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Teach the Controversy: Science Teachers Say “Thank You!”

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This is old news, but I only just learned about it, and I don’t think it was talked about when it happened. In 2006, the Ouachita Parish (i.e., county) School Board decided to allow a “teach the controversy” approach to science education. After the policy was enacted, the science teachers wrote a letter thanking the school board for their decision. Here’s what they said:

We, the undersigned science educators in Ouachita Parish have seen a positive impact on our students as a result of the [[teach the controversy]]. Our students have a variety of cultural backgrounds and as a result have many questions when it comes to subjects such as cloning, human-caused global warming, and biological evolution. Our science policy gives us the opportunity to discuss those views, held by our students, in light of scientific fact and to bring up scientific questions that challenge current scientific “theories”.

The say that students:

  • Get their questions asked and answered
  • Are more engaged and interested in the subject matter
  • Have better discussions
  • Understand the material better leading to better achievement
  • Are more intrinsically motivated

And, for educators, they get benefits as well:

  • They feel free to answer students’ questions
  • They feel that there is less tension or fear in teaching the subjects

Click here to read the full letter.

21 Replies to “Teach the Controversy: Science Teachers Say “Thank You!”

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Surprise! — not.

  2. 2
    Seversky says:

    An immediate red flag was raised for me when I saw the word “theories” enclosed in quotation marks twice in the letter from the science teachers. I wondered just how much science these so-called science teachers were actually teaching their students. It took only a little research to find this report from the Daily Beast from which I have excerpted this passage:

    In 2008, Louisiana became the first state to pass an academic freedom law, the Louisiana Science Education Act, which is being used to teach creationism in public school districts like Bossier Parish.

    According to one email I obtained from Bossier Parish science teachers, students are learning the “Creation point of view” by reading the Book of Genesis and being given “supplemental material debunking various aspects of evolution.” In a different email bashing the ACLU and celebrating religious influence in Bossier schools, one Bossier teacher, Carolyn Goodwin, explained her support for creationism succinctly:

    “My great granddaddy wasn’t a monkey.”

    An August 2012 email sent to Louisiana’s state superintendent by a Department of Education deputy chief of staff said creationism was an “academic fact” in Louisiana schools.

    The Louisiana Science Education Act’s roots can be traced back to Ouachita Parish and a creationist activist, retired Judge Darrell White. In 2006, the Ouachita school board passed a creationism policy drafted by White, who is a lifetime member of the Creation Museum and believes that teaching evolution is responsible for mass shootings. During a 2010 hearing of the Louisiana State Board of Education, I listened as Judge White blamed evolution for the Columbine massacre while waving a T-shirt that read “NATURAL SELECTION,” which murderer Eric Harris had worn. Documents obtained from Ouachita Parish show that the district is teaching creationism in its science classes, including that “snake leg nubbs” are proof of God’s work.

    In an email conversation with White, Danny Pennington, a principal, and former science teacher from Ouachita, discussed creating supplemental videos to use under the Science Education Act.

    “I will take out all references to creationism and just focus on the stupidity of evolutionary theory,” Pennington wrote. “I believe they can be shown in classrooms… I know what to say and what not to say.” Other supplemental materials Pennington created say, “Macroevolution has never occurred,” and promote the creationist theory of irreducible complexity, which was debunked by scientists during the Kitzmiller trial.

    If what is reported here is true in that creationism is being taught as an academic or scientific fact in the science classrooms of this parish under the guise of “teaching the controversy” then this is an utter disgrace. The school board and the so-called science teachers of Ouachita Parish are blatantly in dereliction of their duty to provide their students with the current state of scientific thinking in those fields whether they agree with it or not.

    I wonder if the good people of Ouachita Parish are as open to the teaching of the controversies that surround the Christian doctrines on which creationism is based. Are they more willing to believe in talking snakes than that snakes may have evolved from some type of burrowing lizard and, if so, what does that say about their perspective on science?

  3. 3
    Mung says:

    An immediate red flag was raised for me when I saw the word “theories” enclosed in quotation marks twice in the letter from the science teachers.

    Any half-educated fool knows that evolution consists of more than one theory.

