Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Facts don't prove a damn thing!"

Just a small note on education.

I am one of those people who believes that, generally speaking, education back home cultivates better thinking and life skills than education in East Asia. Even if the overall knowledge base is less, that's amply made up for in the development of critical thinking skills, creativity and to some extent confidence. All skills that serve one better in the real world than testing, a lack of practice and rote memorization.

That said.

Someone I know recently brought up the teaching of science in conversation, and it got down to religious beliefs vs. science - specifically evolution.

To this person's horror, I said that yes, whether or not to teach evolution is still a debated topic in much of the USA, and many schools will teach it with a "caveat" that it's "just a theory" or "there are other points of view".  Folks whose religious convictions state that evolution is either not the answer - and the world was created in  6 days, 6,000 years ago - or it's more "intelligent design" than "evolution"* have more control over science education than many are comfortable with.

Silence.

Then, slowly, "if you tried to say that or teach it that way in a Taiwanese school, people would laugh at you. Teachers would laugh. Administrators would laugh. Nobody would take you seriously. Sure, evolution is a 'theory' but some theories have more proof behind them than others. Evolution has a lot of proof behind it.  'The world was created in six days' has basically no proof behind it. That's just science. You might get fired for teaching religion in a science class. Science is proof, experiment, observation and fact. It just would not happen in a Taiwanese school."

So, you know, there's that. At least here kids are learning  actual science.

But then, looking back at the USA, I recently got into a debate online with someone I went to high school with and her friend. It was an entirely different discussion - about illegal immigration, in fact - and the friend says "facts don't prove a damn thing!"

Um, yes, they do. That's the whole point of facts. And when it comes to science, at least  kids in Taiwan are getting better facts. If they want to take the burden of scientific evidence and say that there is an intelligent maker behind it, fine, but they're not taught that they can deny the facts just because they're inconvenient to their belief system.


*different debate, that. I don't believe in intelligent design but I do recognize that there are different ways of believing it. Some basically tear down science. Others  keep science intact but add the caveat that it was God's idea and is under his watch, but little else. I could go on forever about that, but I won't.

6 comments:

Pierre said...

I don't want to make too much of a fuss, but apart from the US, I don't know many other Western countries that still have this debate.

Actually, Britain recently banned Creationism from schools:
http://www.humanism.org.uk/news/view/961

As for France, I'm pretty sure the situation would be exactly the same as in Taiwan; actually, even the cleaning ladies would laugh at you.

So in the end, I don't think this is a "East Vs. West" debate, more a "US Vs. The rest of the World" one.

Nick Herman said...

It seems to me that Chinese society is far more numerically/analytically based in some ways, whether or not this is actually done in an intelligent manner. i.e. A common statement is that the level of math for Chinese/Taiwanese/East Asians is far beyond the expectations of American students--which, having been a math major, and a math teacher in the USA, I can say is definitely true, when I just glance at the textbooks of some of my language students.
Compared to American textbooks, Chinese and Taiwanese scientific/math texts seem drier, less technical, less pictures. However, as there is far less individual expression allowed in confucian societies, although you may end up with a much wider net of people who are proficient at computation, you are also going to end up with a lower percentage of people who are actually creative at solving difficult scientific problems that require out of the box thinking. i.e. my dad has worked in semiconductors for 30 years and has mentioned that he has interviewed many Chinese and Taiwanese PhDs over the years who could not solve basic, but non-standard, logic problems he gave them during interviews.
I find it interesting that in the public/media sphere, extensive and detailed numerical information is given in a way it wouldn't be in a western society--for instance, I find it very interesting that in the MRT there is quite a lot of numerical PR like "blah blah line exceeded 5.4 million passengers last year, the first for a T-type metro line with this capacity," in a technical way that is really quite dry and actually, not really necessary for a public announcement that is supposed to catch your attention as you're just walking by. Not a lot of filtering.
On the other, Chinese society is still intensely superstitious, in my opinion, and although kids may have "science" or "math" crammed down their throats all day in school, I don't think a lot of their parents really care too much about the specifics of what they're actually learning, and see no conflict in any of this with taking the family down to the Daoist temple afterwards and praying for a new big screen TV.
I've never had this problem with Taiwanese people, but actually, I've found mainland Chinese, despite their also, intensely technical educations, very unscientific in their thinking--I've talked to many young Chinese people in the past about evolution, who openly jeer at the idea, and find it ridiculous and insulting. Strange (or because of?) for a people who's mythology is that they descended from dragons.

Jenna Cody said...

Pierre, I did specifically say "the USA" - I agree with you. It's really just the USA that's doing this (I'm trying to think of a similarly religious country and coming up short in terms of another one that might let religion influence science teaching).

J said...

I once had a Chinese teacher- non-Christian!- in Taiwan who tried to argue that the Bible had as much evidential weight as the Origin of Species because both were books.
Taiwanese may be better acquainted than Americans with the scientific definition of "theory" because Taiwanese educational and economic policy emphasizes science as the key to national development. Also Taiwanese religion isn't as clearly against the idea of evolution as America's.
There are probably many countries where evolution is banned outright (probably in Saudi Arabia and Iran), and many others where it's controversial (possibly Turkey, Malaysia, maybe a few Catholic countries).

Jenna Cody said...

Wait, "The Bible has as much weight at the Origin of Species because they're both books"?

WHAT! WHAT! WHAT!

Anyway, not Turkey. Turkey is not that religious (despite the fact that they seem to keep wanting to elect leaders from religious parties). Turkey's most revered leader (whom I happen to despise but that's a different story) was for all intents and purposes an atheist.

J said...

You could say the same of the US though, and the fact is that very few (if any, at the moment) districts in the US teach intelligent design. Judging from Wikipedia, it is in fact illegal to teach creationism along with evolution (and intelligent design too). Anyway, main point is that Wikipedia, if it is to be trusted, suggests that it is somewhat controversial in Turkey.