5 steps toward teaching science in an irrational (i.e., human) society

February 24, 2007

We begin today’s discussion with an observation by Robert Kaplan:

“The world as it exists often rejects rationality, spare narratives, even truth. If we have learned anything during this age of speedier and increasingly numerous interactions between peoples with different historical experiences, it is that facts matter less than perceptions, especially perceptions informed by raw emotions. It is what people believe that is crucial, not what they actually know. What is needed, therefore, beyond guiding philosophical principles, is a vivid appreciation or just what’s out there, in the form of the myths, passions, and irrationalities that in any age are central to decision making and, in a larger sense, to the human spirit itself. Romance, rather than being antithetical to realism, is a necessary component of it.”A historian for our time, Atlantic Magazine Jan/Feb p. 80.

My takehome arises from two observations:

1) Folks attracted to the sciences are a subset of the human condition.

2) Your audience (folks reading your letter to the editor, an Intro Bio class in the heartland, your Mom’s side of the family at the annual reunion) have different skill sets that allow them to learn differently, as well as different hard-won prejudices.

3) Teaching involves providing the maximum number of your audience the highest likelihood of understanding at the deepest possible level the concepts and facts you are trying to convey.

My fives on the break. Read the rest of this entry »