Three’s a nice, round number. Three stooges, three blind mice, comedy’s ‘rule of three’. And given Australian Skeptics continue to present misinformation about education, I figure I might as well cover a third installment of this insanity.
If you’ve missed the story so far, the first article covers the essential details and the second article addresses journalist Paul Willis’s defence of the award. So, why a third flogging of the mince meat that was once a thoroughbred (well, at least a show pony)?
Yesterday, Australian Skeptics posted an article that in part covered the award. While they do concede they might have gotten it wrong, the same misinformation is repeated. As one of the critical blogs referred to (the other two of particular note are Deb Hodgkin’s ‘She Thought’ article and Bruce Everett’s ‘Thinker’s Podium’ article), I might have hoped for a link for people to determine the argument for themselves. After all, isn’t skepticism about evaluating all of the evidence?
In any case, it pays to keep in mind that this framework operates as a cohesive structure of skills and practices. Pulling one piece out and presenting it as content conflicts with how the curriculum operates. Most teachers – especially those recently trained or who have undergone recent professional development – understand this.
So, I feel since the same misleading information and abuse of facts keeps getting repeated, somebody should compare it with reality. Especially since I keep hearing from otherwise intelligent people how ‘Darwin has been removed from the curriculum’.
The Australian Skeptics claim:
The Science as a Human Endeavour strand of the curriculum specifically mentions dozens of scientists, including, in the biological sciences, the work of Linneaus, Mendel, Crick and Watson. But there is no mention of Charles Darwin or the co-developer of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Wallace. What?! Darwin, at the very least, is arguably one of the two best known and significant scientists in the last 200 years (the other is Einstein). So he’s left out?
No, they haven’t been left out. And this has been pointed out.
Year 10, Science as a human endeavour – Collaboration in science (elaborations section): Investigating the often collaborative nature of the work of those credited with the development of major ideas (…the collaborative work of Darwin and Wallace regarding evolution).
This same bit of misinformation has made the rounds, obviously amongst skeptics who simply have not read the documents. Peter Bowditch, who admits to have voted for the award, states, “The complaint was that the proposed curriculum virtually ignored evolution and did not include Darwin in the discussion of significant figures in science, both of which give the appearance of either influence by creationists, appeasement of these clowns or simply fear of being controversial.”
“While it is valid to view science in its cultural context, and compare science to other belief systems, the way the syllabus is written leaves open the possibility that decisions to use Chinese and alternative medicine (to be taught in Year 5) could be taught as being rational alternatives to science-based medicine.“
“Year 5 Science and culture: Science and culture interact to influence personal and community choices (eg in making decisions about health and medicine)Elaboration (i.e., suggested approach): Investigating choices made by people in many cultures to use natural remedies, with or without modern medical science, to manage their health
“The examination of alternative belief systems begins before a full understanding of the scientific experiment method is taught, and thus leave students without the tools to adequately assess the alternative.”
Depending on what exactly is meant by ‘a full understanding’, in year 5 (coinciding with the investigation of alternative medical approaches, not following) students learn under ‘investigation methods’: Contribute to decisions about the investigation method to use, including using fair tests, models, information research, surveys and data from secondary sources.
Again, what a perfect time for evaluating the evidence. I’ve done it successfully in terms of climate science with year 5 students, and believe me, they are quite good at discussing the pros and cons of a belief.
They claim it is a ‘backward step’ in the curriculum. However, while I’m not arguing it is perfect or not deserving of criticism (I have some myself, don’t worry), it is an improvement on the state curricula, at least as far as a focus on evaluative epistemology goes. The review process has been ongoing for some time, and ACARA have taken into account the criticisms in light of their review.
Astonishingly, it appears that the Australian Skeptics hope that ridicule such as the Bent Spoon serves as an adequate form of feedback:
“There is a review process for the curriculum as much as for any such document or decision (including the Skeptics’ awards), so if by making the award we have contributed to that review, then that is well and good, and proper.”
Unless I’ve misread this, it seems that they’re trying to say so long as the award has prompted ACARA to take another look at the curriculum in some way, it’s all good.
No. It’s not all good. There is a proper process which Australian Skeptics could well have participated in, where their claims might have been taken a little more seriously. But this is how they do things instead – ridicule and hope the world shifts.
There is an irony in this, as skeptics such as Bowditch claim that criticism is:
“driven by teachers who feel aggrieved that their opinions were not sought, have some animosity towards Australian Skeptics, believe that only trained teachers are qualified to comment on teaching matters or all of the above. I am particularly unimpressed by the claim that non-teachers should not be commenting because the matter is outside their expertise as it sounds very much like the whines I get from homeopaths who say that I can’t talk about it because I am not trained in it.”
Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever said non-teachers should not comment. Nobody, to my knowledge, is upset that their opinion wasn’t sought. I’d challenge anybody to find evidence to the contrary.
In fact, if anything, it is AS who maintain an argument from authority on the matter, stating ‘The bent spoon was awarded after consultation with qualified people.’ Qualified, perhaps. But while experienced teachers or resource developers might be considered to hold a better understanding of the curriculum, they don’t have a monopoly on how it works. Nor are they necessarily exempt from misunderstanding how it works, misreading it or putting their political agenda before critical thinking.
While this is a small wave in a big pond, it is a symptom of how a small but influential component of the Australian Skeptics engages with the public, especially on the topic of education. Most people are unconcerned either way. However, education is a significant tool in the skeptic’s arsenal. Knowing how to work with it could make all the difference in a person knowing how to identify nonsense.