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Journal of Science Teacher Education
ISSN: 1046-560X (Print) 1573-1847 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/uste20
Arguing About Arguing
Norman G. Lederman & Judith S. Lederman
To cite this article: Norman G. Lederman & Judith S. Lederman (2017) Arguing About Arguing,
Journal of Science Teacher Education, 28:2, 143-145, DOI: 10.1080/1046560X.2017.1302206
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/1046560X.2017.1302206
Published online: 15 Mar 2017.
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EDITORIAL
Arguing About Arguing
Norman G. Lederman and Judith S. Lederman
Department of Mathematics and Science Education, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Last month the North Dakota senate passed a bill that stated, among other things, the following:
No teacher may be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective
scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information presented in courses being taught
which are aligned with the content standards established pursuant to section 13-3-48 of the state code that
governs the state education standards revision cycle. (Raposa, 2017; Strauss, 2017)
Similar bills have been introduced in Indiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. On the surface, the bill is seemingly
emphasizing the importance of developing studentscritical thinking and argumentation abilities. Isnt
this a major vision of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; Achieve, 2013)? Many years ago,
Norman was teaching high school biology in a small school in rural Illinois. The town was not very
receptive to the teaching of evolution, and the chemistry teacher, whose daughter was in Normans class,
was quite outspoken on the topic. Norman figured the best way to teach evolution and still keep his job
was to let the students have a debate about evolution using whatever sources they wished. As much as
possible he assigned students to a debate group whose focus was a position contrary to the students
personal beliefs. He had heard in his preservice methods class that having students participate in
counterattitudinal debates was an effective approach for facilitating studentslearning of topics to
which they were not receptive. That is, if students had to publicly defend a position they did not believe,
they would necessarily research the topic in more depth for fear of looking foolish among their peers.
This is a story Norman has told before, and the pedagogical approach was a resounding failure. In short,
the two debate teams ended uptalking past each other because they wereusing evidence from two widely
different ways of knowing. The two ways of knowing (i.e., religion and science) have different criteria for
what constitutes evidence. Fast-forwarding to the present, one could say that Norman was helping his
students understand, analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and
weaknesses of scientific information.Is it really inconsistent with the bill passed by the state senate of
South Dakota?
One must read a little between the lines to realize the potentially damaging effects of the South
Dakota bill. Indeed, it has already been criticized by the following organizations:
South Dakota Department of Education
The School Administrators of South Dakota
National Science Teachers Association
National Association of Biology Teachers
National Association of Geoscience Teachers
National Center for Science Education
American Institute of Biological Sciences
National Council Against Censorship
Associated School Boards of South Dakota
South Dakota Education Association
American Civil Liberties Union
CONTACT Norman G. Lederman ledermann@iit.edu and Judith S. Lederman ledermanj@iit.edu Mathematics and Science
Education, Illinois Institute of Technology, 3424 S. State Street, Chicago, IL 60616, USA.
© 2017 Association for Science Teacher Education
JOURNAL OF SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION
2017, VOL. 28, NO. 2, 143145
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1046560X.2017.1302206
The fear is that the vague wording of the bill could open the door to teachers engaging in
discussions about controversial issues that are really not controversial at all. The bill encourages
critiquing and reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information. This is a laudable
goal that certainly contributes to scientific literacy. But in the same vein as our December 2016
Journal of Science Teacher Education editorial (Lederman & Lederman, 2016), we are at a point in
history when the general populace is unable to clearly determine the veracity of the massive amounts
of information and claims that confront them in the media and on the Internet. Although the South
Dakota bill is not specific to science, the implications for science instruction are clear. The bill would
encourage debates about evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. Such debates, just as the one
in Normans class, are not scientific debates. They are debates about a controversial topic but not
necessarily debates among various scientific ideas, concepts, or theories. The intent of the NGSS is to
engage students in in-depth analysis of scientific data and scientific conclusions, having students
arrive at conclusions based on scientific data and the weight of the evidence. Many teachers may
choose to avoid the problem of the evolution/creationism debate by avoiding any discussion of
evolution. This was a ploy that was once used by creationists in their advocacy for equal time in
science classrooms.
Much of this discussion could be ignored on the grounds that we are making much ado about
nothing. Let us not forget, however, that we now live in a time of alternative facts.Much like the
beloved Journal of Irreproducible Results there are now jokes about a fictitious journal known as the
Journal of Alternative Facts. These are not just fanciful musings on our part. Powerful members of
the U.S. government administration deny or question human-made climate change and deny the
theory of evolution. If we are not careful, the NGSS emphasis on argumentation could be misused as
a rationale for allowing the discussion of nonscientific issues in our nations science classes. This is a
slippery slope we want to avoid.
