Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Trouble in Massachusetts

Nestled in the small town of Holyoke, Mass. is a controversy over the proper role of scientific debate.  Mike Plaisance of MassLive (a conglomerate of regional newspapers) reports on events at Dean Technical High School:
Inclusion of creationism in a school project here is inappropriate and a concern but not a surprise, teachers union president Agustin Morales said Monday (April 27).
Morales said teachers have told him they feel it is inappropriate that a project at a school here is including discussions about the faith-based belief of creationism in the instruction about evolution.

Some people have said that the separation of church and state is asserted in the U.S. Constitution
and that any favoring of one faith over another in a public institution like a school is unfair to those of other faiths who have equal stake in such institutions.
Stories are now abounding in the news about how college and college administrators are avoiding subjects that are controversial (Glenn Reynolds has one a day, it seems).  The outline of the course, which is reproduced in the embedded story, weaves in the humanities and the life sciences into a mock debate involving students playing the roles of school board, science teachers, media and other related organizations.  What it aims to teach is, truly critical thinking in this area and, if adhered to, would represent a welcome addition to the curriculum.  If the intent of the instructor is to open the class in open discussion of the merits of creationism in the form of a debate, there ought not to be anything wrong with that and I was quite ready to think this was a great idea until I read this:  
[Principle Barry] Bacom is aware that some people might find it inappropriate that a public school is including what many consider to be faith-based teaching in a lesson plan, he said. But he said the creationism vs. evolution debate is ingrained in the national consciousness and thus natural for students to learn.

It is a matter of exposing students to the full range of ideas and not a situation where he is pushing so-called creationism beliefs on teachers or advocating that creationism be taught, he said.
[emphasis mine]
That last sentence made my hair stand on end.  It is right out of the Discovery Institute Playbook.  Consequently, this does need scrutiny, if nothing else to verify that proper science is being represented.  Debates between mainstream science and young earth creationism can and should occur, especially in a class-room setting.  Hopefully, that is what is happening. 

Unfortunately, all of this is occurring within the backdrop of the fact that the school system is failing and has been for years, to the point where the state is about to step in and seize control of it.  What role this plays is unclear.

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