We like to see the sciences as pure pursuits; undertakings not affronted by the pangs of bias and slander that curse the rest of the world's endeavors. The sciences are looked upon as noble, rich frontiers, explored most intimately by those bright enough, and humble enough, to truly understand whatever substance there is to be found, and thus define its implications for all humanity.
This is the face of what the world sees (or would like to see) as science, and generally what I wholeheartedly believe. But, as with all things, there are certain points where the scientific community has succeeded in making a fantastic mess of things.
An article recently ran in the Science section of The New York Times, citing a national survey that was published in Science Magazine regarding how a certain aspect of biology is taught in high school classrooms.
As you can probably guess, the issue is, again (as if it ever once stopped), the teaching of evolutionary biology. Many students refuse to accept it, and it even seems that many teachers are fueling the attitude. In spite of rulings by the Supreme Court, teachers all over the US are retrofitting creationism into their curricula. The greater scientific community sees this as a ghastly abomination, but many teachers and students seem to see it as a way to avoid heresy.
The ignorance and divisiveness from both sides is one of the most frustrating things I have ever encountered in my education. We can't seem to find a solution to this because the debate is so staunchly polarized - even though it doesn't have to be.
It's difficult to say which side struck first in the Creation v. Evolution debate, but it's quite clear that neither side is trying very hard to reconcile their perceived differences. Many creationists see "evil-lution" as a direct affront to their view of the world - "Life evolved on its own. Where is your god now?" To the same end, biologists make only feeble attempts to show hysterical creationists how evolution really has no bearing on their spiritual perception of life.
This one small, albeit crucial, aspect of learning has created a needlessly foul air between ardent creationists and non-creationists (I won't deliberate over nomenclature on this one). The reality is, differences arise only when you allow them to, and I might even go so far as to lay more blame on the scientific community for all of the disparity.
The most fundamental issue at play is the conflict with which these controversial subjects are fraught. Polarizing debates, internal and external, are the biggest inhibitors of learning, and so the real solution is for the scientific community to remove the element of conflict entirely. Scientists like to call themselves the neutral voices of reason, but it's true that they can be as belligerent and aggressive as religious folk can be irrational and hysterical (here's looking at you, Richard Dawkins).
You can teach evolution in classrooms without hinting at what it may imply about the universe at large, and the hard concepts will not suffer. It can ultimately be left up to the student to decide what the deeper implications of evolution are.
The authors of the article themselves said that, of the students who take only one science course in high school, they are most likely to take biology. The students in that category are not prone to becoming biology majors or shed any consequence onto scientific understanding. In light of this, the task for teachers in this situation is to teach only the pure mechanics of evolution, and not what can be interpreted as the philosophies or deeper implications behind it. If done delicately, it might not even be such a bad idea to illustrate how evolution, specifically, does not conflict with any possible creationist perspectives. The ultimate goal is impartiality.
This strategy of non-competitiveness could address the problems in debates moreover; for instance, the divisive climate talks. It's maddening to watch an issue such as climate change become so overly politicized that the science itself suffers. The debate has become more focused on which side is right, rather than, "What does the data truly tell us?" In some cases, politically slanted hands go as far as tampering with the data itself.
This ideological flaw is the fundamental component of what inhibits learning. The best approach to a divided issue is to remove this element of conflict that so effectively clouds judgment. Everyone becomes wiser in the end, and nobody has to feel like they lost something.
Start a discussion
Concurrence or rebuttal, if you have a strong opinion, let's hear it. The Maneater Forum seeks to publish a diversity of opinions and foster meaningful decision. Readers are encouraged to actively contribute to and develop new discussions. Add to ours, or make your own point.