Teach doubt in school

18 02 2011

I enjoyed my time in high school. I still value that experience a great deal. It helped me start to figure out who I am and where I want to go. In particular, the science programs had a big impact on me. From the Saturday Science program there that I participated in as a 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grader, to the four years of science that I took there, to the scholarship I won from the North Central Science Department at graduation, it was a great place to learn. Looking back, however, there was something missing, a lesson in reason and skepticism.

I did not really get into skepticism – real skepticism – until my junior year in college. Basically all that happens in high school science classes is learning the specific subject in question, be it physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, or some other subject. The scientific method is only briefly glossed over in the first class each year.

I think that in order for science classes to really teach science, they must teach the philosophy behind it, as well as the actual means. This can take a couple of forms. It could be a dedicated course, within the schools’ science curriculum. This course would  give students a firm grounding in rationality, skepticism, and inquiry. It would teach them how to question and test claims. The alternative to this solution would be to include a more in-depth lesson in the scientific method and scientific inquiry that might last a week (5 class sessions) or so.

I would make the argument that while we improve our education system across the country, we should look at where our science curricula might be lacking. We certainly could do with more rational analysis and thought in this country.

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Rationality could keep us from extinction

5 01 2011

I was inspired to write this when I saw a video of Dan Dennett discussing the possible future of religion and it really made me think and hope.

The gist of Dennett’s comments were that, as has happened throughout recorded history, people become better and better educated. As this happens, organized religions are forced to update their positions on various issues. Religions and information do not mix well. The recent flood of information to the entire world, via the internet and other media, has informed people of the larger world and all its people and beliefs. In the modern world, it is exceedingly difficult to shut this out and shield your children from it.

Here’s where my thoughts and hopes come in. If more parents would accept the information age for what it is and allow their children to explore, analyze, and find their own answers, we would be better off. I am not, however, advocating a completely hands-off approach to parenting. Parents should expose their children to science in depth and allow them to investigate competing religions to their own.

We live in a time when humanity could snuff itself out in a week or a generation. Things like war, unmoderated pollution, and unpreparedness for natural disasters could prove ultimately fatal for our species. The key to avoiding extinction and providing for humanity’s long-term survival is to have a generation of well-educated, reasonable, and rational people making decisions and solving problems. Education and an decrease in indoctrination from religious parents will not just make the Earth a better place to live, it could save our species.