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  Topic: Educating Students About Evolution, What is the best strategy?< Next Oldest | Next Newest >  
The Ghost of Paley



Posts: 1703
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 27 2006,10:59   

Despite all the efforts made in teaching the public about evolutionary concepts, it seems that the North American public remains relatively unimpressed by the theory.. Furthermore, there's a distressing high percentage of Europeans who reject common descent. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this, but could one reason be the top-down education strategy behind it in most countries? In America, we have the Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Education imposing federal standards on local school districts. Now I understand that attempts to teach creation science and intelligent design run afoul of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment, but sometimes I wonder if the public doesn't see Evolutionary Biology as a bully that needs government arm-twisting to receive the same status as, say, the Germ Theory of Disease. This criticism may not be fair, but perhaps another approach might be more fruitful, especially with more and more parents private / home schooling their kids. Purely from a strategic point of view, would it be better for local school districts to "teach the problems" within Evolutionary biology if they wish, and let the market sort things out? Or is there another way? Or is the current strategy the best one?

Here's the survey that was reported on Panda's Thumb. I couldn't find a survey on Canadians online, but I remember seeing one that showed a similar profile to America in levels of disbelief. Here's one biased source that supports my memory.

(Sorry about the glitch in the title. Don't know how that happened.)

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Dey can't 'andle my riddim.

  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 28 2006,06:07   

GoP,

1)

Quote
Purely from a strategic point of view, would it be better for local school districts to "teach the problems" within Evolutionary biology if they wish, and let the market sort things out?


No. This unfairly biases the incredibly minor scientific "problems" with evolutionary biology, if indeed there are "problems" in the scientific sense at all (I would argue there aren't in the same sense that there aren't any scientific "problems" with the theory of gravity There are things we don't yet know, but that certainly isn't a problem, it's a job opportunity!;).

The "problems" that people have with evolutionary biology are entirely due to their religious faith, the problems lie entirely on that side of the fence as it were and need to be countered there. The "Chamberlain" approach to evolutionary biology, or any scientific topic, i.e. placating the unwarranted, erroneous and irrelevant, "problems" people have with science (or just evolutionary biology), is fundamentally dishonest. It erroneously elevates relativist antireason.

How controversial a subject is politically is nothing to do with how controversial it is scientifically. the misequation of these two types of controversy will only serve to undermine science.

2)

Quote
Or is there another way?


Yes.

And this is a good question. Us scientists coming out of our Ivory Towers and actually engaging in the political controversy. Changing science education to a situation with no compromise with political controversy and at the same time moving it away from the cultural idea that "science is too hard for me to do".

Everyone is FASCINATED by the world around them, be they a scientist or a creationist or a homoepath or vaguely spiritual on sundays. We all want to work with the world around us. No one buys a second hand car on faith alone, we kick tires and look at service history. We use reason, rational enquiry and the products of these processes every day in our everyday lives. Couple this to the pre-exisiting fascination people have wiith the natural world and we have a "resource" which we are seriously underusing.

One way in which we are really under using this "resource" is in the apparent negativity of scientific explanations and interactions. People have ideas that encounter the data and those ideas don't match too well. I can't remember the Flanders comment from the Simpsons, but it ws something to do with "Big mouth science spoiling all the fun". We must as scientists (and as skeptics, rationalists and atheists) do more to advocate the POSITIVE world view that the use of reason brings. How much more enlightening, beautiful, elegant and awe inspiring a scientific understanding of the world is than an ugly, over simplistic faith.

This is why I 100% agree with one of Dawkins' comments about religious people: the majority are effectively atheists or at most deists, for when their beliefs are actually examined the supernatural,personal god element is a really minor component, and it is the love, respect , awe and wonder they feel for the universe around them that is the wellspring of their faith. What we need to show is that science doesn't take away from that wellspring. It endlessly renews itand makes its water ever sweeter and more refreshing.

