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America’s children: don’t think, just do?

Ohio has decided it’s children should not think critically about science. See here. This twisted logic has profound implications for America’s ability to compete with societies whose scientists are encouraged to think outside the box.

Critical thinking starts with questions and continues with questioning authority. New discoveries derive from critical thinkers who refuse to accept dogma as reality and insist on finding their own answers. Sometimes their answers line up with the status-quo, but sometimes they don’t and new discoveries are made that eventually become the new status-quo. The transition from old to new can be extremely painful, depending only on how dogmatic the keepers of the old are. Either way, we all learn something in the process. But what happens if the status-quo is wrong and is forced on an unbelieving population by legal edict to the point that those critical thinking skills that fuel innovation are subjugated to blind faith?

I was curious about how this question might be addressed by the most important among us: our children. So I set out to discover if there is any difference between our local public and private school’s technique for encouraging open, free, critical thought about the controversial issue of Evolution and Intelligent Design…

My daughter is a 7th grader at a local Christian grade school. A few evenings ago I took her out for her favorite dinner of Alaskan king crab & key lime pie. Just for grins I asked her to “tell me what you know about evolution”. Mind you, she is not a huge fan of science, so I expected limited response. Boy was I wrong.

“Evolution is where life started really simple and changed in little steps over a long time and that’s how we all got here.”

Oh, well. That’s sure a lot more than I knew as a 7th grader…

I had to ask… do you believe it?

“Well, I’m not sure. God could do it any way he wants you know. Plus some of it doesn’t make sense.”

Oh really, I thought. Go on, what doesn’t make sense?

“Well, you know, like the bacteriel flagulum. Evolution couldn’t really do that, you know? It’s kind of like a mouse trap.”

I’m thinking: boy does this sound familiar. Continuing with the interrogation… a mousetrap, why?

“Well, because if you take away any of a mousetrap’s parts it won’t work anymore.”

Now I’m on the edge of my seat in anticipation of the coup de grace, but she was busy trying to crack that Alaskan king crab leg in pursuit of the prize within. So I waited a few long and painful moments. Finally I can’t stand it and blurt out my question: What does that have to do with evolution?

“Geez dad. OK. look, mmrrmmrrrm (munching butter-laden crab), if you take away a part and it doesn’t work, then how could small changes to something make it? Like, it wouldn’t work at all. So why would it even be there? Like evolution dad. See what I mean?”

OK, now that’s an honest answer. So I press on – what about that “flagulum”?

At this point her cellphone rings and she briefly relays a message to a friend of a friend. Something about February 14th. (Yes, all 7th graders in California have evolved their own cellphones.) When she terminates the call, she continues as if uninterrupted…

“OK. Where was I? Oh yeh, it’s like the mousetrap except it’s a motor on a bacteria and some scientists think it couldn’t be made by evolution.”

How on earth did her teachers sneak this one by me? I’ve been looking for someone to talk about this stuff with, and here she is, my 7th grade daughter – and she seems to understand it better than most adults I know. But wait, what does she really think? So I asked, what do you believe happened?

(gulp) “Well, I’m not sure yet. Ms. Jones (name changed to protect the innocent) said we needed to understand evolution and, like, why it works and how it works but also that it might not always work. She told us to make up our own minds. To study and stuff and use our brains. Really dad, I haven’t made up my mind yet and this is soooo boring. Can I just eat my crab and mac & cheese?” (Yes, in California we have mac & cheese with crab, big macs,… just about everything).

When we arrived home and my daughter quickly engaged in a game with the neighborhood kids, I pulled one aside and ask him the same question. He’s the older kid in the culdesac, the 9th grader from the local public school. Smart kid. Top of his class according to the bumper sticker on his dad’s car. (Actually, I know for a fact he is an honors student.) He memorized most of “Harry Potter”, the book, by the time he was 9. “What do you know about evolution?”, I asked.

“Huh? What? It means we used to be monkeys, but who cares?”
But do you believe it?
“Sure, why not?” This kid was quick.
Have you ever heard of Intelligent Design?
“Yup.”
And what do you think of that?
“Well, at my school somebody asked about it and the teacher just said not to even think about it.” And off he ran…

Critical thinking is truly a mission-critical skill for aspiring scientists, businessmen, healthcare professionals, and elite bloggers. How do we teach our children this important skill? What message does our public school system give them when it dictates to children that they not even consider this or that issue, such as ID? I fear for the future of a country whose children are being taught not to think, only to believe blindly and never question authority. History has not been kind to such societies.

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17 Responses to America’s children: don’t think, just do?

  1. I also wonder why we never hear about Y-chromosonal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve being brought up in schools. Perhaps certain scientists are afraid that kids will get the wrong impression and start believing Genesis. I didn’t know it’s that hard to tell them that scientists also think that there was more than one man/woman alive in their respective points in history. I would think that promoting the idea that we’re all related would foster respect for people’s differences, certainly a huge issue in schools everywhere.

