Happy Academic Freedom Day! More on this later…
A recent study comparing science knowledge and reasoning among college freshmen in both China and America has been creating a stir among educators. The study indicated that, though Chinese students significantly outperformed—or let’s be blunt, humiliated—American students in their factual knowledge of physics, both groups delivered poor scores in scientific reasoning. Stated Lei Bao, the lead author of the study:
"Our study shows that, contrary to what many people would expect, even when students are rigorously taught the facts, they don't necessarily develop the reasoning skills they need to succeed," Bao said. "Because students need both knowledge and reasoning, we need to explore teaching methods that target both."
Bao also added:
"These skills are especially important today, when we are determined to build a society with a sustainable edge in science and technology in a fast-evolving global environment," Bao said.
He quickly added that reasoning is a good skill for everyone to possess -- not just scientists and engineers.
"The general public also needs good reasoning skills in order to correctly interpret scientific findings and think rationally," he said.
Here is the link to the full article: “Study: Learning science facts doesn’t boost scientific reasoning”
Tom at Thinking Christian wrote an insightful post contrasting the study’s suggestion that “educators must go beyond teaching science facts if they hope to boost students’ reasoning ability” with the unquestioning approach to teaching evolution that hard-line evolutionists seem to be demanding. An excerpt:
What’s the danger? Evolution, says Michael Ruse [philosopher of science and self-described hard-line Darwinian], is a fact, Fact, FACT! And it is the facts that must be taught in high school! Meanwhile Texas is under condemnation for approving science standards that include being able to “analyze and evaluate” scientific theories.
Now I’ve already been doing much thinking and reading about science education in America in preparation for my BRSR discussions on Expelled and the stir it has created. And in the course of this research I came across this list of recent controversial actions involving the teaching of evolution. The article is titled, “Fighting Over Darwin, State by State” and it is presented by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. After seeing even this brief description of what has occurred in just these past few years, I’m beginning to think that Tom’s parody may not be too far off the mark in the near future. A sampling of the actions that most troubled me:
Georgia: In 2002, after receiving a petition signed by more than 2,000 parents complaining that alternative theories to evolution were not being presented in public school science textbooks, the school board in Cobb County, Ga., placed stickers on biology textbooks instructing students that "evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things." In January 2005, a federal judge ruled that the stickers were unconstitutional because they had the effect of endorsing a religious viewpoint.
Louisiana: In June 2008, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows public school teachers and school boards to provide supplemental educational materials that "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner." The implementation of this policy is the subject of ongoing debate and threats of legal action.
Michigan: In October 2006, the Michigan Board of Education voted unanimously to pass new state science standards that ensure the teaching of evolution but not the teaching of intelligent design or creation science. Language that some educators had argued cast doubt on the theory of evolution was removed from the final version of the guidelines.
New Mexico: In August 2005, the school board in Rio Rancho, N.M., passed a science policy that allowed teachers and students to discuss alternative theories to evolution and to "acknowledge that reasonable people may disagree about the meaning and interpretation of data." The policy prompted criticism from teachers and the ACLU. In April 2006, borrowing language from state science standards, the Rio Rancho school board amended this policy to say that "students shall understand that reasonable people may disagree about some issues that are of interest to both science and religion." Still, after threats of legal action and continued controversy over the purpose of the policy, the school board rescinded the policy in December 2007.
Ohio: In December 2002, the Ohio Board of Education revised its high school science standards to include the word "evolution" for the first time in 77 years. While the standards did not require that intelligent design be taught or tested in classrooms, they did mandate that 10th grade science students understand "how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." In March 2004, the board approved a model lesson plan for 10th graders titled "Critical Analysis of Evolution." In February 2006, however, the board rescinded both the critical analysis requirement and the lesson plan following a 2005 federal court ruling in Dover, Penn., striking down the teaching of intelligent design.
South Carolina: In June 2006, state officials approved new science standards requiring high school students to "summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." While this change was heralded by intelligent design proponents, critics of the guidelines argue that they might allow religion to be taught in public school science classrooms.
What is so dangerous about providing students the means to “understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner” (as proscribed in the Louisiana Science Education Act, 2008) that people are threatening legal action over the implementation of this policy? Aren’t the abilities to analyze, critique and reason exactly the skills that our students have been found lacking? Why is the ACLU and other groups working so hard to stifle the ability to question evolution or even call it something other than fact?
If the evidence for evolution is so undeniable and persuasive, what fear do evolutionists have of students engaging in a critical analysis of evolution? Note that in saying this I am not consequently advocating the teaching in schools of Intelligent Design or any other alternative theories for life’s origins (I’ll have to save that discussion for another time). What I am hoping for is that teachers will be allowed to teach about evolution even more fully than it is currently being taught, which means allowing students to hear such things like: there is currently no naturalistic explanation for the origin of new information sufficient to allow evolutionary changes to occur, and there is no proven explanation for how the first life form came into being. This is what Academic Freedom Day is all about.
I don’t think I’m the only science teacher who dreams that one day one of my students will come up with a new theory that replaces a current scientific paradigm. How will this ever occur if we don’t let our students know that it is okay to challenge conventional wisdom, to dig at holes in “established” knowledge, and to question our current understanding?
Here are a collection of quotes that I found pertinent to this discussion:
“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”
All of these quotes came from the same person: Albert Einstein, whose radical theories ended the rule of Newtonian Mechanics as the reigning paradigm in physics and ushered the way for Quantum Mechanics. Imagine how things might be if little Einstein learned that scientists were not allowed “to investigate and critically analyze aspects of Newtonian mechanics” (to borrow the wording of the 2002 Ohio high school science standard that was rescinded for fear of judicial troubles after the Dover, Penn. court ruling.
As both a youth pastor and a teacher, I’ve come to realize that there are methodological differences between teaching and preaching. I’ve also learned that my gifting is definitely more in teaching, and not preaching! In the classroom, I have learned that my responsibility is to teach, not to preach. Ironically, it seems like it is the policy making evolutionists who are trying to turn our classrooms into pulpits for preaching the doctrine of Darwinism.