Lawrence Krauss: ‘The Purpose of Education is Not to Validate Ignorance but to Overcome It’

Physicist Lawrence Krauss, who recently suggested that math and science teachers ought to get paid more than other teachers, is back to talk about something many more of you may agree with: We should not validate ignorance in the classroom:

… Somehow saying that, well, anything goes, we shouldn’t offend religious beliefs by requiring kids to know — to understand reality; that’s child abuse. And if you think about it, teaching kids — or allowing the notion that the earth is 6,000 years old to be promulgated in schools is like teaching kids that the distance across the United States is 17 feet. That’s how big an error it is.

Now you might say, look, a lot of people believe that, so don’t we owe it to them to allow their views to be present in school? Well, as I’ve often said, the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it.

The last thing we want to do is water down the teaching of biology because some people don’t recognize that evolution happened. Evolution is the basis of modern biology and, in fact, if a lot of people don’t believe it, it only means we have to do a better job teaching it. So once again, I repeat, the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance, but to overcome it.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s powerful to teach students different perspectives on a topic when those perspectives are both compelling and valid. That’s not the case with Creationism/Intelligent Design when it comes to scientific theories.

(Thanks to Richard for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • observer

    Oh I dunno, if you think about it, teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design could have some educational values – namely as an example of how NOT to do science, and perhaps to also show to how pathetically ignorant Christian extremists are on evolution, let alone science in general (i.e. extremists keep equating evolution with abiogenesis, and even the creation of the universe).

    • eric

      No, it really doesn’t. First, there is a huge body of important science that needs to be communicated: teaching the problems of creationism has an ‘opportunity cost,’ in that you could be teaching more genetics or organic chemistry or whatever in that time period, which is almost certainly gonig to be more valuable to the kid in the long run. Second, spending a significant amount of time on a bad idea is likely to confuse more kids than it helps.

      Just think of the plum pudding model of the atom. Consider three points about it: (1) how much time did your teacher spend on it? (2) would your time learning useful, modern chemistry models have been better spent studying it, rather than the orbital model (or QM models)? (3) if you had spent days or weeks on the plum pudding model and much less time on the orbital model, isn’t there a pretty good chance at least some of the students would leave the class mistakenly remembering that model as the more accurate one?

  • Dave Mabus

    they didn’t survive Armageddon

    s1.zetaboards.com/LooseChangeForums/topic/4979676/1/

  • Baby_Raptor

    The fact that a lot of people believe something does not somehow make it worthy of being respected. Especially if what they believe can be proven as bullshit.

    We already do way too much damage in the name of respecting peoples’ “deeply held beliefs.” Over half the country is still fighting for basic civil rights in one form or another because the damn christianists think the country should be run by their Bronze Age mythology book. You’d think we’d have learned from this, but no.

    • SecularPatriot

      The fact that a lot of people believe something does not somehow make it worthy of being respected.

      “Respect the beliefs of others,” is a close-but-no-cigar type of statement that bothers me to no end.

      Beliefs deserve courtesy until proven otherwise, not respect. I’ll give every belief the courtesy of the same level of skepticism, regardless of whether it is a scientific belief, religious belief, or batshit insane conspiracy theory.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chengis-Khan/100003317165064 Chengis Khan

    ‘The Purpose of Education is Not to Validate Ignorance but to Overcome It’ – Not an easy concept to put across to those who militantly believe that Darwinism, evolution, carbon dating, etc. constitute ignorance. And as @observer below notes, we science teachers believe that the concept of creationism must be elucidated to the learners, just as we teach geocentric notions or what Lamarck’s idea of inheritance.

  • Puzzled

    I agree with this, but I’d pare it down – biologists must teach biology. I don’t think the feet/inches comparison helps, because the people who need to hear it will have plenty of objections to make (certainly evolution is not a matter of definition) and miss the important point. It isn’t about whether or not you teach some fact, it’s about teaching biology from biological principles. Supernaturalism isn’t one of them. You don’t teach biology in order to force-feed certain facts to students, creation or evolution. You teach biology in order to explore biological systems and to think like biologists. The reason creationists have a hard time understanding this is that, quite literally, they have absolutely no experience with education that is not meant as indoctrination.

    However, I disagree with math and science teachers getting paid more (I’m a math teacher, by the way.) Most math and science teachers don’t do a great job, in my experience – math in particular does a lousy job of instilling in students a feel for how mathematicians think. This, though, isn’t a result of the quality of the teachers – if it were, then maybe raising their pay could help attract better teachers. Rather, it’s a result of the system they are in – having great teachers wouldn’t really help all that much, in my opinion, until we get at the textbooks, the state standards, etc.

  • RebeccaSparks

    I like the main quote ” the purpose of education is not to validate ignorance but to overcome it” but I think by that using the words “child abuse” would turn off people who would otherwise be open to discussion. Like others have said, evolution could be taught in a historical way like Lamarkian evolution or geocentricity- but not as viable scientific fact. S

    • Santiago

      I agree with your comment on “child abuse”.

    • Castilliano

      Umm… evolution IS a viable scientific fact. As I’ve heard several times, “it has more support than the Theory of Gravity”. I suppose you meant “Creationism” or “ID” is the nonviable ‘fact’.

      Also, having last week talked to a Creationist researching his side of things at my bookstore, they do believe they have reasoning and science on their side. We do need to promote discussion, so they can see how much stronger our reasoning and science is.
      It’s hard enough for them to accept that evolution is an unbiased fact without attacking their view (which they see as an attack on themselves/their god).

  • busterggi

    You can’t fix willfully stupid.

  • lefty

    who would win in a cragglyface competition, Tommy Lee Jones or Lawrence Krauss?

    • http://twitter.com/Attacusatlas1 Attacus Atlas

      Trick question! The answer is Edward James Olmos.

  • http://www.facebook.com/abb3w Arthur Byrne

    “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain


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