Don’t ‘teach the controversy’

Oklahoma students and teachers would have a right to explore scientific controversies, under a bill proposed in the state legislature, reports the Oklahoman. It appears to be an attempt to introduce “intelligent design” into biology classes on evolution, writes Dan Willingham. In any case, it’s a waste of class time

Why shouldn’t science teachers “teach the controversy?” Isn’t it the job of teachers to sharpen students critical thinking skills? Isn’t it part of the scientific method to evaluate evidence? If evolution proponents are so sure their theory is right, why are they afraid of students scrutinizing the ideas?

Imagine this logic applied in other subjects. Why shouldn’t students study and evaluate the version of US history offered by white supremacists? Rather than just reading Shakespeare and assuming he’s a great playwright, why not ask students to read Shakespeare and the screenplay to Battlefield Earth, and let students decide?

. . .  Not every theory merits the limited time students have in school. There is a minimum bar of quality that has to be met in order to compete.

Modern scientists think all theories are open to emendation, improvement — and falsification, Willingham writes. In addition, g

ood scientific theories “change in the face of new evidence” and “continue to spawn new and interesting hypotheses.” While “evolution has been remarkably successful on this score for over 100 years,” intelligent design has been “static and unfruitful.”