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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Thoughts from a teacher on "teaching the controversy"

A science teacher of thirty years’ experience comments on "teaching the controversy" where evolution and ID are concerned:

"Two thoughts about "confrontational mode" from a veteran:

1. It is an important part of learning science to learn about the confrontation of ideas. Think back to 1900 and the Light-is-a-Particle vs Light-is-a-wave controversy. A confrontation of ideas is not the same as an enmity between persons. Honest and clever men and women sat on either side of that fence, and in the end the evidence forced a conclusion that neither side could possibly have imagined.

2. No less a teacher of teachers than the great Elgin Wolfe held that a perfectly acceptable answer in science to a difficult question is, "We don't know." He suggested that if students asked, e.g., where the first cell came from, we could simply say, ‘We don’t know. Maybe it will be your Ph.D. thesis which will enlighten the world on that subject.’ (Now, he also suggested that if students asked questions the answer to which the individual teacher did not know the answer, then the correct response would be, ‘I don't know, but I’ll find out from people who do know. You try to find out as well, and let's see which of us can get the answer first !’)

Good thoughts. My own much more limited experience in adult ed has been that students do not respect teachers who can’t/won’t/are not allowed to address the subjects that the students really know are controversial. The only difference between adults and teens, in this regard, is that the adults are too polite to display their disdain.

It used to be that the main problem areas were sex education and drug-proofing. Some people didn’t want the teachers to talk about what all the students knew about, or soon would. It shows how serious the origins debate has become when the same restrictions are now being applied to discussions of evolution versus intelligent design. If past experience is any indicator, the people who want to ban discussion of ID from the classroom will flop miserably, on principle, and deserve to.

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