The following is an abstract from an article by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education called ?WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE “TEACH THE CONTROVERSY” SLOGAN?? available here.


a repost

a repost

Teachers are often exhorted by creationists to “teach the controversy.” Although such encouragement sounds on the surface like a proposal for critical thinking instruction, the history of the creationist movement in North America belies this claim. Rather than teach students to analyze and evaluate actual scientific controversies, the intent of “teach the controversy” exhortations is to have teachers instruct students that evolution is weak or unsubstantiated science that students should not take seriously. Such instruction in alleged “evidence against evolution,” or “critical analysis of evolution” would seriously mis-educate students, and should be resisted by teachers and administrators.

It does not take much to insert ?the controversy? into a public school biology classroom. Here are some ideas as to how to do this:

1) Don?t mention anything about ?the controversy? unless it is raised by a student. Most likely it will be since a fair percentage of the students are primed to bring this issue up. They are primed by parents, preachers, and so on. When the student brings up ?the controversy? the creationist biology teacher is presented with at ?teachable moment? ripe for exploitaiton.

2) If you follow strategy (1), it is possible that the opportunity to teach ?the controversy? will be lost now and then. It is possible that an entire semester can go by without any student really bringing the issue up. Strategy (2) is to start, supervise, or otherwise get involved with a legal extra-curricular Christian group. The very fact that a biology teacher is the faculty supervisor of such a group may be enough to cause a greater number of students to make the connection. But the effect can be virtually guaranteed by bringing creationism (even in the absence of discussion of evolution itself) into the discussion by using Genesis as a discussion template during the first couple of meetings of the group in a given semester or academic year.

3) A teacher can probably get away with (but this is probably not legal) mentioning their own religion along with other facts about themselves during on the first or second day of class during ?introductions? or some other ?get to know you/me? activity at the beginning of a semester.

Would these activities be considered illegal, or should they be discouraged or made against the rules by a school administration? Is it appropriate to simply not hire teachers who are creationists in order to avoid this problem to begin with?

Should school administrators be on the lookout for teachers using these strategies? if so, how?

Comments

  1. #1 Jim Thomerson
    September 16, 2010

    I think there is considerable difference between teaching creationism versus teaching about creationism. I have routinely done the latter in a junior level university evolution course. However, I’m not sure the distinction is valid at a K-12 level unless the teacher is unusually sophisticated.

  2. #2 Joseph A. Marcus
    September 16, 2010

    Greg,

    Sometimes (well, actually ALL of the time) it’s hard for me to fathom just how much worse things seem to be getting … (BTW I assume you saw the Pharyngula masturbation post-CUM-video: I bet you’re irked that PJ scooped you on that one!) … There’s just gotta be some godawful contaminant in the global water supply, never mind its shortage …

    Uh, but back to the reason for this comment:
    ——————————————
    “Rather than teach students to analyze and evaluate actual scientific controversies, the intent of “teach the controversy” exhortations is to have teachers instruct students that evolution is weak or unsubstantiated science that students should not take seriously. Such instruction in alleged “evidence against evolution,” or “critical analysis of evolution” would seriously mis-educate students, and should be resisted by teachers and administrators.”
    ——————————————
    Yes, I do ‘get’ this. But when I (and probably you) learned about evolution in high school, my religious biology teacher did an excellent job of “teaching the controversy.” (Which I believe was the norm: Them was the days!). He taught us the story [leaving his own Christian beliefs out of it, as most good science teachers did back then — whether instinctively or from common sense] of the religion-vs.-evolution clash preceding, during, and in the aftermath of Darwin’s 1859 opus. He employed a straightforward chronological/historicist approach, and it was exciting to be introduced to the major players, i.e., Darwin, Huxley, Wilberforce, Kingsley, Agassiz, et al. We even watched “Inherit the Wind.” Then he segued into the more modern evidence.

    This was in a rural (agricultural) Protestant Kansan setting, and no one — none of the parents, most of whom were fundamentalists — and certainly not the cows grazing across the street from my school — ever raised a public stink.
    ———
    So WHY (rhetorical question) has the atmosphere changed so much? I know the sociohistorical answers, but I still think it’s gotta be something pernicious in the global water supply … against which SOME of us Boomers were somehow immunized.

    — Joe M.

  3. #3 L.Long
    September 16, 2010

    When it is brought up ask what controversy are they talking about? When they mention ID or what ever say the truth…there is no controversy all scientist say there is none.

    Or say OK, and state in on the titans and what happened with Zeus. When they complain state that they are right and no religion will be talked about.

    The main and only problem with the teach the controversy is the irate parents and the principle-with-no-balls and the school-board-of-cowards that let the ignorant parents get control.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    September 16, 2010

    Jim, “about creationism” can never, ever be safely put in K-12 science standards, and unless they increase high school by two years or throw out, say, Gym and the Humanities, there is ever less time in relation to material in all the sciences. So it will never be OK to teach about until college.

    Well, there are ways to work it in, but it is tricky.

  5. #5 6EQUJ5
    September 16, 2010

    I suggest that when such a troublemaker starts his spiel, ask for citations from journals — real journals. Science, Nature, NEJM, Lancet, and such.

    If there is a real scientific controversy, it will be reflected in some respectable journal.

  6. #6 LouFCD
    September 16, 2010

    Being scientifically literate is a basic requirement for being a science teacher, a reasonable qualification demand for the job. Being a creationist demonstrates a profound ignorance of the very basics of science.

    Why on earth is it not mandatory to simply ask at the first interview, “Are you a creationist?” If the answer is “Yes”, the appropriate response is “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

    Hiring a creationist to teach science is about as brilliant a move as hiring someone who is illiterate to teach English grammar, and refusing to hire a creationist is well within the reasonable bounds of vetting.

    If an English teacher is telling his classes that spelling is a vast atheist conspiracy and grammar is a matter of opinion, we would fire that teacher without a second thought. Firing a creationist from the science classroom should be a no-brainer, and automatic.

  7. #7 Ian
    September 18, 2010

    “So WHY (rhetorical question) has the atmosphere changed so much? I know the sociohistorical answers, but I still think it’s gotta be something pernicious in the global water supply … against which SOME of us Boomers were somehow immunized.”

    Christianity has been politicized. I don’t mean it has become involved in politics, I mean it has become for some the only important defining element in politics. It It has been used to create an us-vs-them mentality. The end times has been emphasized to make the final battle NOW, which makes it easier to make everyone else the enemy.

    Once you’ve got everyone, or enough people to form a consistently reliable voting bloc, judging people on their religion or associated policies or beliefs, you field candidates who pass that test, but also will promote an unrelated economic agenda.

    If you’ve really got some brass balls, you can also try to associate key elements of that economic agenda with the religious elements (see: the Prosperity Gospel). This also has the benefit of creating new criteria by which enemies can be defined.

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