Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaching the Controversy

Late last year, there was a widely reported story that an Indiana senator intended to introduce a bill to require teachers to be able to “prove” what they told students and to enable students to challenge teachers (as if students don’t already challenge teachers by, you know, asking questions). The obvious goal of the bill was to force teachers to “prove” evolution, especially when a student challenged the teacher on the basis of religious belief. Perhaps due to the ridicule the rumored bill received, it was never introduced as originally described (though its purported author, Sen. Dennis Kruse has offered plenty of other idiotic bills).

Nevertheless, a seemingly watered-down or stealth version of the bill has, in fact, been introduced as House Bill 1283:

    (a) The general assembly finds that:
        (1) an important purpose of education is to inform students about evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and informed citizens;
        (2) some subjects, including, but not limited to, science, history, and health, have produced differing conclusions and theories on some topics; and
        (3) some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how the teachers should present information and evidence on these topics.
    (b) This section applies to accredited schools.
    (c) The state board, department, governing bodies, governing authorities of accredited nonpublic schools, superintendents, principals, and other administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within accredited schools that encourages students to explore questions, learn about evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to different conclusions and theories concerning subjects set forth in subsection (a)(2).
    (d) The state board, department, governing bodies, governing authorities of accredited nonpublic schools, superintendents, principals, and other administrators may endeavor to assist teachers in finding effective ways to present the curriculum as the curriculum addresses subjects set forth in subsection (a)(2). A teacher shall be allowed to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.
    (e) The state board, department, governing bodies, governing authorities of accredited nonpublic schools, superintendents, principals, and other administrators may not prohibit a teacher in an accredited school from helping students to understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of existing conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.
    (f) This section may not be construed to promote:
        (1) any religious or nonreligious doctrine;
        (2) discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs; or
        (3) discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

If anybody can really tell me what any of that gibberish and gobbledygook really means, I’d love to hear it. But I’ll give it a go.

Let’s look at what appear to be the two core elements of the bill, Section (a)(2) and (d):

[S]ome subjects, including, but not limited to, science, history, and health, have produced differing conclusions and theories on some topics…

And:

A teacher shall be allowed to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of conclusions and theories being presented in a course being taught by the teacher.

Hmm. I wonder what topics in the subjects of science, history, and health have “produced differing conclusions”? Given the repeated efforts to try to add “Creation Science” or “Intelligent Design” to our public education curriculum, does anybody have any doubt that this sentence is aimed squarely at evolution? Or, perhaps, there’s also a bit of “America was founded as a Christian nation” thrown it, too. Maybe even some “abstinence only” theory or even “abortion causes breast cancer” for good measure. Possibly even a little helping of “climate change is a hoax”…

But, of course, these are not the only elements of science, history, or health to “have produced differing conclusions”, are they?

For example, I’m sure that in history classes, teachers will “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses” of the suggestions that the Bush administration was responsible for 9/11, right? Many books have been written by so-called “9/11 Truthers” and I’m sure that teachers will incorporate those into their teaching materials. Right? In science, teachers will “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses” of the theory that the moon landings were faked. Right? In health, I’m sure that schools that have an abstinence only sex education program will be incorporating materials to help students critique those lessons to see if, just perhaps, things like condoms or other forms of birth control might be useful. Right?

Anti-evolution, pro-religion legislators want our schools to “teach the controversy” (a phrase used by proponents of Intelligent Design to try to get their faux-science into schools) … but only if the controversy being taught is one of the “approved” controversies. I don’t think those legislators would take too kindly to the teaching of controversies that might, for example, call their own religious beliefs into question. Like, for example, an examination of whether there is, in fact, a G-d. Now that would be an interesting lesson for students to work on understanding, analyzing, and critiquing the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence.

But Section (f) of the HB1283 confuses me. I’m not sure how any of this teaching — if students and teachers are really supposed to be analyzing, critiquing, and reviewing — won’t somehow be found to be discriminatory. After all, if the evidence points to evolution as being true, then couldn’t someone make the argument that in helping the student analyze, critique, or review the science, that the teacher has promoted nonreligious doctrine or discriminated against religions? Similarly, if a teacher calls evolution into question, then hasn’t the teacher promoted religious doctrine or religious belief? Wouldn’t any effort to teach or critique creation, as described in the Bible, by definition discriminate against religions that have different creation stories? You know, like Buddhism, Hinduism, or Scientology?

Perhaps our legislators should stick to trying to solve real problems like unemployment, poverty, hunger, gun violence, and things like that. Perhaps they should leave education for … hmm … let’s see … er … educators? Perhaps they should stop trying to impose their own beliefs, in particular their religious beliefs, upon the rest of us. Perhaps they should pay attention to the Constitution that they’ve sworn to uphold. Perhaps.

But if our legislators really do want our teachers to “teach the controversy” then they need to be sure to do a thorough job. We need to really be sure that our teachers help students “understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses” of topics in the subjects of history, science, and health that “have produced differing conclusions and theories”. Topics like the following:

moon

As I mentioned above, we should be teaching the other side that says that the moon landings were faked.

elements

We should be teaching the other side that says that the real elements are Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Aether.

ufo

We should be teaching the other side that says that the pyramids were built by aliens.

turtlegeocentric

We should be teaching the other side that says it’s “turtles all the way down” (seriously…) or that the sun and planets orbit the earth.

astrology

Along with astronomy we should be teaching the other side that believes in astrology (hey, it worked for Nancy Reagan…).

alchemy

Along with chemistry we should be teaching alchemy (though I’m sure that Glenn Beck and Goldline don’t really want people to learn how to turn lead into gold).

demonsThe Four Humors t-shirt from Teach the Controversy

Along with medicine, we should be teaching the other side that says that disease and illness is caused either by demons (why do you say, “God bless you,” after someone sneezes…?) or by an imbalance in one of the four humors.

stork

We should be teaching the other said that says that babies are delivered via stork (especially in those schools with an abstinence only curriculum, because after all, we sure don’t want those kids to grow up knowing how their bodies or … gasp … sex actually work).

reincarnationxenu

So long as we’re basing our curriculum on the Bible and other religious beliefs, then we should certainly be teaching the other side that believes in reincarnation or that humans were brought to earth on an airplane by Xenu (a fundamental teaching of Scientology).

