According to New Scientist, South Dakota has now joined Louisiana and Texas in requiring ‘debate’ over various scientific tenets in schools. In 2008, Louisiana led the way in requiring a critical discussion of climate, evolution and human cloning as part of the state’s science curriculum.
Superficially, any educational standard that promotes critical thinking might be a welcome change from the focus on passing standardized tests ushered in by No Child Left Behind Act. But, at least in terms of the discussion of evolution, these bills seem to be more a measure to slip non-science based ideas into science classrooms. And given the widespread prevalence of anti-global warming myths and urban legends, it’s worth taking a closer look at just who will be leading the climate debate.
Climate science is often a middle school discipline, and as such taught by teachers who may or may not have a strong science background (this varies by state and even by school district). The question then becomes will the required ‘debate’ be based in science? This is by no means an indictment of school science teachers, who often have to achieve steep goals with few resources and even less support. But if various groups of scientists are still, for example, debating the role of solar activity in climate change , it seems unlikely that any but the most dedicated teacher would be able to unravel the complexities of climate forcings.
Sadly, the article points out that while similar laws regarding evolution have been successfully challenged on constitutional grounds (as in Pennsylvania), there is nothing barring scientific misconceptions from the classroom.