Two distressing news stories out of that wealthy western state:
Berkeley High School has a serious problem: it’s a good, relatively well-funded school, but black and latino students aren’t doing as well as white students. Their solution: kill those expensive science labs and redirect the money to remedial classes. Science classes with no labs? Inconceivable! That’s what a body of earnest, well-meaning, and apparently scientifically illiterate parents and teachers have decided to do.
You cannot learn about science without doing science. It’s like deciding to continue to teach theater and music, but without that troubling and time-consuming business of performing. Or like having a football program that never plays any games (I know, that one is pure fantasy…discontinuing a football team is much, much harder than simply shutting down teaching labs).
I’m also surprised at the casual bigotry in the proposal. Demolishing their science program won’t hurt black and Latino students? Right. When I taught at Temple University, the biology labs were full of ambitious black students scrambling to pick up those essential, basic lab skills that they needed to be doctors and nurses someday…skills that were not taught in the impoverished urban schools of North Philadelphia. Is Berkeley training their minority students to be part of the cutting edge of science and technology and medicine, or are they more interested in turning out service workers for Taco Bell?
Here’s another tricky situation: the California Science Center is being sued for turning away the showing of an intelligent design creationism movie. It’s a tough case, because public institutions should be interested in presenting arguments for issues in science — even if it is a controversial story, the answer to abuses of free speech is more free speech.
However, there are other parts of this story that mean I can’t just jerk the ol’ free speech knee. One key point is that what the movie was presenting was not a scientific controversy at all—seriously, any movie that tries to present the Cambrian as a serious problem that makes evolution impossible is celluloid trash. Because the venue can be leased should not imply that the CSC is open to anyone showing home movies, or to the latest porn impresario from the San Fernando Valley using it for the premiere of his latest flick. I would think a science center would have a vested interest in protecting its reputation for showing science.
And of course, the creationists know about that reputation. That’s why they try to book prestigious places of science, like the Smithsonian, your local museum, or as we see all the time at the University of Minnesota, the physics auditorium, to show off their bogosity in the reflected luster of science. The reverse is also true: scientists don’t rush to unveil their latest discovery at the nearby church.
The science center also had clear grounds for canceling the showing: the creationists tried to imply in promotions that the movie showing was a Smithsonian-endorsed event, which it was not — they were merely a gang of bozos who had the cash to lease the room. The center also had a clause in their agreement to prevent that kind of credibility-theft, requiring promotional materials to be screened before release.
It’s all part of a growing problem: creationists know that their institutions have no scientific credibility at all, and they desperately want to borrow some authority for their lies from real science.