Fear and loathing in a science class

You cannot learn science without letting go of what your brain knows to be true.

Antoine Lavoisier was decapitated.
His final act was blinking repeatedly after his head rolled into the basket, his last experiment.

To teach science to children requires deconstructing the world they know and rebuilding their reality with incomplete models tying what little we know into something cogent. Kids understandably resist.

Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake.
“Perchance you who pronounce my sentence are in greater fear than I who receive it.”

You can, of course, accept science on faith, a much easier task. The Earth is round and spins. The stars are far away and the universe is expanding. The mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell.

Nikolai Vavilov starved to death in prison.
His crime was pushing Mendelian genetics in a country that preferred Lamarckism.

There is no point in “believing” in science. It is not a faith-based endeavor, and ultimately the powerful dictate what a culture is allowed to believe.

Nor is science “real.” It is models built on models built on models, a complex landscape that helps explain what we cannot understand.

Science allows us to make predictions and create tools that hold more power than humans can be trusted to use wisely, tools traditionally left to priests and politicians.

Science is under attack for good reasons by those who hold certain beliefs. I don’t happen to agree with those beliefs, but those of us who teach science would be wise to grasp the damage we may cause to the worlds of the students who resist us.

When things start to crumble, folks tend to grab hard onto their ancient beliefs. I fear for science education in the coming years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue my quest to destroy your child’s world.

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