When I recently had my physics students use a pendulum to try to determine
with more precision a value for our local gravity (which we had assumed as 9.8
in previous physics work), they had the luxury of comparing their measured value
with an "expected" value that we got from a geological survey on the internet
for our locale & altitude. But I made them aware that in "real" science (e.g.
determining the universal gravitational constant in Cavendish's time), they have
no "expected" values for G, but instead had, perhaps, multiple measurements &
methods that they must discern between to finally arrive at the universal
gravitational constant that we now see published. We can try to design labs so
that students are "thinking" historical scientists' thoughts after them. But in
the end, we pull out a published value to see how we did --which is not a
scientific thing to do. And nor can high school students be expected to be
doing "real" science. Such cutting edge work is beyond most of us. But we can
at least discuss these things and help our students be aware of them.

One other item regarding how science is taught in elementary & high schools: I
recently heard an excellent interview on NPR with astrophysicist Neil Tyson
regarding the flak he took on the "demotion" of Pluto. He made the point that
educators need to move away from having students memorize lists of "facts" such
as "how many planets are in our solar system --and name them, etc." and
instead move towards having students think categorically about objects and what
makes certain objects similar? Then students will be thinking more like
scientists who aren't so interested in a rigid "fact" that our solar system has
x number of planets. They will instead observe that gas giants are a class of
objects unto themselves, and other things also share similar other properties,
etc. which is a more productive way to think of science. We educators do our
students a disservice when we merely stock their minds with "facts" --be they
evolutionary or astronomical. Even at the elementary levels we could probably
be doing this differently and better. Any side that wants to insert automatic
"weaknesses" or automatic "acceptances" of evolution is probably guilty of
promoting our "facthood" attitude as if these things were set in stone.


Rich wrote:
Thus, I believe it is vitally important that the ASA as an organization support
and defend peer review and seek to have the *process* of science taught in our
schools. That way the next generation will be less susceptable to the cynical
manipulation I illustrated above. By the time they get to be our age the facts
of science will be different but the ability to understand the process will help
them navigate whatever the unpredictable issues will be decades from now.

Rich Blinne
Member ASA

Quoting Ted Davis <>:
> I add this:
> I am a former high school science teacher myself (physics and chemistry), and
> IMO we would do a better job of educating students in both high school and
> college, if we would cut some traditional scientific topics to make room for
> teaching a little more history & philosophy of science. (Given that I am in
> that field, no one should be surprised that I would say this.) IMO, in such
> a context it could be entirely appropriate to bring in some of the many
> objections to evolution that have been raised since the mid-19th century:
> they might at least be presented as serious objections that have been raised,
> often by scientists themselves--and, in some cases at least, have been fully
> answered by subsequent science (such as the problem of inheritance,
> acknowledged by Darwin in his book and not dealt with satisfactorily for
> another 70 years). It would also be appropriate in that context, IMO, to
> discuss contemporary objections to evolution, including aspects of
> "intelligent design." !
> Students are not being educated as well, IMO, when such things are ruled
> out of bounds for public school science classes simply b/c they may be
> religiously motivated. We wouldn't rule out teaching students about the
> controversy among scientists themselves, about the use of the atomic bomb
> against Japan in 1945, even though some of those objections were religiously
> motivated; we wouldn't rule out teaching students about the controversy among
> scientists themselves, about how to interpret QM (Copenhagen vs other
> possibilities), simply b/c some might hold a given view partly for religious
> reasons or express a view in theological terms ("God does not play dice").
> Likewise, we should not bar discussion of the fact that some scientists do
> not find Darwinian evolution fully convincing, and why.
> Ted

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Received on Wed Mar 25 11:58:18 2009

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