How many comments of "unweaving the rainbow" or " there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy" do scientists, skeptics, rationalists and atheists get levelled at them in varying scenarios?

BTW I am not trying to equate all members of that list on all levels, I am merely saying that each of them get accused of bursting certain bubbles, and by so bursting, detracting from some beauty or wonder.

3)

Quote
Or is the current strategy the best one?


No.

And this is also a good question. Too much lip service and faux "equality"/"equal time" is being paid to this topic. It's like the quantum mechanics of a decohered, two state system: you are either in state A or state B (the superposition has decohered). The minute you start admitting the irrelevant objections of special interest groups into science class you undo the very work you are trying to acheive. Unfortunately this is what we are doing in pretty much every education system the world over, and this is at least partly why we have the "problem" we do. Less tolerance of obvious idiocy, political controveries masquerading as science and more focus on beauty in science, positive rationalism/skepticism, and the method of science.

I once asked a biological question of one of my teachers at school, I was 7. My teacher (a bloody astounding biologist who gave up school teaching after nearly 30  years (to the detriment of future youth no doubt) to go back and take up a research post at a university) answered that not only didn't he know the answer, but that at this particular time, no one knew the answer. He emphasised that not only were people around the world working on getting the answer to that question, but that I (and all my classmates) could one day in the not massively distant future (a mere 14 or so years!;) be those very people who were also trying to answer this question. He emphasised the method, the curiosity, the hard work needed. He emphasised that es there were facts to learn and tests to pass but that these were secondary to actually doing the stuff you need to do to find something out. We had a great fun designing experiments (almost no matter how dangerous, something that sadly would't  happen now) and actually performing them. Guess what I wanted to be when I grew up after that class?

Louis

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Bye.

  
stevestory



Posts: 10127
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 28 2006,06:12   

Regarding the dangerous experiments Louis mentions, I would find it a difficult thing to be a science teacher these days, when the government is so hysterically freaked-out about terrorists that they evacuate a school when someone smells spoiled milk.

   
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 28 2006,06:56   

Is there a problem in the teaching of evolution?

The only problems I have seen are in the way of news articles here and at PT, I have never personally been afected. In real life I have encountered very few people who think evolution is a hoax. Sure there seems to be plenty on the internet, but how many peiople have you met that have wingnut views on the subject.

It is only a few months since I was at the natural history museum (London). The entire building is a representation of evolution. I didn't see a single person protesting that it was teaching a fraud.

  
Louis



Posts: 6436
Joined: Jan. 2006

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 28 2006,07:20   

Steve E,

It's much less a problem here than in the USA, but we still have our nutters and those people who don't really know about evolutionary biology and are afraid of controversy.

My worry is the general decline is science education and students taking science subjects.

____

Steve S,

Yup Health and Safety spend more time telling what we can't do than finding ways to do what we need to do safely.

I had one safety officer at a company I formerly worked at say to me "Do you have to use chemicals in your research?". This was a fine chemicals company.

To be fair to him, he wasnt a scientist and what he meant was "dangerous chemicals", but the interesting assumption he made was chemicals=bad, molecules=good. Although he couldn't tell the difference. Nice guy. Misguided, but nice.

Louis

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Bye.

  
Stephen Elliott



Posts: 1754
Joined: Oct. 2005

(Permalink) Posted: Oct. 28 2006,08:35   

Quote (Louis @ Oct. 28 2006,12:20)
...
I had one safety officer at a company I formerly worked at say to me "Do you have to use chemicals in your research?". This was a fine chemicals company.
...
Louis

Sorry for going of topic but that reminded me of something.

I was once told to do a H&S evaluation of my units activities. This unit tested/trialed parachutes and general airborne delivery methods.

The only possible outcome of filling in the form honestly was "cease all activity until a safer system is in place". I was told to change my answers. My C.O. refused to see the futility of the form.

Eventually somebody else had to do the evaluation.

I think the form was called "risk assesment". Bleeding ridiculous.

  
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