What’s a kid to think in American science classrooms?
If the teacher dares to present evolutionary science, which few dare to do here in Oklahoma, many parents tell their kids to not believe the teacher. They may have no reason for this other than their staunch membership in the Republican Party. The parents may know nothing at all about science.
On the other hand, if the teacher is a creationist and openly teaches creationism while dismissing evolution as evil (something that at least one high school teacher does in Durant, Oklahoma), the better-informed parents may have to explain to their kids that their science teacher does not, in fact, understand science—which, in this case, is true.
Nor are these the only examples of issues that must be confusing to kids.
- One example is sexual orientation. Conservative teachers or parents might tell the kids that God made every person either male or female, and that’s that. But some chromosomal conditions cause people to have ambiguous gender. Therefore these conservative parents are wrong. But progressive parents and teachers may say that gender is entirely a social construct, which is also wrong if by this they mean that biology has nothing to do with it.
- Another example is genetic engineering. Progressive parents and teachers may say that it is evil because it opens up a flood of “Frankenfoods.” But this is not true. On the other hand, some scientists refer to genetically engineered foods as the salvation of the poor of the world. One example is golden rice, which provides vitamin A, developed by Ingo Potrykus as a remarkably selfless service to humankind. It turns out there are far easier and more robust ways to provide vitamin A. Also, the vitamin A in golden rice is of no use unless people are also able to eat a sufficient quantity of oils, which is often impossible.
- I have known irrational anti-vaxxers from both ends of the political spectrum.
I can understand the kids’ confusion. I do not have a solution to this problem. I am just glad that my grandchildren will be growing up in France, a culture which has greater respect for science. The French aren’t perfect, of course; many French people vehemently oppose genetic engineering based on unfounded fears. But in France, the extremes are less extreme, and are at least open to hearing evidence.
The only way to avoid errors at both extremes is to cultivate a sense of honest inquiry in our next generation.