    But I guess we can’t have ANYONE thinking that something other than unguided Darwinian evolution might be right. Oh well, society’s loss.

  2. Jasonng: The beauty of thought is that it’s free by definition. The downside is that it takes will to express thought, and willingness to hear the thoughts of others. So anyone (and probably almost everyone) is in fact thinking that something other than unguided Darwinian evolution might be right, but few of them feel free to express those thoughts, and fewer still (because they’re in the minority) are willing to listen.

  3. dougmoran – Doug , jasonng

    Haven’t you guys both realized it yet that the world we’re living in is actually the ‘faketrix’. No ? Incase you don’t, allow me to be the “Neo” to your Dawkins lol. Whats being pulled over our eyes is in fact the “free-will” of evolution!.

    Charlie

  4. It’s a sickening intellectual confinement, to have your thoughts censored and to be told that what you believe is wrong. It takes courage to speak out, but hopefully the next generation will do so. Sadly it’ll be a cold day in hell before some Darwinists will allow ID supporters a voice.

    “Whats being pulled over our eyes is in fact the “free-will” of evolution!.”

    The curtain’s got peep holes, how else could anti-Darwinism survive after decades of relentless indoctrination? We’re peering into the real world, unplugged by taking the red pill. It’s perhaps one of the greatest places to be if you want an intellectual thrill.

  5. [troll]

    ID/Creationist arguments against ToE do not constitute “critical analysis” of anything. This spin is predictable but tiresome, how many more sob stories do you people have?

  6. Brace for the new Punk Rock uprising.

    You know it’s going to happen. Probably have it’s catalyst with the young-college age.

  7. Fundamentalism is not JUST a term used to define Christians. We also have Darwinian fundamentalists that fight vigorously for their worldview. This dogmatic Darwinian fundamentalistic censorship of free thought in the area of design/evolution is sadly wrong, and anti-scientific at its core. That it is so difficult to break down that wall of silence is sad — and fearful, because the philosophy that underlies Darwinian fundamentalism is anti-Christ in action.

  8. KhoisanX:

    Gotta have a sense of humor, right?

  9. Doug

    Critical thinking starts with questions and continues with questioning authority.

    Long live the iconoclast!

    New discoveries derive from critical thinkers who refuse to accept dogma as reality and insist on finding their own answers.

    I employed this with great success over and over again during a 20-year career as a microcomputer hardware/software design engineer.

    Sometimes their answers line up with the status-quo, but sometimes they don’t and new discoveries are made that eventually become the new status-quo.

    To be fair, more often than not it ends up in reinventing the wheel. If everyone did it all the time progress would be crippled. There’s still a lot to be said for standing on the shoulders of giants.

    So how do we find a balance? I think traditionally this is where the extraordinary teacher comes in that recognizes gifted students (whether that gift be art, science, humanities, crafts, music, writing, whatever…) and encourages them to think outside the box in their gifted area. Truly great minds like Leonardo Da Vinci (my personal icon of human inventiveness) are gifted in everything. These people tend not to need teachers at all or need them for very little.

  10. DaveScot:

    I agree teachers do play a vital role – provided their hands aren’t tied by law. I know my own life would be entirely different were it not for the encouragement of one or two of these extraordinary people (one in high school, the other in college).

  11. I too was blessed to be influenced by a great teacher, H. Burr Steinbach, my major Professor at the University of Minnesota. He once said to me – “John, get a good idea and then prove that it is right.”

    That is exactly what I have done Burr. Thanks for the advice.

  12. Wasn’t it Eugenie Scott who said something to the effect that “no one doubts that evolution happened” or something like that? You could almost draw a line from that quote to this decision in Ohio to eliminate the critical analysis lesson. According to the Darwinian mind-set, the lesson is meaningless because there isn’t anything to critically analyze, because “no one doubts evolution happened”.

    And wasn’t it Feneymen who said that scientists have an extra special responsibility to not fool the public, to bend over backwards to show how maybe they’re wrong? I guess science students in Ohio won’t ever hear about THAT responsibility. The real lesson Ohio students will get is “just accept what we’re telling you and don’t ask questions!” Great way to turn out high quality scientists for the future.

  13. This is just how society is nowadays, it’s impossible for the average person to be experts about everything, so we’re just taught the spoon-feeding way. The average person doesn’t care about the specific details of ID or Darwinism. They’re told that ID brings in the supernatural to science and that’s easy to believe upon first inspection. What’s harder to explain is the fact that we don’t need to know who or what created the design as long as there is design.

  14. Evolution did happen and everything we know very definitely does bring a God or Gods into the picture. Get used to it folks because that is the way it is. There is absolutely nothing further to debate. Debates are for debating teams and God knows we already have too many of them. Tell me one proposition that was ever resolved after it was presented for debate. Just one will do.

  15. Well?

  16. I love it so!

  17. John Davison – as usual, you win! No point in debating that….

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