In his article, "Evolution: what's the real controversy?" Josh Timmer compares the manufactroversy of intelligent design v evolution to some bona fide debates among scientists today. Would "teach the controversy" make sense for any of these genuine disputes? His conclusion: no.
I can't argue.
Science is a method for assigning an appropriate level of confidence to claims about the world. It's a skill, like math or cooking. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
You can learn a fair amount of history from TV documentaries. But you won't learn much science while sitting on the couch. Yes, you can absorb a number of interesting facts from well-written science shows. But a collection of sciency facts does not a science make.
Science, like math, is a skill that benefits from frequent practice. Lectures and readings only take you so far. To really get the hang of it, you have to knuckle down and work your way through some problems on your own.
I hear the word "scientific" used to suggest a fashion or style evocative of test tubes, chemicals, blackboards, equations, conservative attire, monotone voice, and mechanical mannerisms. With respect to style, I prefer "sciency" to "scientific." I'd like to save "scientific" for something more useful, i.e. "defensible per accepted rules of evidence."
If I say that a claim is scientific, the onus is upon me to defend that claim using evidence and reasoned argument. But if I say, "well that's what I was taught in science class," I've actually demonstrated a non-scientific basis. This is not to say that a scientific basis doesn't exist; just that my basis is not scientific.
High school students, with rare exception, haven't developed the skills needed to independently critique or defend most basic scientific claims. Discussion of conjectures on the frontiers of current scientific understanding certainly won't grant them an opportunity to do the maths for themselves --i.e., to independently weigh the arguments and evidence forming the basis of each rival position.
When you can't double-check the maths, what's your basis for accepting what you're told? A vague hope that the teacher's got things right? Gosh, isn't that an appeal to authority --the basis for nearly everything that isn't science?
If we confuse kids about the nature of science, if we lead them to believe that knowing science means knowing a lot of sciency facts rather than knowing how to do science, we'll wind up with a generation of gullibles who can be made to believe a claim is "scientific" simply because someone sciency said so.
Oh wait. We've got that already.
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