A Panel Discussion and a bonus comparison of science fairs

Well after having a pretty damn good time at the Minnesota Atheists panel discussion on evolution, creationism, and the classroom, I decided to stop into the creationist (attempt at-)science fair. BTW I am that freaking stupid.

First, the panel was outstanding, although the moderation could have been improved somewhat in my opinion. I learned a few things I wish I hadn't. Randy Moore told us that 25% of all Minnesota public school students have been taught creationism, this includes students taking AP biology in case you wanted to use that as a hopeful crutch (I did when I first heard the statistic). Think about that everyone, 1/4 of all students are being subjected to illegal instruction.

(BTW, to any of the hard working public school teachers for my son, if you teach creationism in a science class in anything other than a historical context I will be your worst fucking nightmare. Also, to any hard working public school science teachers in the area, if you need some help or a guest speaker for some reason, Im happy to help.)

Secondly, I was disheartened to hear questions from the audience that showed a profound misunderstanding of evolution. Along the lines of "as the most complex organisms on the planet...." "since western civilization is so evolutionarily advanced" type of questions. I appreciated Dr. Phillips response to a "destroy the planet" type question, we can kill ourselves and a great many other higher eukaryotes, but the planet will be just fine without us and life will go on pretty much as it always had.

Third, kudos to Dr. Cotner and her response to the question "Can't we just tell students to say what we want on the tests, get their passing grade, and move on?" Her response, paraphrasing, BULLSHIT! You explain the data, the facts, the real world that everyone can see and study, but nope this tool is going to go on believing some mythological bullshit that is really no different than the mythological bullshit the ancient Egyptians were believing, and we're supposed to be happy with that?

Personally, I dont need a student to rehash shit I already know to stroke my mental ego, my ego is just fine. I want them to understand (not simply memorize and regurgitate) the world around them. Also, I find that question tantamount to saying, ok students if you disagree with me, go ahead and lie to get your grade. As an active practicing scientist, nothing could more define anathema than advocated lying.

Fourth, and finally "free will." The question that basically derailed the discussion, mostly because time was up but also because the questioner was trying to set up yet another false dichotomy. I realize some people will never be happy unless someone tells them that they are better than something. So for all you self-esteem emo-kid wannabes, you are better than something out there for some as yet undefined reason. Feel better?

Alright, I left this talk, which despite my criticisms above was a lot of fun. I got to see some colleagues I havent seen in too long and also got to meet Randy Moore and Mike Haubrich (of Minnesota blogging fame).

I decided to stop into the Creationist Fair on the way home and I dont have much to say. In fact, I really only want to contrast it with the K-8 science fair I was a judge at early in the week. A more complete assessment can be found at Pharyngula. However, one of the commenters (Kimberly #34) noted that the age appropriate breakdown should go something like: K-1st: Collections with labeling to explain relationships; 2nd Demonstration with explanations of what is happening; 3rd use a model and explain the advantages and disadvantages of the model; 4th Experiment/demostration; 5th Experiment or invention.

I would say that of the K-8 public school exhibits most were in the demonstration/model-explanation vein. Whereas the creationist fair was mostly in the experiment/demonstration vein. Of course I dont have numbers to say how many of each grade level I am comparing so this is just my overall feel. However, the presentations actually being judged at the K-8 fair were outstanding! The students did a great job addressing a scientific question (not all questions are scientific, which is something the creationist fair organizers could have learned.) In fact the presentations were so good of three judges, all of us had different orders for 1, 2, 3 and all of our 1, 2, 3, scores were tightly grouped. Anyway my take home point was that the creationist fair was nowhere near as blatantly non-scientific as last year and was more like any other science fair. However, the failing came with what was considered an acceptable question. The remedy for this requires some parental/organizer involvement Of course, since any parent can teach their children anything there tends to be little to no expertise (unlike public school teachers that require licensures). Thus, I can see why failure to adequately teach scientific methodology would be more lacking in the homeschool environment than the public school environment.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="http://www.fieldofscience.com/">FoS</a> = FoS