  4. 4
    rvb8 says:

    It was the 2006 date that interested me, and the fact that a certain courtcase had just been adjudicated and ID was labelled, ‘not science’.

    The, ‘teach the controversy’, ruse was started sometime in 2005 as the DI realised what a train wreck of a courtcase would ensue with witnesses flouting their Christianity (then denying it), and the Thomas Moore Law Center, woefully uninformed.

    The interesting questions are, is this a confessing school? And what is their policy 2017?

    And I suppose, what is the weight of opinion of a small rural(?), school district? Their science teachers seem poorly informed about current theories, if they believe there is a controversy.

    Mung,

    Evolutionary Theory is the theory that life evolved by descent with modification. Everything else are proposed mechanisms, evidence, and ongoing experimentation.

    Just one idea though, or theory, if you will.:)

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    RVB8, Mung is quite correct. There is a collection of research programmes and there are associated theories, models and even metaphysical narratives, but there is no one specific grand theory. And, theories and ideas are not the same thing at all. KF

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky, I have long been saddened by the doctrinaire rigidity and domineering behaviour of adherents of evolutionary materialist ideology. If we were instead to go back to, say, Newton in Opticks Query 31 and rebuild more soundly i/l/o history of sci, associated phil and logical issues informed by epistemology, we would come away with a much better understanding of science and its frames of thought. In particular, we would understand the open-ended, inevitably provisional nature of scientific theorising, we would learn that “consensus” of experts in one day is the long surpassed stage of another day (phlogiston, anyone). Also, that the dynamical focus of a healthy research programme is an honest and sober appreciation of strengths, weaknesses, promising areas and points of serious discussion. Students in high school need to know that, just to be good citizens in a high tech age. And when it comes to origins theories that delve on an inherently unobservable past, the issues compound. Indoctrination in evolutionary materialist scientism, starting from convenient redefinitions of science and courtroom legislation from the bench based on copying of agenda driven activists — gross blunders and strawman caricatures and all — is not a sound foundation for education, citizenship or actual praxis of science. The sort of ugly bully-boy fascistic threats made c 2005 by US NAS and NSTA against students and their families to hold them hostage to the domineering materialists and their indoctrination agendas, is beyond the pale — and here are facts. Those facts and the equally inexcusible behaviour of the complicit media also need to be part of the reckoning: destructive agit-prop. It is therefore high time for a serious rethink and walk-back of some highly dubious impositions, dogmas and policies forced through by ideological evolutionary materialist scientism agendas abusing institutional, media and policy-maker power. When we see willingness to acknowledge wrongs done and blunders as were just outlined, then we can have a basis for serious discussion and moving forward. KF

  7. 7
    johnnyb says:

    Seversky – guilt by association. Should I point out every time someone advocating for evolution is an atheist or a member of a humanist organization or FFRF? Would that be a legitimate argument against their case? Of course not.

    RVB8 – First of all, you have your history wrong. The “Teach the Controversy” idea was started at latest in 2002 (that’s when I found a Stephen Meyer article about the idea), with T.O. criticizing the idea in 2003. The school is a public school, not a private school. Of course, the Darwin Lobby likes to make it look like everything is about politics. Certainly politics get involved in public policy, but it is the aims of good science and good policy in the driver’s seat.

    As for the current policies, the policies in these districts were so popular that they became state policy in 2010. I do not know what has happened since.

  8. 8
    johnnyb says:

    RVB8 – I looked in Wikipedia, and Wikipedia puts the origins of “Teach the Controversy” to 1999.

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    kf@5 I could not have said it better myself my friend.

  10. 10
    ET says:

    rvb8:

    It was the 2006 date that interested me, and the fact that a certain courtcase had just been adjudicated and ID was labelled, ‘not science’.

    Only the scientifically illiterate thinks that Courts can decide what is and isn’t science. Heck the judge was fooled by a simple literature bluff.

    Evolutionary Theory is the theory that life evolved by descent with modification

    That isn’t a theory. YECs claim that extant life evolved by decent with modification too. They just have a different starting point.

