Addressing Religious Bias in Middle School

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Peregrin5, Jun 2, 2015.

  1. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    This post will probably ruffle some feathers, but I'm dealing with this situation and would like advice.

    Our last project of the year has students researching one of three topics, and presenting their research to the rest of the class in lieu of me teaching them the lesson on that topic (I figure they're tired of hearing me talk anyway).

    Anyway, the topics are dark matter, dark energy, and the big bang. Astronomy topics they've asked me about all year, and I figured I'd help them figure out the answers on their own.

    Anyway, dark matter and dark energy are fine, but the big bang theory has a lot of poor sources out there with clear religious bias on the internet.

    I've been trying to address evaluating sources and identifying bias, but the fact is that most of our students are Christian and so I have to do it very carefully. My stance is, this is a science class, so your first responsibility is to present the scientific evidence for this topic. THEN you can also address the evidence for the other side of the topic, and evaluate each based on the evidence, or discuss each side.

    I don't know how much of what I'm saying is getting through to them, and am still seeing some outlines for essays that say "it's just a theory", "has no evidence", etc. Which they would know is false if they actually found sources that provided both sides of the argument (there is plenty of evidence, and I'm sad that some of my students haven't yet learned what a 'scientific theory' means).

    How would you address this as a science teacher afraid of trampling on the beliefs of students but also with the desire to teach students to evaluate their own research and evidence?
     
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  3. ms.irene

    ms.irene Connoisseur

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    I know this can be tricky, especially in certain communities. I would focus on not making it a "religious" issue, but a fact vs. opinion issue. Identifying bias in research sources is very difficult to teach, especially when the bias is the same as the reader's.

    It may be that you cannot change some students' minds, and that's OK. It's not our job to change students' opinions, but rather to try and let some light in and teach them to read, research, and think well.

    Easier said than done, I know!
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2015
  4. GemStone

    GemStone Habitué

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    Narrow down the topics. So, they're researching the big bang - what about it? What is the focus of this research topic? For example, do you want them to give evidence for and against it? Do you want them to research how it could have happened?

    Also, you should give them some credible websites from which to start their research.
     
  5. Sarge

    Sarge Enthusiast

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  6. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    The three things in their papers must be background information, evidence for, and mysteries still yet to solve/things we're still trying to understand about.

    We also had a mini lesson with our librarian on how to find good sources and identify sources with bias. I was hoping at this age, they'd be able to identify bias on their own. I think many of them are simply unaware that the website they are using is biased. It matches their worldview and what their parents have probably told them, so they don't question it, and end up using only these types of sources.

    ms. irene - I'm not trying to change student minds, but I did tell them that what I DO want them to do is to look at the EVIDENCE from both sides and make up their own mind.
     
  7. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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  8. agdamity

    agdamity Fanatic

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    They are 8th graders. If you want them to give unbiased information, I would do what a previous poster suggested and give them a few websites to use for their research. If they are not giving you the information you want, I would give them more specific questions to focus on. Your assignment seems a little too open ended given the topics. Many adults struggle with the Big Bang theory.
     
  9. justwanttoteach

    justwanttoteach Cohort

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    If you have students who are clearly very set in their ideas...how's about you require they research the view or side that is against their own personal belief? Meaning if they think that it's just a theory or has no support, and clearly the earth was made in 7days maybe pose this question:

    Your job is to research and look for evidence to suggest why people might not believe the same as you. You don't have to agree but, "based on your research, why do people think the Big Bang is possible?" What are they using as evidence or a convincing argument for this side of the debate?"
     
  10. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    If you clearly want unbiased then give them sites that are good sites that you are okay with and that don't say things against a religion. Personally, I agree with most scientists on the Big Bang, but I find some of the literature takes small jabs at Christianity and religion. I hate this and it often causes me to reach for different sources. My religion is the most important thing in my life, so I bet it can be even more true for sensitive 8th graders. You are in a tough situation, and I can see you are trying to do the right thing.
     
  11. misswteaches

    misswteaches Companion

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    I've been on the other end of this issue as a Christian student. I was homeschooled (how stereotypical can I be? ;)) so I didn't face it until college. At that point, it was not only science but also psychology, sociology, and literature that challenged my beliefs.
    In my research, I always presented the facts and most commonly agreed upon theories as they were, strictly avoiding the phrase "just a theory"! In some cases, I would also explain why I take a different view -- but not always. It's definitely possible to be religious and research/write intelligently. I was in college, not 8th grade, but I was much younger than most college students and I did alright. :)

    To be honest, I would probably steer clear of the issue, this year at least. It is unfortunate that the students are not getting the message, but I can already imagine the angry firestorm of parents if they found that you critiqued their child's essay "because" of their religion. I know that wouldn't be the case -- all you are looking for is some good research and unbiased writing -- but if your community is predominantly Christian, it might be inviting trouble to make this an issue. I would only address it if you feel strongly enough about it and are confident in your administrators' support.
    And when you go through this project next year you can plan ahead and build more in-class instruction around finding unbiased resources and how to write about challenging topics.
     
