Here’s a newspaper article about a classroom debate on global warming. Class debates are good, I think — they get the students thinking about the evidence and working over how to present it persuasively, although I also think it’s up to the instructor to provide some guidance. Realistically, sixth graders aren’t going to have a good handle on either the facts or the theory, and it’s up to the teacher to give them the battery of data they’re going to use to make their arguments. And sometimes it can go wrong.
In this case, the students who do not believe humans contribute to global warming presented a graph that showed CO2 fluctuations that did not correlate with warming or cooling patterns.
In a climax that sent half the class to its feet and forced the judge to call for order, opponent Monique Nem slapped a contradictory graph onto the prosecution’s table.
“We’ve proven you wrong! The CO2 levels have shot up,” she said.
The jury responded more warmly, however, to Caleb Poppe’s response: The graphic cited a Hawaiian source; Hawaii has volcanoes; volcanoes emit CO2.
Wha…? That was an absurd response—although, unfortunately, it persuaded the class, and they ‘voted’ against the idea of anthropogenic global warming—since then what we’d expect to see is fluctuations correlated with eruptions. I suspect that what Ms Nem showed was the well known measurements from Mauna Loa Observatory which show a steady increase in atmospheric CO2, while also beautifully showing seasonal variations in concentration, too. Unless young Caleb wants to argue that volcanoes in the northern hemisphere have a seasonal cycle, erupting in the winter and not so much in the summer, his argument is bogus.
Well, you say, he’s a sixth grader — he doesn’t know any better, yet, and we certainly don’t chew out kids for not knowing something they haven’t been taught yet.
Except, unfortunately, Caleb is the son of the teacher in this class, Ken Poppe, who has openly professed global warming denialism. It ought to be the job of the teacher to explain why this student’s argument is fallacious (and better yet, to have the other students sufficiently well prepared that they can see the fallacy themselves), but since he favors that nonsense, he’s going to slant the class in an inappropriate direction.
Papa Poppe says a few truly stupid things.
Only one parent questioned Poppe’s decision to hold a global warming debate. That mother expected him to present Al Gore’s global warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth” as indisputable facts, Poppe said. After he explained his neutrality in the classroom, the mom allowed her child to participate in the debate, he said.
“Neutrality” is not a desirable characteristic in a science teacher. When the two positions are a) supported by the evidence, and b) not supported by the evidence, you are not doing your job to claim that a and b are equal. To do so is to unfairly promote the status of the unsupported premise…which is exactly what Ken Poppe is doing. He is lying to promote crackpottery in the science classroom.
It gets worse.
“You don’t understand someone’s position until you can argue it to their satisfaction,” Poppe said, quoting a famous physicist. “I don’t believe in Darwinism either, but I can argue it as well as any Darwinist.”
Jebus. He claims to be a paleontologist, too. I pity the children of Longmont, Colorado, saddled with creationist incompetent for a science teacher.