All too often, controversial subjects are marked by an abundance of sound bites and a relative dearth of substantive, carefully reasoned debate. That's understandable, considering the public's demand for cogent, quickly digestible information. But saying that this is understandable is not the same as saying that it's good. Sound bites are a very poor basis for understanding important issues--or making important decisions.
Go over the following handout with the students. Give them a due date that works best with your schedule, taking into account your students' abilities. If you wish, when the students have completed their reports, set aside a class session for a class discussion/debate on the following questions:
All too often, controversial subjects are marked by too many sound bites and too few thoughtful arguments. That's not surprising, given the public's demand for dramatic, quickly digestible information. But is that a good way to understand important issues? Are sound bites a good basis for making important decisions?
In this assignment, you will get the chance to dig deeper on the question of how the origins controversy should be taught in the public schools. In an article titled, "Teaching the Origins Controversy" (see list of sources), the article's authors describe a fictitious science teacher who wants to make some changes in the way he teachers evolution in his classroom. The science teacher, John Spokes, wants to:
Is It Science? Are Spokes's intended changes in his biology curriculum scientific? Is his plan to correct and critique textbook presentations of neo-Darwinism scientific? Are the alternative theories that Spokes wants to present (including the theory of intelligent design) scientific?
Is It Religion? Does Spokes's plan to correct and critique textbook presentations of neo-Darwinism constitute an establishment of religion? Does Spokes's plan to expose his students to evidence of design and design theory qualify as teaching religion? Does the First Amendment prevent the presentation of this point of view?
Is It Speech? Are Spokes's plans to correct and critique textbook presentations of neo-Darwinism, and to expose students to the alternative theory of intelligent design, protected under the First Amendment?
Use the following sources to answer the questions for this report. If you wish, you may also read through some of the United States Supreme Court decisions mentioned in these sources. A good place to find the text of these decisions is at www.findlaw.org. When you go to the site, enter the name of the case in the top left-hand text box, using all uppercase letters, except for the "v". For example, if you want to read the Supreme Court's decision on Louisiana's "balanced-treatment" law, you would enter "EDWARDS v. AGUILLARD" in the search box. Then select "US Supreme Court" from the pull-down menu box on the right and click the "Search" button.