  12. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    For this age group, I recommend providing students with a list of approved sources.
     
  13. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Okay. Thanks guys. I had hoped to push them a little further in their development in learning how to research AND identify bias, but maybe it's not appropriate for their age. It did give me the opportunity to discuss this matter with them though, which I think was valuable.

    I'm just afraid that if I don't teach it, they may never learn it and the skill of finding and evaluating sources may just continue to be passed on and on down the line.
     
  14. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    I think you could probably teach those skills using a topic that may not be quite so sensitive.
     
  15. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Absolutely.

    It is like those who want to provide inappropriate readings in English class when the same skill can be taught using something not sensitive.
     
  16. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Not really, since the big bang theory is a required standard in High School, and is a major factor in explaining the astronomy and chemistry standards that are in 8th grade.
     
  17. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Perhaps, but identifying general bias in a piece is very different than identifying bias in a piece that you find yourself on one side of in an issue.

    Aside from that, I wasn't aware that this would be a sensitive issue, until they started coming up with sources that were biased. I'm looking forward to the time when Google begins filtering search results by how reliable the sources really are.
     
  18. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

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    Umm, the conversation switched to you wanting to teach students about bias. You can do that without finding bias with that sensitive topic. There are many other scientific topics students could research that have bias but that bias is not based on religion.
     
  19. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    I was pointing out that this is different from your assertion that this is similar to a teacher putting out a controversial topic just because it's controversial. I put it out there because it's in the standards and an important concept to understand.

    Also identifying bias wasn't the main goal of the assignment otherwise I wouldn't have allowed students to choose dark matter and dark energy as their topics (which have very little in the way of controversy or bias). I simply thought it was a good opportunity to address the skill because of the issue with the controversy surrounding the big bang.
     
  20. Rockguykev

    Rockguykev Connoisseur

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    The fact that you didn't foresee this as sensitive indicates your own bias in the issue. The idea that calling something "scientific" removes all bias from the equation is itself a form of bias.

    You say you want students to evaluate sources but now you want Google doing it? On what standard? From what point of view?

    What if a student used someone like physicist Hugh Ross as their source? He's a Christian who argues that the Big Bang supports the existence of God. He doesn't deny any aspect of the scientific theory and yet reaches a different conclusion of the impetus. Is that because of bias? Is his conclusion using the same evidence less valid?

    I'm not going to deny that there are unreliable sources out there but when one group decides their source is reliable and the rest are not because "google says so" that certainly isn't teaching our kids how to evaluate anything.
     
  21. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    Actually, when we discussed it as a class, we did talk about there being a scientific bias as well. I agree, I do come at it from a scientific bias, but I attempt to be aware of it. Sometimes, I am not, as illustrated in this event.

    I also let students use a website as a source even if it was based out of a religious foundation, but they still used good evidence (http://www.big-bang-theory.com/ for instance).

    I don't mind if they come to different conclusions as long as they consider the evidence. I even told them to feel free to discuss their thoughts about it in the 'Further Discussion' part of their essays and presentations. My only requirement is that they are thoughtful about it and attempt to argue well. I told students to find out questions we still are asking about the big bang, and one big one is we still don't know what happened before the big bang, where the matter came from, what started it, etc. It's a mystery to us. That leaves room for belief in the case of my students. But I still want them to consider that our evidence for what happened after the big bang is strong.

    As for the Google thing, I think that they will be using an algorithm that references other scientific papers, etc. so that the sources they do provide are peer reviewed, replicated, etc. I can't speak for how exactly they're going to be able to do that, but in some issues, equal voice is given when there is not equal evidence, and while everybody has the right to an opinion, I don't think it's ethical to pass off that opinion or source as if it has the same weight as actual measured and observed data. If everyone could evaluate evidence well, it wouldn't be an issue, but for some reason most people have not learned this skill and just go with the top search results/what celebrities say/what confirms their own beliefs, etc. (happens on both sides of the political spectrum)
     
  22. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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  23. amakaye

    amakaye Enthusiast

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    So, because some (even most) people cannot sift through information appropriately, another entity should do it for them? This sounds dangerously "1984/Big Brother-ish" to me...
     
  24. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

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    I agree. I don't really care what scientific algorithms plans to use to claim factual knowledge, it still comes down to human intervention at some point. I'll do my own research, thank you.
     
  25. Peregrin5

    Peregrin5 Maven

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    To be honest, I would rather have a well educated Big Brother who is ensuring information provided is reliable, than easily duped masses who follow fads and ignore evidence. The first could actually benefit society, ensuring people are well informed about their decisions, the other will only bring it down.

    I really prefer the alternative of teaching people to evaluate evidence better though.
     

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