Despite its increasingly undisguised axe-grinding, history-befogging, and faith-baiting excesses, there’s no question that the rebooted Cosmos series with Neil deGrasse Tyson will be turning up in classrooms as a "supplement" to science education. I mentioned this earlier today, but it is not simply a matter of my speculating. The Internet is abuzz with talk by teachers and others who are excited about the prospect.
I can’t blame them. If I were an 8th-grade science teacher I would be on the lookout for ways to excite students about my subject, and Cosmos, despite its egregious faults, is a crowd-pleaser.
Commenting on a Facebook post by Dr. Tyson, teacher Chelsea Atwell writes:
Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Cosmos is amazing! I can’t wait to buy it on DVD so that I can show it to my 8th grade science class during our universe section!! My students do a lab on the universal timeline (much like the calendar you speak of in Cosmos). I can’t wait to add the explanation for Cosmos into the lab! Thank you for inspiring a new generation of scientists!
Just as I expected.
Teachers looking for an excellent television show to help drive home various science information to your students should look no further. The television station Fox has done society a great service by putting "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson on the air. Tyson delivers the often complicated ideas in a way that all levels of learners can understand and still be entertained by the stories. Episodes of this show make great supplements in the science classroom and also can be used as a reward or movie day.
A website offering free lesson plans for teachers, HotChalk LessonPlansPage.com, gives thoughts on "Five Ways Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye Can Help Teachers Improve Science Literacy." Writer Monica Fuglei observes, "Students love a movie day and both Nye and Tyson have television shows teachers can share with students." Regarding Cosmos, she says "students will find it easy to explore scientific topics with the aid of Tyson’s excellent storytelling and compelling visuals."
Jon Lisi of Hollywood.com warns that, on one hand, Cosmos "successfully merges education with entertainment." However, "[W]e do have to wonder if there’s danger in placing so many eggs in the basket of educational TV. Can programs like Cosmos sufficiently substitute for classroom education, or do they merely complement more traditional pedagogical practices?"
He concludes by recommending a balanced approach: Use Cosmos in your classroom but don’t forget to have kids "read a textbook" as well:
[W]hile Cosmos and similar entertaining educational programs shouldn’t replace a traditional classroom education, teachers and school districts need to understand that these programs can help their students gain a more complete education. Instead of selecting one or the other as "better" or more "substantial," we should realize that both approaches are necessary and important. On Monday, a teacher should have students read a textbook and take notes, and on Tuesday, a teacher should screen an entertaining documentary or interesting Ted Talk that covers what the student read in a more captivating manner.
After watching the first episode of Cosmos, Michael d’Estries at Mother Nature Network predicted:
While Carl Sagan premiered a similar "cosmic calendar" back in 1980, the one on display last night was really incredible. I’ve no doubt this part of "Cosmos" will be replayed countless times in science classes around the world for decades to come.
Cosmos will likely soon find its way into the middle school canon, and hopefully the young people of America will find DeGrasse Tyson as charming as I do.
Many of these folks wrote before it became clear just how ideology-driven Cosmos really is. Maybe they’ve changed their minds. In any case, let me emphasize that I’m not here to condemn any teacher who uses the series in her class. It’s not easy getting kids or adults jazzed about science, and doing so is a laudable goal. But parents should probably take an active role in supplementing what their kids learn from a "supplement" like this.
They could do so with some of our posts here pointing out the myths being floated in one episode of the series after another. When Dr. Tyson has concluded, I’ll try to put together an omnibus post gathering together links to all our commentary, for your convenience. There’s quite a lot of it.