Double Helixes and Double Crosses (was: Favorite NON-fiction)

Chris Olson - SunPS Chrisf.Olson at sun.com
Tue Jan 28 12:18:09 PST 2003

> If it was an adult, I would call them misinformed.  We are, however, 
> discussing how it is taught in grade school.

Fair enough. :)

> Now, as for how it's taught in highschool, I would reply that, for the most 
> part, it's *not* taught.  High school science, as I stated elsewhere, all 
> too often tends to emphasize the absorbtion of facts without giving much, if 
> any, attention to the methodology, period.  As a consequence, many adults 
> are left with a deliberately simpified version until such point that they 
> take advanced science coursework in college... which many adults never 
> actually do.

Oh, I'll agree that the nature of HS these days (and I'll admit
it's been awhile since I was there...:) is to shove as many
"facts" into the kids as possible, and then leave them to it.

> I have to disagree.  If I want to teach a 2nd grader about farming, I'm 
> going to tell them farmers plant their crops, water and fertilize them, and 
> harvest them.  I am not going to go into the intracacies of crop rotation, 
> pesticide use, and the environmental impacts of farming.  Am I lying to the 
> kids?  No.  I am presenting a complex subject in a manner sufficiently 
> simplified for them to grasp the roots of the issue (pardon the pun).  It is 
> (to mix metaphors) a platform for further learning and not intended to be 
> comprehensive.

Sure.  But you shouldn't tell a kid "this is the way it is".  You should 
say "this is the simplified version."  Having a child myself, I know they are 
not stupid.  They'll understand if you say "This is how to grow an ear of corn,
but realise that there is a lot more to farming than this."  Like I said,
is it lying?  No, not really.  But it is misinforming children.  Presenting
complex subjects in a simplified way for them to grasp is understandable;
you don't teach kids math by sending them into Calculus.  But you don't
teach them their basic arithmatic and then tell them there is nothing
after that, either.

> So it is with the generalized version of the Scientific Method that most 
> people are presented with in grade school.  The problem is not that the kids 
> are being "lied" to, it is that, for many, no one ever moves them beyond the 
> basic platform to a more sophisticated understanding of how science works.  
> If you want to criticize *that*, I'll stand right beside you and add my 
> voice.  But I won't support the contention that the generalized version is 
> an appropriate starting point for introducing the real methodology of 
> science.

As I said, it's not that they're lying (telling a falsehood), but that
they're not giving all of the information; or, at any rate, they're not
explaining that there is more to it.  So, fair enough, I'll criticize *that*,
and we'll agree and shout with one voice...:)

> >One could then call the teachers who say such dogmatic....
> Most of the teachers who say such are teaching students for whom that 
> presentation is appropriate.  Now, if you can point me to, for instance, a 
> Junior level highschool teacher who says that, I'll have words far more 
> unkind than "dogmatic" to express my contempt of their presentation.

Uh... ok.  Talk to my Jr. High Science Teacher Mr. Lee.  Taught us the
Scientific Method, but I don't recall him ever saying that there was more
to it, or that it wasn't the only method out there, or that there were
some scientists who went the other way around.

> Teaching young children is a tricky issue.  If you present them with caveats 
> and conditionals, you run a serious risk of losing them.  It is generally 
> easier *and* better to present them with simplified information that you 
> then, as their knowledge grows and their capacity to distinguish subtle 
> relations develops, expand upon.

Ok.  I can understand where you're coming from, and I'll admit that
many people would agree with you.  I just don't think that way.  I
think that explaining to kids that there is more beyond what they're
being taught now might give them more reason to *want* to learn more.
Being told "this is the way it is" and then later being told "oh, well,
that isn't *completely* the way it is" doesn't help.  I'm reminded of
being taught english in school.  Yes, it's important to start with the
basics: This is how to draw a "T", this is how to spell "Cat"; and then
move on to bigger and better.  But it's not right to tell kids "'I' before
'E', except after 'C'" when there are SO many examples of this not being
the case.  It should be explained that, most of the time, this is true,
but sometimes, it's not.  And it would even be nice to tell them why
this is the case.  "Well, Suzie, this is because our language comes from
so many different cultures and other languages, just like our great country
here, that not every rule of usage applies."  

I will grant that I went to school, for the first six years of my schooling,
at a Montesory school, and so was taught in a slightly different way
than public schools.  But I'll also admit that, because of this, I was
taught in such a way that sparked a desire to learn more.  (This was the
case until I got into public schools, where the desire to learn was drilled
out of me....:)

> I don't think that you are "wrong" so much as I think you are misplacing 
> your criticism.  There is a *lot* to criticize about how science is taught 
> in this country -- a whole LOT -- but I don't think that the way the 
> methodology is generally introduced is part of the problem.

Oh, no, I'll agree with you.  It is a very small wheel in something much
larger.  And, in all honesty, I don't much care about the method as
taught in schools, because it is generally used as the standard.  I'm
more annoyed at the way in which we teach our youth (pardon my old-

> I also have an issue with this particular example because it's often 
> advanced by individuals with a specific anti-science agenda (and, no, I am 
> not accusing anyone on this list doing so).  It is often put on the table as 
> a statement with merit (and I don't deny that it is, in absolute terms, a 
> misrepresentation) and then equivocated into an argument for a 
> Constructivist (i.e., all knowledge is equivilent and science doesn't have 
> any special merit) position.

On that front, I completely agree with you.  I just wish that the school
system would not treat children with the lowest-common-denominator system
they seem to.  Kids are smart.  I think they can handle the idea that they're
being taught one way out of many; that what they're being shown, and the
methods and standards they are using, are simplified versions of a very
complex system by which we view and interact with the world around us.

Of course, I'm an idealistic pragmatist, so.... :)

Chris (Who hopes he hasn't offended, and is enjoying the debate...:)

"Life is the nightmare that leaves its mark upon you
in order to prove that it is, in fact, real."
	-Thomas Ligotti- 'The Sect of the Idiot'