2012

I guess we no longer need to teach the Mayan belief that Earth would be destroyed in 2012 (phew, I guess we dodged a bullet there), but we should be sure that there aren’t any other apocalyptic scenarios that our kids should analyze.

elvis

We absolutely must teach the other side that says that Elvis is still alive.

youngcoexistence

We should be teaching the other side that says that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans. (Note: The Creation Museum in Kentucky apparently has exhibits depicting humans riding dinosaurs and using them as domesticated animals.)

This stuff would just be funny if it weren’t for the enormous number of people who really believe some of this shit.

Note: The foregoing images and commentary are taken from my post Graphic Slogans That Describe My Mood from June 2011. The images themselves come from Amorphia Apparel’s line of Teach the Controversy T-shirts. Subsequent to that previous post, I found a few more controversies to teach, too:

Devil Bones tshirt from Teach the Controversy

We should teach that dinosaur bones were actually planted by the Devil to make people believe in the false concept of evolution.

Telekinesis tshirt from Teach the ControversySpoon Bending t-shirt from Teach the ControversyESP Cards tshirt from Teach the Controversy

The CIA tried to harness telekinesis, ESP, and other paranormal methods, so they must be real, right? We should definitely teach that!

Doublethink (2 + 2 = 5) t-shirt from Teach the Controversy

Doublethink suggests that this is the correct answer. In these days of political correctness, we should definitely analyze whether words mean what we think and we should really be careful about what people tell us the right answers are in math. I mean, how do you really know that Pi is 3.14 or that it never ends? Huh?

Sinking Atlantis tshirt from Teach the ControversyBermuda Triangle t-shirt from Teach the Controversy

How else to explain the disappearance of Atlantis than by teaching about the Bermuda Triangle? Or, wait a minute. Is the Bermuda Triangle the result of the sinking of Atlantis? I always get confused on that one.

Flat Earth t-shirt from Teach the Controversy

What, you thought that everyone agreed that the Earth was round? Of course not. And we should be teaching that controversy, too. I bet we could get representatives of the Flat Earth Society to help our teachers.

Cthulhu t-shirt from Teach the Controversy

While we’re at it, we should be sure to teach about the real source of some of the greatest horrors known in our world (I’m speaking, of course, of Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones). If you don’t know about Cthulhu, you obviously lived a very sheltered childhood or attended a school that didn’t teach the controversy.

Time Cube tee shirt from Teach the Controversy

We should undoubtedly teach about the Time Cube; after all, it posits that what we know about science is mostly wrong. Of course, it also posits that Christianity is evil and that the idea of family poisons children, so yeah…

Chemtrails t-shirt from Teach the Controversy

We need to be sure to teach about chemtrails, which some have suggested (based on … gasp! … photographs) were responsible for the Sandy Hook killings.

Reptoid Royals tshirt from Teach the Controversy

You did know that the British royal family are actually the descendants of an ancient line of alien reptiles and that the Reptoid Royals actually control the planet, right? Of course, I’m not sure if this goes in history or science. Hmm. Controversies to ponder.

Hollow Earth tee shirt from Teach the Controversy

However, there is apparently some controversy (teach it!) as to whether the Reptoid Royals control the interior of the Hollow Earth (actually, I just made that controversy up; no, not the Hollow Earth controversy, the one about whether it’s controlled by the Reptoid Royals!).

Invisible Unicorn tee shirt from Teach the Controversy

We’d obviously be remiss if, in the study of comparative religions, we didn’t include the Invisible Pink Unicorn and, even more critically, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I’d hate to think that our children might grow up not knowing about either Cthulhu or these great religions.

And for those who think that is the job of those who believe in science to prove that non-scientific, religious, or conspiracy-based ideas are true (you know, people like the legislators who want to teach creationism in our public schools), then I can only suggest that they study:

Russell's Teapot tshirt from Teach the Controversy

Russell’s Teapot.

Finally, I came across this short video that really helps to capture the ridiculous nature of the whole … um … controversy:

 

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2 Comments:

At Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:15:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog but i would like to point out something that you seem to miss: clause (f)1. It states: "This section may not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine". I understand your concern, and honestly, some Indiana conservatives may circumvent this clause or abuse it, but you should at least have acknowledged it.

 
At Friday, April 12, 2013 9:59:00 AM , Blogger MSWallack said...

I think that I did address clause f(1):

But Section (f) of the HB1283 confuses me. I’m not sure how any of this teaching — if students and teachers are really supposed to be analyzing, critiquing, and reviewing — won’t somehow be found to be discriminatory. After all, if the evidence points to evolution as being true, then couldn’t someone make the argument that in helping the student analyze, critique, or review the science, that the teacher has promoted nonreligious doctrine or discriminated against religions? Similarly, if a teacher calls evolution into question, then hasn’t the teacher promoted religious doctrine or religious belief? Wouldn’t any effort to teach or critique creation, as described in the Bible, by definition discriminate against religions that have different creation stories? You know, like Buddhism, Hinduism, or Scientology?

 

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