Why fighting the denialists matters

24 03 2007

It matters because of the kids. This science class in Colorado, asked students to put global warming on trial. Guess who won?

LONGMONT — Humans don’t cause global warming, a jury of sixth graders at Trail Ridge Middle School concluded Thursday after hearing opposing arguments from their peers.

“They’re pretty young for this kind of thinking. They did great,” paleontology teacher Ken Poppe said after the 40-minute “trial” in his classroom.

With Earth’s warming accepted as a tenet, pre-teen “lawyers” and “scientists” debated whether humans have caused it.

The students found all their arguments and “science” on the Internet (actually the article says “the school’s computer lab”, so I assume they were searching the Web. The alternative is even more appalling). There are sites that cater to climate warners and climate sceptics — but they apparently have not been taught the skills to evaluate the trustworthiness of these sites.

“The earth has warmed and cooled over many years. If it’s caused by CO2, why haven’t the charts shot up?” Poppe’s son and lead prosecutor Caleb argued during a rebuttal.

In a climax that sent half the class to its feet and forced the judge to call for order, opponent Monique Nem slapped a contradictory graph onto the prosecution’s table.

“We’ve proven you wrong! The CO2 levels have shot up,” she said.

In the end, it seems that the winning side did so purely on their superior debating skills.

Seven of 11 jurors decided humans are not to blame, but everyone agreed classroom debates make for fun learning.

“It was a hard decision, because both sides made good points,” said student Samantha Roberts.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong per se with students learning in this fashion. One thing that is sure is that motivation levels would have been very high among the class. However, that there was no effort on the part of the teacher to vet the information for scientific validity, that he did not point out that the consensus was overwhelmingly towards an acceptance that global warming is driven by human activity — that is unconscionable.

Makes you wonder about where the teacher stands, doesn’t it?

Ken Poppe said he let students choose which side of the debate to argue. Poppe personally believes global warming is cyclical and not affected by humans, while his Colorado State University student aide David Richards believes the opposite. Both, however, said they presented both sides equally to the students leading up to Thursday’s debate.

“What I think is not the issue. It’s what the students dig up and how they present the case,” Poppe said.

Only one parent questioned Poppe’s decision to hold a global warming debate. That mother expected him to present Al Gore’s global warming movie “An Inconvenient Truth” as indisputable facts, Poppe said. After he explained his neutrality in the classroom, the mom allowed her child to participate in the debate, he said.

“You don’t understand someone’s position until you can argue it to their satisfaction,” Poppe said, quoting a famous physicist. “I don’t believe in Darwinism either, but I can argue it as well as any Darwinist.”

That’s right. As well as denying anthropogenic global warming, he denies evolution.

May this cancer never reach New Zealand.

More from PZ Myers, a teacher who actually teaches well.

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One response

27 03 2007

Good site! kabababrubarta

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