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Monday, September 03, 2007

Teaching the controversy - or modelling civilized disagreement?

I don't know if I ever got around to posting American theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson's recent comments on intelligent design and schools:
My opinion is that most people believe in intelligent design as a reasonable explanation of the universe, and this belief is entirely compatible with science. So it is unwise for scientists to make a big fight against the idea of intelligent design. The fight should be only for the freedom of teachers to teach science as they see fit, independent of political or religious control. It should be a fight for intellectual freedom, not a fight for science against religion.

Well, I have now.

I entirely agree with Dyson that teachers should be free to teach science as they see fit, providing that they are teaching a relevant curriculum and meet standards of classroom competence. In my view, the primary criterion for evaluating any school should be whether students who want to go on in a given discipline get into schools of their choice, where the selection process is free of obvious ideological or other bias. These days that may be asking for a lot. But, as the taxpayer, I am the primary funding source of the system, so I DO feel free to ask for it.

Looking back on my own education 45 years ago, I am amazed by the freedom our teachers had, compared to what they would have today. My teachers at Tweedsmuir public school in London, Ontario, argued over creation vs. evolution with each other in front of the class! They quoted the Bible and they quoted atheist philosophers. The police never came. Not once. Fortunately, there is no Canadian equivalent of the ACLU, so no professional busybodies showed up either.

The most valuable thing those teachers did, in my view, was this: They enabled their students to see how educated adults conducted a conversation about ideas. Many of their students came from homes where their parents, who had not had the benefit of much education, might have conducted a discussion on entirely different - and less culturally satisfactory - lines.

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