I am a science teacher.
That is my official title at Pullman High School.
I can’t put my finger on exactly when that began to feel more like a political statement and less like an innocuous way to describe my perfectly respectable job. I think it has a bit more historical context than I’m admitting in the introduction.
The Two-Body Problem:
Science, as it began, was just empirical investigations. And from this start, it’s primary problem was butting up against human gut feelings, our mythologies, and our faith. Galileo’s championing of heliocentrism led him to be placed under house arrest by the Roman Inquisition, a state that lasted until his death. The Scopes Trial acted as a way for Americans to put the teaching of evolution on the stand, a passionate clash between two ideologies. Today it seems that human-caused climate change is the modern battlefield on which science must fight.
Our other issue is that of science being a messy, creative, wandering endeavor. Where being wrong and arguing from evidence are strengths of our field and to engage in science is to agree to a set of rules, to gather evidence to guide your claims, to submit oneself to review and criticism from peers. Unfortunately, this opens scientific research to criticism that is not scientific. It is when the argument from the gut, from our feel for the discovery at hand, takes issue with science that I take concern. When a scientist describes evolution as a theory, it is an innately disparate understanding of the term than our colloquial usage. Theories in science are built on evidence, a process is followed and Americans must understand that.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not in the camp that believes science and less evidence-based human thoughts and pursuits are two equal but opposite ways of thinking. In most instances, I believe them to be compatible or at least so different in approach and meaning that they should not be used to argue against one another. But, when science and religion do clash, at least to some individuals, we lose sight of all that has been accomplished via scientific approach. The same methods that put Curiosity on Mars, kept premature babies alive in the NICU, and enabled you to FaceTime your mom are those that show worryingly low levels of sea ice, explain how humans and chimpanzees have a common ancestor, and put the sun at the center of our solar system.
Who Can do Science?:
I simply do not understand how I am teaching a subject that at its core is being denied by our governmental leaders.
A few years ago former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, John Boehner, was quoted as saying “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.” While the standard expectation of any of my students in science at the secondary level is that they could. All Americans, all humans, have a right to understand what science is capable of. NO, I don’t need you to memorize the periodic table, spout complicated equations, or even do any math.
I just need you to understand the Nature of Science. See below.
From the Next Generation Science Standards:
- Scientific Investigations Use a Variety of Methods
- Scientific Knowledge is Based on Empirical Evidence
- Scientific Knowledge is Open to Revision in Light of New Evidence
- Scientific Models, Laws, Mechanisms, and Theories Explain Natural Phenomena
- Science is a Way of Knowing
- Scientific Knowledge Assumes an Order and Consistency in Natural Systems
- Science is a Human Endeavor
- Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World
If you are a teacher, specifically a non-science teacher. This is what I press you to understand about science. I honestly do not care if you can tell an isotope from an ion if you can help our students determine what is scientific information. Our society is so caught up in science being defined by Sheldon Cooper. Science is not the accumulation of facts, it is the doing and the understanding of how humanity can see the natural world.
When a nuclear physicist tells a governor that the nuclear power plant is the safest and most efficient way to provide residents with power as opposed to coal or natural gas, I want our politicians, our citizens, and our students to understand the immense amount of research, evidence, and argument that went into reaching that conclusion.
To my fellow teachers, please do not feel as though you are “bad at science.” Science is thinking, science is gathering evidence to support your claims, science is human and messy and beautiful. I hope that we can all communicate that to our students as they learn with us. Please teach them the nature of science in any context you are comfortable with.
For more great information on teaching the Nature of Science please use the links below:
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