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beakerConnor (15) came home on the second day of school and collapsed on the sofa with a defeated look I’ve come to recognize.

“Uh…good day?”

“No.” He looked up at me. “Science.”

He had enrolled for physical science and was looking forward to it, thinking it was physics. Turns out it’s actually basic mechanics and other concepts he’s already had. But it was the teacher himself who had made the biggest impression — and not a good one.

“He did this whole thing with overheads, and a bunch of it just didn’t make any sense,” he said. “This one overhead said something like…” Connor paused to remember the wording. “‘Experiments and evidence in the present can’t tell us anything about the distant past.'”

I’m not sure how much time passed as the wind-up monkey in my head banged his little cymbals. That my son’s high school science teacher was almost directly quoting the favorite trope of young earth creationist point man Ken “Were You There?” Ham was not encouraging.

“Then he goes off on this thing about ‘If no one was there to witness something, we can only guess about it. This is a big problem for the evolutionists…’ And he goes on and on about how they’ve got all these little bits of bones but how they can never really know what they mean.”


I began to consider my options, the first of which is always “Let it go.” It’s taken me years to learn that accepting a certain base level of facepalming human malpractice is one of the keys to passing my short vivre with some degree of joie. But there are also options that involve me getting out of my chair. Just a few things to weigh first.

I’m serious about not using my kids as pawns in my personal and professional quests. I would do nothing without Connor’s permission. I also have to consider the possibility that he misunderstood somehow, or that this might have been a momentary lapse in an otherwise stellar career for this teacher.

Then there’s the question of outcomes. If I did pursue this, what would the goal be?

Well that’s easy. The goal in this case is to see that the long, patient slog of science, our astonishing attempt to see the world and ourselves more clearly, doesn’t proceed through centuries of observation and experimentation and debate, crawling uphill through the morass of our ancient fears and biases, inching toward tentative answers, finding them, testing them, discarding bad answers and reinforcing sound ones, weaving isolated facts into theory, strengthening the theory, building consensus, then finally, wearily carrying the hard-won knowledge up the steps of our schools — only to be smacked to the floor with a flyswatter, just inches from the ears of our kids, by a “science teacher” who wonders how that icky, sciency thing ever found its way into his classroom.

Let’s call him Mr. Taylor.

Becca and I talked it over at dinner, and she was much more decisive. “I’m sorry, that’s just crazy,” she said. “You have GOT to do something.”

I knew she was right. And on reflection, I found a solid reason to do something, and to do it effectively and well — my daughter Delaney (8).

Last year, Delaney’s second grade teacher shared something with me at conferences. “I asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grow up,” he said. “We went around the room, and it was football player, firefighter, teacher, the usual things. Delaney was the only one who wanted to be a scientist. But she said she isn’t sure yet whether she wants to be an astronomer or a paleontologist or a marine biologist. Isn’t that great?”

Yes it is. A year later, her heart and mind are still set on science.

If she wanted to be a mathematician and I discovered that the middle school math teachers were presenting 4 as a prime number and pi as “just a theory,” I’d do something — NOT just to spank the offenders and make myself feel big and strong and right, but to fix the problem. If she loved history and the high school history teachers were hamfistedly rewriting history to suit their political preferences, I’d dig in to correct that.

So is it really too much for Laney to expect that three years from now, when she reaches her first actual class in the subject she loves most of all, she’ll be able to learn about science, the real thing, from a science educator who is motivated not by fear, or conflict avoidance, or ignorance, or the pursuit of a religious agenda, but by a love of and respect for science itself?

So I would look into this Taylor thing, not for a quick fix, but to do some lasting good.


Added: An incredible story of an inspiring Georgia science teacher

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.