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August 24, 2003

Comments

Mitch

Well said (despite cooking not being your usual area). Any idea what's taught in Singapore schools?

I taught (English) in the PRC for about six years, and many classrooms had paintings of Darwin right up there next to Marx and Engels in the classrooms (up where Washington and Lincoln go in US schools, although I was teaching in colleges and universities).

But I don't actually know what the biology textbooks said. Most people I happened to talk to on the subject had only the most rudimentary understanding of evolution, and indeed many misconceptions about it, but that's probably the case anywhere in the world. I never got the chance to talk to any biologists about it.

It was "common knowledge" that Darwin was "a great scientist", i.e. that's the phrase that was almost invariably parroted anytime his name somehow came up in conversation, but I wouldn't be that surprised if the textbooks taught Lysenkoism (although it wouldn't be called that, of course) or some other such relic of official ideology.

Anyway just curious (plus there's a lot I miss about China, so I often try to go back there vicariously via your blog and other websites).

jholbo

Mitch, I honestly don't know the answer to your question. I'll ask some of my students.

Derek James

I wound my way here via Matt Yglesias' site. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago:

http://www.journalscape.com/derekjames/2003-08-14-08:57

Basically, I don't see what the big deal is. The revised question is superior to the previous one. You found lots of creationist sites with your Googling, but I also found plenty with legitimate alternative scientific theories. So one Google does not a search make.

And one question, that prompts students to seek out alternative hypotheses, is not anything to fear or object to.

jholbo

Your point is well taken, Derek. Especially given my complaints of late about committing science for entertainment purposes only, my google search might be faulted as a shoddy experiment conducted for entertainment purposes only. You are quite right that the question is scientifically interesting and very open. And you do show that students can easily enough find good stuff. But I think the spirit of my objection still stands, so let me refine its letter: it is predictable - and indeed the case - that picking this subject, of all scientific subjects, as a 'search the internet' question will result in a huge volume of loopy hits. And, of course, good use can be made of bad material in class discussion. But that's no reason to go out of one's way looking for bad material. (You can teach well even with a crummy textbook, most of the time.) The advantage of the first version of the question over the second is that it tried to put up some guardrails, in effect. But I do concede to your basic judgment that it's not such a catastophe, and maybe I shouldn't be spilling so much internet ink over it. (It's easy to get too worked up.)

The question won't be: is this study question important enough to stand and die over? Obviously it isn't. The question will be: is this study question a dead canary in the coal mine, a sign that things are going the wrong way in the textbook battle. Honestly, I don't know the answer.

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