  11. 11
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    An immediate red flag was raised for me when I saw the word “theories” enclosed in quotation marks twice in the letter from the science teachers. I wondered just how much science these so-called science teachers were actually teaching their students.

    If they are teaching evolutionism then the quotation marks are warranted as there isn’t a scientific theory of evolution, just faith-based claims.

    The fact that evolutionism still gets a voice is a shame on all mankind.

  12. 12
    Seversky says:

    Mung @ 8

    Any half-educated fool knows that evolution consists of more than one theory.

    Of course, but that wasn’t the purpose of the scare quotes and I’m pretty sure you know that as well as I do.

  13. 13
    ET says:

    The quotes are used because the “theories” in question are not scientific. Hence the controversy.

  14. 14
    Seversky says:

    kairosfocus @ 6

    Seversky, I have long been saddened by the doctrinaire rigidity and domineering behaviour of adherents of evolutionary materialist ideology.

    As have I by similar behavior by the adherents of Christian creationism in the US and elsewhere.

    If we were instead to go back to, say, Newton in Opticks Query 31 and rebuild more soundly i/l/o history of sci, associated phil and logical issues informed by epistemology, we would come away with a much better understanding of science and its frames of thought.

    It’s my impression there has been a long, vigorous and continuing debate concerning the nature and epistemological status of science involving such luminaries as Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend, to name but a few. As I understand it, “materialism” is now regarded as an obsolete position in the philosophy of science which has been replaced by “physicalism”, although the two terms are used interchangeably to some extent.

    In particular, we would understand the open-ended, inevitably provisional nature of scientific theorising, we would learn that “consensus” of experts in one day is the long surpassed stage of another day (phlogiston, anyone). Also, that the dynamical focus of a healthy research programme is an honest and sober appreciation of strengths, weaknesses, promising areas and points of serious discussion.

    A largely unobjectionable position, I would say, and I doubt you will find many professional scientists who would disagree.

    The only point I would like to emphasize is that science does make progress in spite of the provisional nature of the enterprise. We now observe – and are able to replicate at will – the counter-intuitive phenomena of the quantum world. The consensus of quantum physicists is that they exist and that confidence is not undermined by the fact that previous consensuses have been wrong on occasion. Moreover, we would know nothing of that world were it not for previous theories which were found to be wanting and in need of revision or replacement. The fact that our theories are flawed and incomplete should be regarded not as a bug but as a feature. It was awareness of the limitations of Newtonian mechanics that drove the development of relativity and quantum theories. Similarly, I have faith -and I use the word deliberately – that the current difficulty in reconciling relativity and quantum theories will lead to a deeper insight at some point in the future. In other words scientific knowledge is continually growing while that of religion – especially that of the scriptural literalists – remains essentially static.

    Students in high school need to know that, just to be good citizens in a high tech age. And when it comes to origins theories that delve on an inherently unobservable past, the issues compound.

    Students of science need to be told honestly that the theory of evolution says nothing about the origins of life itself, although obviously it is a related question. They need to be told that we do not know how life originated at this time, nor do we know why or how this universe came into existence when it did. They also need to be taught what science has uncovered about the nature of the universe, what our present understanding and best explanations are. They do not need to believe them but they do need to understand them and why researchers have come to the tentative conclusions they have. Above all, to be given an honest chance to make their own assessments, they need to be provided with this information unfiltered by the religious prejudices of creationist science teachers.

    Indoctrination in evolutionary materialist scientism, starting from convenient redefinitions of science and courtroom legislation from the bench based on copying of agenda driven activists — gross blunders and strawman caricatures and all — is not a sound foundation for education, citizenship or actual praxis of science.

    No religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism or whatever,should have the power to decide what is or is not good science based on the tenets of that faith. That is the road to Lysenkoism – for want of a better word – which is an investigative dead-end

    The sort of ugly bully-boy fascistic threats made c 2005 by US NAS and NSTA against students and their families to hold them hostage to the domineering materialists and their indoctrination agendas, is beyond the pale — and here are facts. Those facts and the equally inexcusible behaviour of the complicit media also need to be part of the reckoning: destructive agit-prop.

