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Teaching the Controversy

Public School Children Must Learn Both Sides of Any Controversial Issue

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Teaching the Controversy: Public School Children Must Learn Both Sides of Any Controversial Issue

Teaching the Controversy: Public School Children Must Always Learn Both Sides of Any Controversial Issue

Image © Austin Cline; Original Poster: Library of Congress

Conservative Christians haven't had any luck getting public schools to teach creationism under any of its many guises, including the most recent incarnation known as "Intelligent Design." Perhaps realizing that teaching creationism directly is a lost cause, at least for the time being, many have turned to a different tactic: "Teach the Controversy." According to this principle, students in public schools should not be taught evolution as "dogma." Instead, they should learn all of the scientific controversies and problems surrounding evolutionary theory.

The problems with this proposal are legion. For one thing, there is no serious scientific controversy with evolution. The only "controversy" is that created by the creationists themselves. Thus instead of being an objective, academic proposal, the idea of teaching the controversy is really just a self-serving effort to get schools to teach the trumped up charges which the creationists keep repeating. Another problem is the fact that students cannot really be taught any controversies in subject until they have a thorough grounding in what is already known. This means that the place for teaching any debates about evolution can't come until very late in high school -- or possibly not until college.

Perhaps the most basic problem with the whole "Teach the Controversy" movement is how dishonestly hypocritical it is. Even if we ignore all the rest, we can't ignore the fact that these same people don't advocate teaching similar trumped-up controversies in other subjects. Do we teach the "debates" about whether the Holocaust occurred, whether slavery in America was really benevolent, whether the Civil War was justified, or whether astrology is genuine? Of course not. Anyone who suggested such a thing would be laughed at -- or worse.

The reason why schools shouldn't teach creationist complaints about evolution as if they were part of a legitimate debate is much the same as why schools shouldn't teach complaints about the Holocaust or the Civil War as if they were also part of a legitimate debate. The simple fact is, they aren't part of a legitimate debate because there is no disagreement about scholars in the respective fields about the truth of these things.

This image is based on a World War II poster encouraging children to keep buying war savings stamps.

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