As science teacher educators, what is our responsibility regarding this matter? We certainly want
preservice and in-service teachers to foster student engagement in collecting data with respect to a
particular scientific question and then arriving at conclusions that they can defend based on the data
collected. Sometimes students will collect data directly, whereas at other times they may be working
with data that they have collected through the Internet. We have previously discussed the need for
students to be able to assess the veracity of the information they collect on the Internet (Lederman &
Lederman, 2016). But it seems that in this case the overarching concern is even greater. One of the
most important aspects of the nature of science that we stress in our research is the idea that all
scientific knowledge is subject to change (i.e., tentative). One must be careful with respect to this
aspect of the nature of science because tentative can imply differing levels of confidence to different
people. Scientific knowledge generally accepted by the scientific community is derived from large
amounts of data and numerous studies. It is not simply the result of a single investigation and
subject to change at the proverbial drop of a hat. In short, as the Benchmarks for Science Literacy
(American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) so aptly stated, it is durable. When we
work with preservice and in-service teachers there are always some individuals who take the idea of
the tentativeness of scientific knowledge too far. They believe that all ideas are immediately subject
to change and/or flimsy and that all ideas are of equal value. Indeed, many of our colleagues prefer to
avoid the use of the word tentative for this very reason. Semantics aside, we are always careful to
carefully qualify our intended meaning of tentative. The currently reigning evolutionary theory is
derived from volumes of data and investigations. The same is true for climate change. It is far too
simplistic to take the position that there are alternative ideas or facts and that they all have equal
value and are all worthy of serious discussion.
We are sure that the individuals who have resurrected the concept of alternative facts are not
consciously thinking of constructivist ways of thinking, but there is a disturbing parallel between
alternative facts and discussions of misconceptions and/or alternative conceptions (Abimbola &
Baba, 1996; Gilbert & Watts, 1983; among many others). How open are we as educators to
entertaining all viewpoints at the expense of not categorizing certain student ideas as not accurate
144 N. G. LEDERMAN AND J. S. LEDERMAN
or scientifically wrong? This is just a thought, but an interesting thought. We are fully supportive of
the NGSS emphasis on argumentation as an integral part of science instruction. But it can result in
science teachers becoming pressured in the current political climate to entertain alternative facts. As
science teacher educators we must make a concerted effort to help teachers discern and defend what
may be fruitful discussions as opposed to those that challenge the credibility of science. Debates
about evolution and creationism are not scientific debates. The solution to the issue is not about one
set of scientific data, theories, and so on, and another. Debates about the relative merits of
punctuated equilibrium and gradualism as explanations of evolution focus on the strengths and
weaknesses of two related but different scientific theories. Discussions about whether genetically
modified foods are detrimental to ones health are scientific discussions. Naturally, from our frame
of reference, we think most of the problems related to inadvertently, or intentionally, promoting
antiscience views in science classrooms (as the South Dakota bill potentially allows) are to make a
concerted effort to facilitate teachersunderstandings of scientific inquiry or practices and the nature
of science in addition to scientific knowledge.
References
Abimbola, I., & Baba, S. (1996). Misconceptions and alternative conceptions in science textbooks: The role of teachers
as filters. The American Biology Teacher, 58(1),1419.
Achieve. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York, NY: Oxford
University Press.
Gilbert, J. K., & Watts, D. M. (1983). Concepts, misconceptions and alternative conceptions: Changing perspectives in
science education. Studies in Science Education,10(1), 6198.
Lederman, N. G., & Lederman, J. S. (2016). I read it on the Internet, it has to be true! Journal of Science Teacher
Education,27, 795798.
Raposa, M. (2017, January 27). The evolution of a science curriculum bill. Retrieved from the Argus Leader website:
http://www.argusleader.com/story/blogs/learningcurve/2017/01/27/evolution-science-curriculum-bill/97104458/
Strauss, V. (2017, February 5). An alternative factsSouth Dakota bill sparks fears for science education in the Trump
era. Retrieved from the Washington Post website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/
05/an-alternative-facts-south-dakota-bill-sparks-fears-for-science-education-in-the-trump-era/?utm_term=.
3376425d7dd8
JOURNAL OF SCIENCE TEACHER EDUCATION 145
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The evolution of a science curriculum bill
  • M Raposa
  • Abimbola I
Next generation science standards: For states, by states
  • Achieve
Achieve. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Benchmarks for science literacy
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
South Dakota bill sparks fears for science education in the Trump era
  • M Raposa
Raposa, M. (2017, January 27). The evolution of a science curriculum bill. Retrieved from the Argus Leader website: http://www.argusleader.com/story/blogs/learningcurve/2017/01/27/evolution-science-curriculum-bill/97104458/ Strauss, V. (2017, February 5). An "alternative facts" South Dakota bill sparks fears for science education in the Trump era. Retrieved from the Washington Post website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/02/ 05/an-alternative-facts-south-dakota-bill-sparks-fears-for-science-education-in-the-trump-era/?utm_term=. 3376425d7dd8
An “alternative facts” South Dakota bill sparks fears for science education in the Trump era
  • V Strauss