Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Teach which controversies?

Michael Sprague, in the Philosophy of Biology blog, has pointed out that even when there are controversies in a theory, as in physics but not in evolutionary biology regarding intelligent design, we still don't teach them to K-12 students. He notes that we don't teach the incompatibilities between relativity theory and quantum mechanics until university level (although they get a mention of course).

Pratchett, Cohen and Stewart, in their Science of the Discworld, point out that a lot of teaching could be classed as Lying to Children. This is because you simply can't give students everything at once - there isn't time for them to resolve all issues. As a student is taught a subject in increasing detail, the ambiguities and unresolved issues get taught in more detail. When you are a professional physicist, then you are equipped to engage in those areas of doubt and unclarity.

There is no other way to teach. In his marvellous book My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok has the old artist tell the young student to master the old techniques, because only then can you break the rules. Likewise, we teach students the existing rules, and let them "consider the controversies" only when they have mastered them.

But, of course, there is no controversy about evolution or intelligent design much past Year 9...

Potok, C. (1973). My Name is Asher Lev. Harmondsworth, UK, Penguin Books.