Gov. Haslam is expected this week to sign a new law that would require public schools to allow science teachers to discuss purported weaknesses of theories such as Evolution and Global Warming in their classrooms. What should we do about teaching evolution? Is the theory of evolution a scientific controversy or a social/religious controversy? Should this controversy be discussed in science classes? In other classes? In public schools at all?
After reading the summary of the proposed bill, my initial reaction is a question: can the state board of education, school boards, school directors, or school administrators currently prohibit any teacher in a public school system “from helping students understand, critique, and review in an objective manner” the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific endeavor?
Which is to ask: what does this bill prevent?
Furthermore, do we not now seek to create an environment within public and secondary schools “that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully” to differences of opinion? Do we not already assist teachers “to find effective ways” to present science as it addresses “scientific controversies”?
Which is to ask: what does this bill contribute?
Which is to say: the proposal of a law that is ambiguous in its aims, or, worse, superfluous in its aims, indicates a condescending attitude towards administrators and educators in our public school system, since such a proposal implies that educators and administrators, in general, are not competent to carry out the basic functions of their jobs.
I am to understand that this bill somehow either prevents teachers from teaching that the methods of science confirm the processes of biological evolution, or prevents teachers from not teaching that the methods of science confirm the processes of biological evolution.
Thus, the bill is designed to allay the fear that public school teachers will force my child to accept or to reject evolution.
With respect to this subject and every other subject that public school systems teach: isn’t the fear that teachers can impose a dangerous ideology on our children that will prevent them from growing up to be kind, helpful, responsible people, simply an admission that we parents haven’t shown our children that they can trust us, first, to be voices of reason, understanding, and responsibility?
For the sake of the argument, let’s try out a scenario. You come home late from work and your twelve-year-old son Sam doesn’t unlock his eyes from the television screen as you pass through the front room on your way to the kitchen.
Three hours later, when you tell Sam, who remains transfixed before the television, to go to bed, he grunts:
“Why should I? Ms. Fabbleheimerer said that sleep doesn’t serve any biological purpose. We only sleep because society has made it a habit. She said that if we just decide not to sleep, we’ll use up to twenty percent more of our brains during daylight hours. She hasn’t slept since 1987.”
“What the—?” you bellow. “That Ms. Fabbleheimerer is a nincompoop! Your school is a joke! The school system is broken! And don’t get me started on consolidation! This is typical of a fundamentally dysfunctional culture!”
As you continue to rage around the house, Sam clicks off the television and goes to bed, figuring that the sacrifice of twenty percent more of his brain is worth escaping the endless tantrum.
On the other hand, the scenario might run otherwise.
You set aside the work you’ve brought home from the office as Sam comes through the door and sits up to the kitchen bar for a snack.
“What did you learn in school today?” you ask, setting out wheat crackers and humus.
“Ms. Fabbleheimerer said we shouldn’t sleep anymore.” Crunch, crunch, crunch. “It’s a waste of time, she says. She says we’ll do better on our TCAPs if we just spend all night studying rather than sleeping.”
“That is a very strange, but interesting idea,” you say, thoughtfully swirling vegetable juice in your glass. “I haven’t had a lot of success staying up all night. I remember this one time back in college… uh… I also remember this time three years ago when I was behind with some work, and I stayed up all night finishing it, and I fell asleep in a meeting the next day. Full face-plant on the conference table. Broke my nose.”
“That’s why your nose is crooked?” Sam asks.
“That’s why my nose is crooked. How does Ms. Fabbleheimerer know that sleep’s unnecessary?”
“Says she hasn’t slept since 1987.”
Maybe that’s why she can’t turn her head.”
“I know, right?” Sam says, scooping humus.
“That creeps me out.”
“Well, I’m skeptical of this idea. Doesn’t really accord with my own experience. Do you want to try staying up all night?”
“Not really. I’m sleepy just thinking about it.”
“Tell you what. Instead of doing your homework right away, let’s play badminton until it gets dark, and then you can stay up until eleven to do your homework and read. Then I’ll wake you up an hour early for school tomorrow, and we’ll see what the hours of sleep you’ve missed have done to you.”
Which is to conclude: the ideas that our kids encounter at school are fiendish and frightening only to the degree that our homes fail to inspire and to motivate them.
Perhaps we need a bill that would prohibit parents from not helping their children to develop critical thinking skills and to respond appropriately to differences of opinion.