'Teach the Controversy' Bills Undermine Science Education in the South

'Teach the Controversy' Bills Undermine Science Education in the South

New legislation would require science teachers to include unscientific lessons in science classes

The deep south isn't known for being too keen on their science education, especially not when that education covers things like climate change and evolution. While it's not a crime to teach either topic in most public schools, certain politicians have been trying to sneak into their state legislatures that would undermine the authority of scientific theories deemed "controversial".

Both Oklahoma and Tennessee recently passed "teach the controversy" bills. While both bills contain subtle wording, the gist is that science teachers should be required to teach both sides of issues like global warming or human evolution--that is to say, the scientific side and the unscientific side. Lawmakers seem to be under the impression that scientists across the country and around the world aren't just reporting on the data when they talk about how the world came to be or how it's about to end. They're pushing an agenda, a hot plate of opinion, a controversy. In order to render a "fair and balanced" education unto public school students, it seems we have to include a disclaimer alongside every science curriculum--a note that yes, this is what the science tells us, but lots of deluded people believe otherwise and we have to mention that lest we be accused of bias.

When are we going to stop teaching our children that every opinion is a valid one? How many people have to be wrong about something before their opinions are required reading in a science classroom? Learning isn't always about finding the middle ground between opposing sides. Sometimes it's about understanding the difference between what is science and what isn't. The scientific method has led us to the theory of evolution. It has allowed us to observe climate change. The other sides of both of those arguments do not come from the scientific method. Teaching them to kids in science class isn't going to help them become better debaters or more critical thinkers. It's going to teach them that it's okay to be wrong so long as you can yell about it loudly.

Teaching the religious origins of the earth is all well and good in science class. And it's fine to talk about the right's opposition to claims of global warming in a lesson plan about politics (or perhaps psychology). But to teach "both sides" of every scientific theory isn't productive. It isn't science. There may be disagreements within the scientific community over hot issues, but I'm guessing that's not what these bills are getting at. Our kids deserve to learn science in their science classes. Let's hope lawmakers get their topics straight soon.