Tuesday, January 02, 2007

If we don't stand up for the rights of dwarf planets, who will?

This is amusing. Back in September, Gus Van Horn blogged about a first grade teacher who got her students to start a school-wide petition to protest the demotion of Pluto to "dwarf planet" status on the grounds of "sticking up for the little guy," (or more accuratly, the frigid, inanimate, and too small to be properly classified as a planet "little guy"). Van Horn wrote that he was appalled that children in science class were being taught that truth is a matter of majority vote and that feelings should guide each voter.

Flash forward to the present and the teacher involved (or someone claiming to be her) apparently paid Van Horn's blog a visit and posted a comment to complain about her coverage.

I am constistantly (sic) shocked at the uneducated rants of the educated. I teach 1st grade, I teach complex concepts on a level that is both appropiate (sic) and understandable to my audience, so when I happened upon your blog I was surprised. I will try to educate you on our Pluto campaign. The children were give a lesson on democracy and not science. The IAU which is comprised of over 2000 scientific members who met in Europe last August. Less than a majority attended and voted to demote the ninth planet. We decided to vote as well, a vote of popular opinion. Our tiny class of 14 stated their case for Pluto and we secured a majority agreement from fellow classmates. A great lesson on democracy and appropriate avenues for debate. I hope you now understand that this campaign was about processes and not just planets. We also teach five oceans in our class, and last year the class voted to include UB313 in our planetary line-up. Teaching children that it is acceptable to question and debate is a good thing.
Needless to say, Van Horn (a scientist by trade) was none too impressed with this 2nd attempt to democratize science.

The anthropomorphism in what the paper quoted you saying (Pluto is an inanimate object, not a "little guy" to whom school children really can or really should relate.) and your immediate ratcheting up to emotionalism ("uneducated rants") upon encountering my comment indicates to me that perhaps I was even more on the mark than I suspected.

The appropriate time to teach about government -- and thank God, so to speak, we do not live in a "democracy" -- is civics class. Likewise, the time to teach science is in science class. A scientific congress is not a government and the government has no business attempting to dictate scientific consensus. You have not only confounded two disciplines (science and civics), but you have failed to teach a good lesson in either.

Science -- and I mean the process of finding evidence and logically evaluating it -- is supposed to teach us about the universe; the consistency of the concepts (e.g., "planet") we form with reality is a fact not subject to majority vote. Government is the only social institution that can legally wield force. Studying this institution should make people aware that it is a blunt instrument suited and properly used ONLY to protect citizens from having their individual rights violated.

The scientific congress that "demoted" Pluto was not, furthermore, composed of elementary school students or even their teachers, but of scientists. Just to vote on this matter (and any review of scientific history would show that scientific debate really isn't settled by a quick vote anyway) required something you should educate your students about or better yet, help them become better able to earn: qualifications.
All I can say is "amen, brother."


Anonymous said...

I'm glad Pluto isn't mentioned in the Bible.

Jack Galt said...

B-b-b-but what about the rights of "little people" to dictate their whims to others.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the Inquisition represent the democratic scientific views of its day? I ask that question in honor of my namesake.

Anonymous said...

LOL the perils of a presence on the Web: this teacher works for a private school in Houston. guessing that quality control for staff isn't a market function? honestly...