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Kids Bored in Science Class? Empower Them to Explore Hot Topics

Joshua Youngkin

FreedomUnderFire.jpgHow did evolution happen? Group A says it happened this way, X, for reasons 1, 2, and 3. Group B disagrees and says not-X for reasons 4, 5, and 6.
How boring would it be to listen to Group A drone on about X, or to be told to read all their books and memorize their arguments, without Group B at their elbows? If this is science class, I’m not going.
A couple of days ago, Casey Luskin and I did a podcast about Ball State University’s (BSU) academic freedom problem. BSU administrators basically want science class to feature A without B. That sort of policy is not just legally risky and boring. It is also bad for students.
At least that’s what they’re saying over at Education Week, the “American Education News Site of Record.” As teacher and administrator Alden S. Blodget explains:

Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California has written that “emotion is the rudder for thought,” and his colleague Mary Helen Immordino-Yang has developed the idea further, stating: “We think in the service of emotional goals.” In other words, we think about things connected to goals that matter deeply to us. Passionate science teachers think a great deal about science (it matters to them), and, while some of them succeed in sparking the interest of a few students, educators know that most students remain apathetic. Fortunately, what matters to some of these students are good grades, so they study enough to pass the tests, which teachers tend to interpret as evidence of meaningful learning. Students who are genuinely, deeply interested in science, and teachers whose lessons support this kind of purposeful intellectual exploration, are rare. (Emphasis added.)

That’s what they already do in school, right? A little “purposeful intellectual exploration” to spice things up? Some school admins allow this. Too many don’t. Or as Blodget puts

Children are natural learners, alive with questions.
And then school happens.

There are lots of ways to get kids to care enough about science to learn how to read it and even how to do it. One of those ways is for school admins to help create, or to at least not destroy, the conditions for “purposeful intellectual exploration” of big questions in science like whether we understand how evolution happened and what climate change really amounts to.
Something like this is, I think, what Albert Einstein had in mind when he said, “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
It takes guts to empower students to explore hot topics. Sacred cows may be tipped. But there’s no learning, and no innovation, without some risk to the status quo.