If Science Teachers Want to Help Students, They Won’t Teach the Controversy When It Doesn’t Exist March 23, 2013

If Science Teachers Want to Help Students, They Won’t Teach the Controversy When It Doesn’t Exist

I’ve said on this site and in public talks that my job as a math teacher is relatively easy compared to science teachers. No parent ever calls me up to complain about the truth of the Quadratic Formula. No students are challenging me on the Pythagorean Theorem.

But science teachers who actually know what they’re doing have to put up with arguments from the ignorant. They deal with students and parents who are, simply put, anti-science — people who oppose science because they see it conflicting with their religious beliefs.

In Tennessee, educators are speaking out about this very problem:

From the theory of evolution to climate change, teachers are becoming wary of teaching basic scientific consensus because of the potential backlash they can face, [biology teacher Beth Adler] said.

“This leads to intimidated and capitulating teachers,” she said. “We need courage. It is scary,” Adler said. “We need to hear ‘Thank you for teaching the scientific consensus.’”

Adler said she’s faced 14- and 15-year-old students, some of them in tears, “ready to argue basic scientific principles,” and other students “thinking that climate change is a liberal hoax.”

Sadly, it’s the science teachers who know the least who are probably not challenged as much. It’s not just a “Southern” problem either, though I suspect it’s more pronounced there. Science is under attack everywhere. And instead of facing that challenge directly and teaching actual science, many teachers are unfortunately choosing to step away from conflict altogether by just avoiding “controversial” topics:

[Adler] said 28 percent of those educators said they taught evolution as a “well-supported fundamental idea,” while 13 percent openly supported “intelligent design.”

Some 60 percent of those teachers are in a gray, in-between area, she said.

They either avoid using the “e” word and refer to evolution instead as “change over time” or tell students “they can believe what they want to believe.” Other teachers in that majority simply tell students they are teaching evolution “because it’s on the state exam.”

Imagine if every teacher just said, “This is the scientific consensus and it’s the most accurate information we have” when discussing these topics. I know teachers who have suggested that students are welcome to believe whatever they want (i.e. The Bible), but they have to know what scientists understand to be common wisdom. If they want to refute it, they can do it on their own time (and collect all those Nobel Prizes along the way…).

Don’t bother reading the comments on the news site — the commenters, in many cases, are no better than students who think they know everything because they watch FOX News and trust their pastors.

(Thanks to Will for the link)

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