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There’s Nothing Wrong With Ignorance

Everyone is ignorant. At some point in our lives, and about some, probably many, subjects.

Learning is about reducing that ignorance. It’s why we have schools and teachers and mentors and books.

And if we are not interested in learning about a particular topic, that’s ok too.

The problem comes when we form an opinion on a particular topic while still largely ignorant about that topic.

It gets even worse when someone is in a position to make public policy decisions around that topic while still largely ignorant about it.

This is why we have experts. Traditionally, society asks select people who have studied a subject in depth to then explain it to the rest of us. We trust them to be complete and accurate. We have to.

For example, I certainly have never studied climate science. I took some 101-type science classes in high school and college. But my basic understanding of how climate works is based on reading works by scientists (more often, science explainers) who know much more than I do.

As a result, I rely on the fact that the work of an overwhelming number of experts in this field say climate change is happening, it will be a serious threat to the world, and there are things that can be done to at least slow it down.

However, at the moment our country is being led by people who are ignorant of basic scientific principles. Who express a mistrust for scientists, reject their expertise, and make policy based instead on “common sense” and “gut feelings”.1

And it doesn’t stop with climate science.

The political party currently in control of the US government is built around the economic “faith” that cutting taxes for the rich will “trickle down” to the rest of us. Despite a half century or more of evidence to the contrary. Their leaders also propose legislation based on dubious claims about immigration, public education, poverty, voter fraud, and more with little or no supporting data.

Now, I have no issue with people holding their own private misunderstanding of the world and accepting all kinds of conspiracies. Those who think the world is flat can talk to each other all they like. If you want to believe aliens built the pyramids, so be it.

But personal ignorance is one thing. Turning that ignorance into public policy harms everyone, even the ignorant.

November 6, two weeks from today, is your next opportunity to push back against ignorance.

Removing legislators, at all levels, who want to make laws based on their personal ignorance is one of the best reasons I can think of to vote.

Do it!


Image: a sign at the March for Science, Melbourne, Australia, April 22, 2017. Photograph by John Englart, linked from Wikipedia Commons, and used under a Creative Commons license.

1. Which is possibly me being generous in ascribing their motives. It could be simple fear of change or complex greed.

The Revisionaries

If you haven’t seen The Revisionaries from the PBS series Independent Lens, find an hour soon to watch it.* The one-hour program documents the 2010 proceedings of the Texas School Board where a small group of conservatives inserted requirements into the state science and social studies curriculums that fit their religious and political beliefs.

A professor lobbying against the changes in science describes the problem.

There are not many board members who say ‘I am an expert in string theory’ or ‘I am an expert in gravitational theory and I will talk to you about that’. But they’ll sure talk to you about evolution. And that is a mixture of ignorance and arrogance that’s a flammable mixture.

Adding even more to the atmosphere of anti-intellectualism surrounding this process, the former chair of the board and a centerpiece of this film, declared that “someone has to stand up to experts”, like scientists, and he was leading the charge against facts he disagrees with. I don’t envy the people in Texas who have chosen to battle back against that kind of thinking (if you can apply that term here).

To say that “the schoolboard in Texas has been a mess” is an understatement. Unfortunately, that mess slops over into other parts of the country since textbook publishers write to satisfy the largest customers, and in the process they dumb down the materials used by tens of thousands of students. One more reason to support the open textbook movement.


* It’s only free online until February 27th. After that it will probably be available for purchase from iTunes and other outlets.

A Dangerous Combination

Following up on yesterday's rant about the science ignorance of one of our wanna be leaders, Valerie Strauss in the Post's Answer Sheet blog notes that Senator Rubio also is a supporter of STEM education.

A focus on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects will ensure that America remains highly competitive in the global market. Systemic reform with school choice, virtual learning and opportunity scholarships will allow STEM-focused students to study the critical subject areas that will help them succeed in our economy.

Strauss finds great irony in the fact that Rubio “sees a STEM education crisis while misunderstanding basic scientific findings”.

I think irony may be too forgiving. This is scientific ignorance plus hypocracy, a combination that seems to occur together in too many American politicians.

 

Proud of Being Ignorant

Seth Godin ended his post yesterday with this idea

I confess that I’m amazed when I meet hard-working, smart people who are completely clueless about how their industry works, how their tools work…

It never made sense to be proud of being ignorant, but we’re in a new era now. Look it up.

I’m also amazed at the number of smart, hard-working teachers and administrators I meet who are largely clueless about technology. Both the tools available to improve their professional practice as well as the devices being carried by many of their students that could be leveraged in the service of learning.

What’s worse is that many of them are still proud of their ignorance. Or at least of their unwillingness to expand their ideas of what learning could be.

Legislating Ignorance

The headline says it all: Kentucky lawmakers shocked to find evolution in biology tests.

They’re upset that, after mandating a science curriculum “allowing or requiring nonscientific ideas to be taught alongside a standard biology curriculum”, national standardized tests actually expected kids to know the basic facts of evolution, and gave them lower scores when they didn’t.

While it’s the students of Kentucky who are being short changed when it comes to their education, it’s the people running their school system who are truly ignorant when it comes to science.

The same report quotes Representative Ben Waide, who demonstrated his lack of scientific knowledge by saying, “The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science–Darwin made it up.” Waide went on to say that “Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny.”

As if this guy has any idea what the term “scientific scrutiny” really means.

Anyway, Kentucky is not the only place pushing ignorance into the curriculum, and not only in science. It appears that some fundamentalists also want to rewrite mathematics.

“Unlike the “modern math” theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute….A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.” – ABeka.com

The post at Boing Boing offers both a good overview of set theory and why this is a crazy idea.

And finally, to round out this collection of educational malpractice, enjoy 14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools, with some historical revisions I’ll bet you didn’t know.

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