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Don’t teach how, only what

It’s the first week of classes. I’ve given the first lecture to my first year introductory biology course and my second year cell biology course, and the theme of both lectures was that science isn’t a body of facts, but a process for learning — and I’m emphasizing to them all that the conclusion is less important than how we come to that conclusion. And what do idiot politicians in Ohio do? They try to pass a law denying school kids knowledge of the process.

The standards in science shall be based in core existing disciplines of biology, chemistry, and physics; incorporate grade-level mathematics and be referenced to the mathematics standards; focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.

So you’re not allowed to teach how we know what we know, and you’re not allowed to make any inferences from what we know, but can only have the students memorize collections of “facts”. Facts that float in a void of meaninglessness, coming from nowhere and lacking in all implications. That’s just weird.

The politician pushing this inanity, Republican (of course) Andy Thompson, clearly has an agenda of his own, to shut down discussion of evolution and climate change, as they always do. I don’t see how this enforced limitation will help him do that. If I were trapped in a horrible educational system that demanded that I just have my students learn a set of rote facts, I’d sit down and make a list that included:

  • The earth is 4.5 billion years old.

  • All life on earth is related by common descent.

  • Evolution explains how the diversity of life arose from an original form.

  • Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas.

  • The planet is warming; look, here’s a graph of global temperatures.

  • Climate change will have serious consequences within the next few decades, and is causing serious problems right now.

OK, kids, go memorize those facts, they’ll be on the test. Oh, you want to argue with me? Not allowed, by the law of the land, because that would involved discussing how we know those things. Teaching the controversy is now illegal. Sit down, shut up, start memorizing.

Comments

  1. says

    Without the question of “how do we know this?”, a collection of facts is indistinguishable from dogma. They keep spreading the lie that science is a religion, but now they’re trying to force it into becoming one.

  2. Pteryxx says

    It’s the “political or religious” clause that worries me. Just define everything as a political agenda, and they can present whichever “facts” they want, without any way to determine which facts are accurate facts and which are just religion with the numbers filed off.

    The politician pushing this inanity, Republican (of course) Andy Thompson, clearly has an agenda of his own, to shut down discussion of evolution and climate change, as they always do. I don’t see how this enforced limitation will help him do that.

    In my interpretation it’s part of a broader, religion-associated war on asking questions. Jonny Scaramanga of Leaving Fundamentalism had this guest post the other day: I am officially heartbroken

    Kid: “There were a lot of rules, and if you deviate from them you’re going to hell.”

    Me: “Did they actually tell you that?”

    Kid: “No. It just seemed like that from the PACEs.”

    Me: “And that made you feel frightened of your own creativity?”

    Kid: “Yeah.”

    Me: [Long pause]

    Kid: “Are you ok, dad?”

    Me: “Dammit. Sorry to curse, but dammit, dammit, dammit, dammit.”

    Kid: “I’m sorry.”

    Scaramanga: (bolds mine)

    And it’s not like ACE is the only kind of schooling that can be damaging to creativity. But ACE’s assault on creativity seems to be coming from a different place. It’s not that creativity is overlooked because of an emphasis on STEM subjects and rationality; it’s that ideas are dangerous, because ideas can be wrong. For ACE, education is about submission: submission first to adults, who are placed over you by God, and ultimately to God himself. You don’t need your own ideas. You need God’s ideas. Then, they believe, God will give you original ideas.

  3. gussnarp says

    “focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes; ” What the holy hell? What’s the point then? Is there any educator, anywhere, who thinks that’s the way we should teach anything? Isn’t that pretty much the opposite of everything we’ve learned about education in the last fifty years?

    I hope there’s enough sense in our legislature that this would never pass, but we’re also gerrymandered into a ton of crazy right wing republicans dominating the state house, so you never know. The last redistricting has written me out of my Democratic districts and into Republicans ones at the state level, but at least one of those guys has seemed reasonable in the past. In spite of being pro-life he responded to me that he agreed with me that a recent anti abortion law was going to far and shouldn’t pass. So I’ll be writing some emails.

  4. Scientismist says

    Knowledge is not a loose-leaf notebook of facts. Above all, it is a responsibility for the integrity of what we are, primarily of what we are as ethical creatures. You cannot possibly maintain that informed integrity if you let other people run the world for you while you yourself continue to live out of a ragbag of morals that come from past beliefs. …And yet, fifty years from now, if an understanding of man’s origins, his evolution, his history, his progress, is not the commonplace of the schoolbooks, we shall not exist.

    — Jacob Bronowski (1973)

    It has been 40 years.

  5. raven says

    focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes;

    Yeah, saw this.

    1. He wants to enforce rote memorization over learning to think.

    Makes sense. Thinking is the enemy of religion as Martin Luther said long ago. The xians know it too.

    2. Any parent who sees this should hit the roof. They are sabotaging their kid’s education and futures.

    3. Clearly he hates the USA. We can’t run a Hi Tech society in a competitive world with a lot of poorly educated meat robots.

    I doubt this will pass. But who knows. I doubted if Bush could really almost destroy the USA.

  6. mkoormtbaalt says

    I imagine that he would dismiss your list of facts as nothing but theories and, as such, they should not be taught. After all, theories are too controversial.