    The measures to which you are referring were in response to a sustained campaign in some areas to open the way for Christian creationism to be taught in the science classes as if it were on a scientific par with the current biological theory of evolution. The letter from the so-called science teachers of Ouachita Parish would indicate that the response failed. As for bullying tactics, it is those science teachers who have made an honest attempt to teach the current science who have been on the receiving end of bullying tactics from students, their parents and even school administrators, all of whom no doubt felt that such behavior was justified in the name of their faith.

    It is therefore high time for a serious rethink and walk-back of some highly dubious impositions, dogmas and policies forced through by ideological evolutionary materialist scientism agendas abusing institutional, media and policy-maker power. When we see willingness to acknowledge wrongs done and blunders as were just outlined, then we can have a basis for serious discussion and moving forward. KF

    John 8:7

  15. 15
    Seversky says:

    johnnyb @ 7

    Seversky – guilt by association. Should I point out every time someone advocating for evolution is an atheist or a member of a humanist organization or FFRF? Would that be a legitimate argument against their case? Of course not

    Were you aware of the cultural context of that letter from the science teachers of Ouachita Parish when you wrote the OP?

    Do you believe what is taught in the science classroom in a given area should be filtered according to the tenets of the prevailing religion of that area?

    Do you believe that the Christian doctrine of divine creation should be taught in the science classroom as if it were on a scientific par with the biological theory of evolution?

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    Seversky, I continue to be quite busy here. I suggest to you that the creationist bogeyman is largely irrelevant — save as a handy strawman-scapegoat target — to what has been done to science education in recent decades by domineering, a peiori evolutionary materialist scientism advocates. KF

    PS: Not just my word for it, here is a key cat- out- of- the- bag statement, following. We may note the US National Science Teachers’ Association [NSTA] in a notorious July 2000 Board declaration:

    The principal product of science is knowledge in the form of naturalistic concepts and the laws and theories related to those concepts [–> ideological imposition of a priori evolutionary materialistic scientism, aka natural-ISM; this is of course self-falsifying at the outset] . . . .

    [S]cience, along with its methods, explanations and generalizations, must be the sole focus of instruction in science classes to the exclusion of all non-scientific or pseudoscientific [–> loaded word that cannot be properly backed up due to failure of demarcation arguments] methods, explanations, generalizations and products [–> declaration of intent to ideologically censor education materials] . . . .

    Although no single universal step-by-step scientific method captures the complexity of doing science, a number of shared values and perspectives characterize a scientific approach to understanding nature. Among these are a demand for naturalistic explanations supported by empirical evidence that are, at least in principle, testable against the natural world. Other shared elements include observations, rational argument, inference, skepticism, peer review and replicability of work [–> undermined by the question-begging ideological imposition and associated censorship] . . . .

    Science, by definition, is limited to naturalistic methods and explanations and, as such, is precluded from using supernatural elements [–> question-begging false dichotomy, the proper contrast for empirical investigations is the natural (chance and/or necessity) vs the ART-ificial, through design . . . cf UD’s weak argument correctives 17 – 19, here] in the production of scientific knowledge.

    Do you appreciate what it means when the US national science teachers, as a board led movement, have been taken ideological captive like that?

    Verrrrry bad news.

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    PPS: My comments/correctives on remarks by the US NAS in a notorious long-running pamphlet, 2008 version:

    In science, explanations must be based on naturally occurring phenomena [–> accurate and reliable, confirmed observation, description and sound analysis]. Natural [–> reliably empirically observed] causes [–> add: meet Newton’s vera causa, actually observed cause test and so] are, in principle, reproducible and therefore can be checked independently by others. If explanations are based on purported forces that are outside of nature,

    [–> the false choice, natural vs supernatural, when the real and readily empirically testable choice since Plato in the Laws Bk X c 360 BC has been natural ( = blind chance and/or mechanical necessity) vs the ART-ificial working by intelligently directed configuration, aka design. This is a case of irresponsible red herring distraction from the real issue to a convenient strawman creationism target set up to be soaked with the ad hominems of anti-scientific motivation and underlying between the lines insinuations of right wing theocratic “christofascist” impositions, etc]

    scientists have no way of either confirming or disproving those explanations. Any scientific explanation has to be testable — there must be possible observational consequences that could support the idea but also ones that could refute it.

