More recently in American educational history, there has been a push away from discourse and debate in science classrooms concerning religion and evolution.
Whether this is a result of teachers avoiding breaking the policies of the separation of church and state, or the fear of teachers to offend students in their classrooms is not clear. However, there is not a central focus on debate, argument formation, and discussion about topics that we know our students are thinking about. Even though research tells us that employers value people who can solve difficult problems, communicate well, and critically think (Gokhale, 1995). Debate allows for the development of all three of these skills which are essential for real-world success. At least, the Alabama Course of Study Standards do not focus on debate for k-12 science classrooms. It is up to the instructors to go out of their way to allow for discourse on the topics of evolution and religion.
To preface this article, we must understand that there are two things that are very valuable to people in this world: (1) having an accurate understanding of one’s own religion, and (2) having an accurate understanding of evolution (something that contradicts almost everyone’s religion).
Teachers often desire to skip the course of study standards that deal with evolution, mainly because think they are going to cause parents and students in the Bible Belt to get angry with them. However, these teachers are doing a real disservice to their students. Everyone benefits from a curriculum that challenges what they think they know, and especially what they think they believe. In order to learn how to critically think (the objective analysis of facts and judgement of information), you must have something difficult to critically think about. Evolution is an incredible opportunity to challenge your students, and to allow them to critically think about a scientific topic.
Allowing students to critically analyze evolution evidence gives students an accurate understanding of evolution (which, of course, contradicts most students’ religious beliefs on the formation of the Earth, and the creation of man). This is not a bad thing, because it allows students to self-evaluate. They, the students, through the process of critically analyzing evolution, are given the opportunity to better understand their own religion and its place in the science classroom.
Once evidence is delivered in support for the theory of evolution, as should be based on the national and state standards, then an opportunity for debate should be presented. This is important for two reasons: (1) it allows students to better understand their own religion, and (2) it allows students to better understand the theory of evolution.
What we have created in America is a land of people who don’t know why they believe in anything. Whether that be evolution, or peoples’ personal religion. And that, my friends, is a society that votes for politicians based on their tweets, not on their actions.
When we initiate debate, we must have a good topic for students to debate. Perhaps the topic of whether molecules-to-man evolution, or creationism, best explains the origin of the modern man. Students are forced to critically think about this question, and they are internally challenged. According to The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools by Paul and Elder, a well cultivated critical thinker raises important questions, gathers and evaluates appropriate information, and draws conclusions that are supported by the relevant information (Paul & Elder, 2006).
What you will find upon the initiation of this debate is a classroom divided. (And yes, some students should be forced to argue for a viewpoint that is not their own). It can be a very liberating experience to argue for something you do not agree with. Nevertheless, students will fight wholeheartedly to support whichever idea they are assigned. Students will be forced to raise important questions, from both sides of the debate. Students will also be forced to find and evaluate information, as well as draw conclusions. These three factors are absolutely vital abilities to cultivate in our students because many professions require them for success.
The result of allowing the students to debate this topic will create a classroom of windows, not mirrors. The metaphor is this: Students will see this small spec of the world (religion and evolution) more clearly. They will no longer only see things from their own perspective. Students who value only evolution, will now see and understand why creationists believe what they believe from a scientific perspective. Students who believe God made the world, will now have an understanding of why people reject this idea.
This climate helps everyone, and will result in students being better prepared for the real world because they will be learning to communicate, problem solve, and draw conclusions. It will create students of tolerance because they will learn to listen to alternative views respectfully. It will produce students who understand that everyone should have a good reason for valuing certain thoughts and ideas.
Social media was thought to be the bridge that would connect all of us. People thought it would make us better at communication. On the contrary, in reality, it has led to the development of a generation without social skills. A generation that is more polarized than ever before. Our country cannot agree on anything, and they definitely can’t disagree with each other respectfully either. The benefit of encouraging scientific discourse is that students are forced to talk to each other face to face. They cannot post a sub-tweet about someone, and then hide behind their profile online. In the classroom, they must form a solid, research-based argument in order to be able to communicate effectively.
Essentially, promoting scientific discourse will create a brighter tomorrow for all of us because we all will be better prepared to inform, debate, and respectfully listen to alternative views. Obviously, these are qualities lacking in our post-modern political arena. Recently, there has even been a political party formed that has based its principles on respectful debate, testing, verification of data, and argument formation. It is known—at least for now—as the Open Party. So, perhaps training students to have these abilities may also allow them to make a greater political impact. The possibilities and positive repercussions are endless.
Cite: Faucett, D. (2017). The Value of Scientific Discourse. Faucett Journal. Retrieved from http://www.faucettjournal.com/articles/the-value-of-scientific-discourse