  7. moarscienceplz says

    I’m currently reading Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World which tells the story of how the Jesuits in Italy opposed infinitesimals because the very idea of them offended their preconceptions of how the Universe worked, and in the process they basically stopped the Italian Renaissance in its tracks. I wish certain Republicans would read it, but it does contain a few equations, so that will probably never happen.

  8. magistramarla says

    This proposed law must be one of those that they are trying to pass in multiple states, since I saw the very same wording in a law that was proposed in Texas.
    Most of the younger students that I saw when I was teaching were so thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea of rote learning for a test that they were shocked when I asked them to discuss what they were learning or to express their own opinions.
    The administration began demanding that I produce and file in my lesson plans multiple choice, easily quantifiable tests.
    One AP even insisted that I should go over every test question with the class prior to the test so that there would be “no surprises” on test day.
    Sadly, many of the younger teachers, especially those in the core classes, had grown up with this rote learning and emphasis on “teaching to the standardized test”, so they were very successful in teaching that way.
    I think that many of the older, more experienced teachers, like myself, are getting disgusted and leaving the profession.

  9. says

    “Teaching the controversy is now illegal. Sit down, shut up, start memorizing.”

    That does seem to be where this is intended to go. The willful ignorami used to screech, “Teach the controversy!” But now that logic, reason and the scientific method kept showing that creationism and climate change denialism were fundamentally invalid, they are screeching, “Stop teaching logic, reason and the scientific method!” I just hope that the legislature and school board have better sense than to follow this path.

    Yeah, yeah, I’m not exactly holding my breath either.

  10. shouldbeworking says

    That describes my job as a physics teacher. The answer is what the calculator says; don’t make me think/predict/explain/do an experiment.

  11. raven says

    Most of the younger students that I saw when I was teaching were so thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea of rote learning for a test…

    That is for the hoi pollio, the plebians, peasants, proles.

    You know the elites aren’t doing this. Their kids will get good educations and go to ivy league and higher end private and public universities.

    PS The prewritten bills are probably ALEC or Dishonesty Institute.

  12. unclefrogy says

    when I look closely I would have say that I agree with the Statement by the Great Jacob Bronowski except that the time frame seems wrong I am not sure we exist in any meaningful way other than just a noisy powerless minority now.
    uncle frogy

  13. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Isn’t this exactly, our definition, of “indoctrination”? And who was it that complained that most sciences were little more than stamp collecting? As PZ, in the OP, opined; science is HOW To Do, not just a a list of facts to be memorized. Seems this guy wants to defeat Science by reducing it to overwhelming memorization of an overwhelming list of facts; no thinking necessary. He’s trying to force educators to do exactly what they’ve been blaming educators of doing (while doing it themselves). I doubt he is trying to just “make it easier” to teach science; claiming discovering new facts is the “hard part” of science.

  14. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Separate point:

    prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.

    “Political”. He uses that word, but I do not think he knows what it means. Every fact has political ramifications. Politics is simply the word that describes the relations between people in (voluntary or involuntary) groups. There is no such as an apolitical fact.

    Case in point: 2 + 2 = 4. I have heard it said by some Christians that if their god told them that 2 + 2 = 5, they would believe it. Even this seemingly apolitical and a-religious fact actually has significant political and religious ramifications.

  15. F.O. says

    This is what an educational system desperately needed: becoming even more boring, more meaningless and more frustrating and at the same time preparing you for trivia games rather than for life.

  16. fmitchell says

    Even back in my college years in the 1980s, there’s been a vocal conservative contingent that thinks knowledge should be shut away in libraries and ivory towers, like neatly pinned bugs under glass. Applying what we know to the “real world” somehow sullies the knowledge and causes confusion among the unwashed, untrained masses. The Powers That Be know what they’re doing. Don’t confuse people with facts, much less “theories”.

    If we have to add this “science stuff” to readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic — and without the hickory stick, thanks ACLU — then by the ceremonially deistic God let’s make it as dull, narrowly focused, and uncontroversial as possible, as befitting a new generation of wage slaves in this automated, media driven New Gilded Age.

  17. chrislawson says

    Enlightenment Liberal@18: I think he knows exactly what political means — it means the politicians get to decide what is a fact and what isn’t instead of educators or scientists.

  18. nutella says

    In other words, this politician is saying “no science at all” because science is not a body of knowledge! It is a method used to develop an ever-changing body of knowledge.

  19. davidw says

    The really worst part is that Thompson is on record as saying that this proposed law WILL allow teachers to “teach the controversy” (although he didn’t use those words) regarding evolution and climate change. So really, it’s just another attempt to shoehorn religion into the science classroom. I’ve already written my state legislator to oppose SB 597 – but she’s a Republican, so I fear I wasted my time.

  20. David Marjanović says

    and prohibit political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another.

    Lots of people seem to believe that science and politics are non-overlapping magisteria – that preferences for political hypotheses are matters of personal taste and cannot possibly be informed by objective facts, that political hypotheses cannot even in principle be disproven.

    This is the clearest admission of this… screaming… nonsense that I’ve yet seen.

  21. carlie says

    Makes sense – if it’s only about facts, then it’s easy to say that people disagree on facts, or that scientists aren’t sure of specific facts, and pick which facts to teach, while handcuffing the students of any way to judge the support behind those facts.

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