Wednesday, July 19, 2006

DI spews silliness

"From the first female mayor in the nation, to paving the way for national school desegregation, Kansas has always led the way in ensuring both social and academic freedom."

This is a line from an email the Discovery Institute sent out, and is better than most of what issues from that part of Seattle, in that half of it's factual claims are correct. Kansas did indeed elect the first female mayor in the nation, Susanna Madora Salter of Argonia, Kansas. Of course, she was put on the ballot as an anti-prohibitionist prank that went south, but we'll let that slide. Kansas let its authoritarian tendencies override sexism that day, and much joy was had all around.

The claim that Kansas "paved the way for national school desegregation" is horsecrap. I know this because Teaneck, NJ, where I grew up, was the first school system in the nation to voluntarily institute busing to promote desegregation. Kansas played a role in the desegregation movement, but only by being named lead plaintiff in the legal case which finally brought legal segregation to an end. And it's true that the Topeka Board of Education backed away from its segregated schools before the court case was resolved, so they can't be said to have trailed the pack. But they also didn't lead the way: they were led.

The letter is ostensibly from Jill Gonzalez Bravo, who testified in the Kangaroo Court two springs ago. She's an 8th grade science teacher. Her testimony briefly covers her conversion story, but the interesting part is this passage, in which she responds to criticisms of the new standards.

I have read some of the opposition's opinions and found two common themes that I would like to address… A second thing is is that if we allow discussion into the criticisms of evolution or if we changed the definition of science to not allow only natural causes that this could somehow lead to the educator being forced to acknowledge an array of other viewpoints within the classroom. Okay.

I believe one example was what if a student was interested in the occult. Okay. The teacher would be forced to acknowledge it as somehow valid. My opinion is that I already allow for free exchange of ideas and respect the views of my students when I cover a wide variety of topics. … So if a student showed interest into some aspect of the occult that was dealing with an area of what they perceived science to be, I would encourage them to apply the steps of scientific method and research this interest. It is at that point looking at the data, whether they could gather data or not, that the students-- they would have to gather data, but that the students would need to draw their own conclusions. I take issue with invalidating anyone's thoughts because they may derive from a world view counter to mine.
This is very, very bad science education. This is the sort of muddy-headed "relativism" that conservatives are usually all agitated about. The problem isn't the world-view of an occultist, it's that belief in the supernatural cannot operate inside a scientific framework. It doesn't mean it's wrong, and a science teacher shouldn't say that someone is wrong to believe in angels, demons, ghosts or whatever. But since one cannot, by definition, test the properties of these alleged beings, they are not within the realm of science. And a good science teacher would explain why those things aren't science, that not being science isn't necessarily pejorative, and offer to discuss the matter more after class.

The same thing is the right response to questions about creationism, for the same reason.

But saying that she would engage in a scientific discussion of "an area of what [the student] perceived science to be" is wrong. If the student misperceives science, her job is to correct the misperception, not to worry about "invalidating thoughts because they may derive from a world view counter" to hers.

Whether that phrase accurately describes her treatment of evolution is left as an exercise for the reader.