    [–> observe a case of configuration-based specific functionality beyond 500 – 1,000 bits of complex organisation emerging by blind chance and/or mechanical necessity and the design inference principle would collapse. the strawman tactic is used in a context where it is easy to see that on a trillion observation base, such FSCO/I is an empirically reliable sign of intelligently directed configuration, AKA design, as key causal factor]

    Unless a proposed explanation is framed in a way that some observational evidence could potentially count against it, that explanation cannot be subjected to scientific testing. [Science, Evolution and Creationism, 2008, p. 10. Emphases added.]

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    PPPS: In this context, the utterly and inadvertently telling remarks by Lewontin, below, cannot responsibly be dismissed or derided as a case of alleged “quote-mining”:

    . . . to put a correct view of the universe into people’s heads [==> as in, “we” have cornered the market on truth, warrant and knowledge, making “our” “consensus” the yardstick of truth . . . ] we must first get an incorrect view out [–> as in, if you disagree with “us” of the secularist elite you are wrong, irrational and so dangerous you must be stopped, even at the price of manipulative indoctrination of hoi polloi] . . . the problem is to get them [= hoi polloi] to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations,

    [ –> as in, to think in terms of ethical theism is to be delusional, justifying “our” elitist and establishment-controlling interventions of power to “fix” the widespread mental disease]

    and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth

    [–> NB: this is a knowledge claim about knowledge and its possible sources, i.e. it is a claim in philosophy not science; it is thus self-refuting]

    . . . . To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists [–> “we” are the dominant elites], it is self-evident

    [–> actually, science and its knowledge claims are plainly not immediately and necessarily true on pain of absurdity, to one who understands them; this is another logical error, begging the question , confused for real self-evidence; whereby a claim shows itself not just true but true on pain of patent absurdity if one tries to deny it . . . and in fact it is evolutionary materialism that is readily shown to be self-refuting]

    that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality [–> = all of reality to the evolutionary materialist], and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test [–> i.e. an assertion that tellingly reveals a hostile mindset, not a warranted claim] . . . .

    It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us [= the evo-mat establishment] to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes [–> another major begging of the question . . . ] to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute [–> i.e. here we see the fallacious, indoctrinated, ideological, closed mind . . . ], for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door . . . [–> irreconcilable hostility to ethical theism, already caricatured as believing delusionally in imaginary demons]. [Lewontin, Billions and billions of Demons, NYRB Jan 1997,cf. here. And, if you imagine this is “quote-mined” I invite you to read the fuller annotated citation here.]

  19. 19
    ET says:

    Seversky-

    Science cannot be ruled by dogma of any stripe. Replacing religious dogma with the dogma of metaphysical materialism is not a step forward and doesn’t do anyone any good.

  20. 20
    Seversky says:

    Science is founded on naturalistic explanations because there is no alternative. You can’t contrast natural with supernatural because any so-called supernatural phenomenon which has an observable effect in the natural world is a natural phenomenon by definition. Supernatural phenomena are not excluded by fiat, they don’t exist in any meaningful sense. Unless you are using supernatural as a synonym for currently unknown or unexplained then what does it mean? As for opposing natural with artificial, in what way is artifice unnatural?

  21. 21
    ET says:

    Seversky:

    Science is founded on naturalistic explanations because there is no alternative.

    And yet naturalistic processes cannot account for the origin of nature because naturalistic processes only exist in nature. So it is a non-starter. Seeing there isn’t any evidence that nature can produce living organisms and science can only allow so much luck into any explanation, naturalistic explanations can’t even reach the level of coherence.

    blah, blah, blah, supernatural, blah, blah

    ID isn’t about the supernatural. We will get to that if and when we chase that rabbit. Science cares about what we can observe, study and test. That is why ID is limited to the DESIGN. It’s a science thing.

    As for opposing natural with artificial, in what way is artifice unnatural?

    In the sense it has always been- it wasn’t produced by nature (operating freely). Some intentional agency was required to produce what nature could not or would not produce.

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