Teach the controversies — YES ! Critical thinking — YES!

update 9/14/06: see Ed Brayton: ID Proposals in Ohio and Michigan Postponed 

Nick Matzke on The Panda’s Thumb (see here and here) has posted news on the proposals in Ohio for student “debates” and “trials” on evolution vs. ID-creationism. The kinds of questions that are addressed in true debates and trials are not the kinds of questions addressed in natural science inquiry. (In fact, they’re not even good questions in subjects like history: Is a “mock trial” of Columbus really a good way of coming to understand the Columbian encounter with the natives in America? But that’s a question for another time.)

In context, this Ohio business is just one eruption in the movement to teach creationism in science classes under banners such as “critical thinking” and “teach the controversies.” South Carolina has seen efforts to require “critical analysis” of in all subjects, supposedly, but transparently for this purpose. (Ironically, the new education law in Florida declares that history is nothing but facts, and not something constructed.)

Instead of fighting these mantras, perhaps they should be embraced and adopted in curriculum, but with the essential proviso that the questions with which students will be critically engaged must be the REAL QUESTIONS and REAL CONTROVERSIES in the subjects they are studying.

There are actual, live controversies over topics in every chapter of any science textbook. Why not make it a standard feature of science textbooks to have a sidebar in each chapter pointing to these controversies, with sources that could be followed to explore the kinds of evidence and analysis that are used by scientists engaged in these real scientific controversies? With today’s technology, there could be video clips of proponents of competing views presenting their evidence and reasoning (and discussing what kinds of evidence they would recognize as tending to disprove their position) — and these clips could be updated yearly.

In the DI roll-out of their Traipsing book, John West (one of the authors) said at one point that what they advocate is teaching MORE about evolution, not LESS: They want more teaching about evolution so that teaching about the controversies can be included. (Their program is now available in a RealPlayer version. See the link here.) And why not — provided that it’s the real scientific controversies that we’re talking about?


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