Prof. Mark Wilson teaches a course on scientific method at Western Carolina University. The Logical Leap is required reading for the course, and he invited me to visit and give a couple of guest lectures. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The students were very interested in the subject and eager to hear me explain the differences between my views and those of other philosophers they had read. In the second lecture, we were joined by future high school science teachers who were taking a class on science education. This gave me the opportunity to explain why I think science students must learn the material in essentially the same way that scientists learn it — that is, they need to learn it inductively, grasping the steps of the discovery process.
One student raised a question that made me feel empathy for these future teachers. In effect, he asked: “Teaching the discovery process sounds like a fun way for students to really learn the material rather than simply memorize it. But is this approach consistent with the national standardized tests the students must pass?” I had to admit that a proper inductive curiculum includes a significant amount of material that is not covered on the state tests and it omits some material that is covered on those tests. And today there is a great deal of pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” — even if they think the test is deeply flawed.
Imagine a high school science teacher who has a genuine passion for opening young minds to the wonders of the natural world. In today’s education system, this teacher is told not to think about the best way of accomplishing this goal; that decision is made by committees of government appointed “experts.” The teacher is supposed to teach by rote, while the students learn by rote. The independent thought of both teachers and students is extinguished in the classroom by state mandate. Is it a mystery why so many teachers burn-out and so many students drop-out?
Fortunately, the internet can provide alternatives to the standard curriculum designed by government committees. In the future, we can hope that the popularity of an inductive curriculum creates pressure to change the standardized tests. We can also hope that the mind-numbing power of such tests is diminished by growth of the private education sector.