A Most Disturbing Edge

As I approach my 7th blogoversary, I could take the easy way out by simply creating a “best of” collection here on the blog so that you, dear reader, wouldn’t have to wade through the morass of scribbles about my journey as a semi-pro science teacher. 

But I won’t. Instead I’m going to tackle yet another Edge. 

My current definition of an Edge is this: it is arriving at that place where your feet are pretty firmly grounded in an established reality and you find yourself needing to take the very next step, yet there is no obvious way forward except an uncomfortable drop into an unknown and unfamiliar place.

As I write this at the end of 2016 I find that the creepy unknown place I’m stepping off into is one where external forces have intruded even further into my day-to-day teaching. Poverty, ignorance, family crises, and other stumbling blocks for student learning have always existed but now I have a new problem: 

Many prominent role models are teaching my students behaviors that are completely at odds with my vision for who I want my students to be. 

Fake news abounds, denial of established facts is the new normal amongst presidential tweeters, and anti-intellectualism in the guise of populism is winning the minds of people everywhere. 

How is a science teacher to respond?

I’ve worked very hard up to this point in my career to try to do right by my students by inspiring their innate creativity while teaching them a logical framework with which to test out ideas and support them with facts.  Good old Claims-Evidence-Reasoning. Science.

But we seem to be heading into a post-science world, one where it’s less acceptable to fact-check than it is to fire off a tweet or two to “prove” your point. When it simply does not matter to the Tweeter whether they have their facts straight or not, we have a problem. This is what we have to combat.

There will be multiple opportunities (sadly) over the next few months for us to apply the burden of proof to those who would ignore it. EPA controls aren’t necessary? Prove it. Global warming isn’t man-made? Prove it. We have to be willing to challenge the Tweeter himself in class by modeling a critical review of positions and policies adopted by those role models now in power. 

I can easily picture using past and future tweets as a springboard for discussions about the use of reputable sources of information. I can have students do their own digging and fighting though the fake news to find the real facts. I will convince my students that scientific problem solving is a vital part of their lives even as others would seek to teach them otherwise. 

In my biology classes we will soon be discussing the Eugenics Movement in America. This is a topic that I have students explore once we have a bit of Genetics under our hats. Students know enough about the basics of heredity to be able to apply their knowledge to issues of race, poverty, immigration, and how science was used and abused in the pursuit of social engineering. 

The topic of Eugenics feels especially relevant this time around, though, what with the newly resurgent alt-supremacists and Wall-builders seemingly in charge. Students have often felt threatened or confused by this unit in past years, but I suspect that there will be an unfortunate immediacy to the discussion now. 

But it’s a discussion that I need to have. If your classes look anything like mine (poor, rural, 50% minority), we certainly need to equip our students to stand up for themselves using whatever tools we can give them.

Idealistic? Of course it is. But if you or I want to claim to be science teachers then we’ve already waved a banner of idealism at anyone watching. That banner says

I will teach you to think for yourself. 

For that, dear reader, is the best possible outcome of all. When the tweetstorm of the current social engineers is confronted by critical analysis from our own students and they push back in constructive ways, we will have done our jobs. 

It’ll be a long road to get there, but for now it is enough to just take that one step off the Edge. 

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  1. Rebecca Butt’s avatar

    Here Here!

    Reply

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