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Out on a limb

I am going to go out on a limb here and share my opinion about science education. It won’t be unanimously popular but it is the role of educationalists to cut new paths and lead new thinking.

We are on a relativist precipice. I recently saw an interview with a group of secondary school pupils. They were all studying for an A-Level in one or more science and they were asked their opinion about evolution. All of the pupils said essentially the same thing. They had examined the evidence for evolution and decided that it could not be true and that 6 day creationism was in fact more likely.

I want to avoid the issue of religion here because I am talking about something much wider than that. Something that encompasses the NHS, business, and personal choice, liberty and most importantly the education of our pupils.

It is time for us to stop tolerating the rejection of scientific fact. The Royal Society was formed in the 1700’s by a group of men who wanted to discover truth based on observable evidence and so science was born. A system of hypothesising, and rigorous testing  to establish truth. The scientific method is uniquely ‘fail-safe’ that is to say that being wrong or failing only promotes greater insight into truth.

As educators it is our responsibility to ensure that children understand the scientific method fully and properly. They must understand why scientific results are valid above superstition or misinformation. Children must understand that to dismiss the theory of evolution on the basis that it is only a theory should be seen as an assessment opportunity as your pupil has not properly understood what the word ‘theory’ means. Nor do they have a proper knowledge of the overwhelming evidence for evolution.

It is not on to send our pupils out into the world believing that if they think something is true then it is true. In just the same way as we foster an understanding that criminal law requires the accuser to present demonstrable, observable evidence so any statement claiming to be a FACT must do the same. You know the child who sneers at you and says prove it Sir, learn from them. Learn that if you or your pupils are going to examine and make statements of facts they must be subject to rigorous
testing and provide evidence. If they are are unable to do this then the statement is either dismissed or held as a hypothesis until further evidence determines its fate.

We are not properly preparing our children for the world if we fail in this. In an earlier post I made a flippant remark about a child jumping out of the window claiming ‘gravity isn’t true for me, Sir’. But there is a more serious side to this. If our children were to make a legal accusation we would expect them to understand that they must provide evidence. If they were to wrongly fall foul of the law they would be safe in the knowledge that they are protected by the requirement of evidence. If they grew up to sell a product claiming to achieve something for the consumer they would be required to present evidence. If they developed a new system of work they must be prepared to demonstrate that it works. They may grow up to be doctors who prescribe
drugs to patients with life threatening or hugely debilitating illnesses that have not passed the scrutiny of the scientific method. They may authorise that millions of pounds of taxpayers money is spent on a medical therapy that can not generate demonstrable, observable evidence that it works. This is not some far off problem of tomorrow, this is happening in our schools and hospitals and businesses here in the UK today. The world they will grow up to live in requires that we account for what we claim with evidence. Believing that this is only sometimes true and that on occasion, if I believe something is true then that is adequate will leave them behind their better educated contemporaries. 

300 years after The first 5 men formed the Royal Society it is time for us to embrace the scientific method and properly and fully educate the youngest children in its validity.

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