Critical Teaching

[ UPDATE 21 November 2010 – … and don’t forget this juicy new video of the american professor who loads his “balanced” debate by using on his students the you-can’t-check-the-premises-but-you-must-accept-the-conclusions fallacy. Amazing. ]

Hello all those concerned with saving future generations or grandchildren or … well … you know how this common argumental fallacy goes.  😉

Children's grasp of science is being eroded as lessons prioritise debates over social issues, says Bernice McCabe.
I noticed in the new Skolverket Kursplan (Swedish School Board course guidlines) for Science, given out to all Swedish primary and secondary school teachers on Monday 1 November (and criticized by some) … accompanied, I would be remiss to obmit, by a very positive and smiling video 🙂  … I noticed, I say …
… that the words “hållbar utveckling” (sustainable development) arise 8 times  in these copy-and-pasted Science guidelines here: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Technology, for example, from the Chemistry chapter: “Med kunskaper om materiens uppbyggnad och oförstörbarhet får människor redskap för att kunna bidra till en hållbar utveckling.” (With facts about a material’s properties and durability humans can then contribute to sustainable development. )
The problem is … that there appears little scientific, economic or historical support for this “sustainable development” idea … and the politics of this idea (ideology?) seems fraught with difficulties.

Think the Earth is finite? Think again

We now live under a cult of sustainability, a social and political framework which says that we should never overhaul what exists and should instead make do with the world as it is. The idea of sustainability is anti-exploration, anti-experimentation, anti-risk – all the qualities we need if we are going to make the kind of breakthroughs that earlier generations made with coal and uranium and other resources.”
Soooo … what is “Hållbar Utveckling” doing in the Swedish science course guides ???
The idea of sustainable development has been heavily criticised internationally as a being just a political fad and destrucitve to future human development. One of the best critiques comes from Oxford Professor Wilfred Beckerman in 2002 with his A Poverty of Reason:
A Poverty of Reason: Sustainable Development and Economic Growth
Read the beginning of Chapter 1 here and a typical rewiew example here.
It also seems that schools in England are going through the same problems that Swedish teachers have with Skolverket:

Pupils ‘debating social issues in science’: Traditional school science is being dumbed down as teachers focus on social issues to make lessons more “relevant” to pupils’ lives, according to a leading headmistress.”

I seem to be predisposed to this way of thinking:
Of course global warming and nuclear power are important topics, and of course responsible citizens should be able to hold an informed view about them,” she said. “The problem is that if you have not acquired enough of the content knowledge of disciplines such as physics, chemistry and biology you are not going to have the information needed for a significant discussion of matters like the environment or HIV/AIDS.” In a speech to the charity’s latest teacher training course, in Crewe, she said there was now a “growing weight of opinion that subject knowledge should come before social issues”. 
Hear! … Hear! … I say  🙂
Read more from those blasted skeptical unthankful reactionary teachers from England here and here and here and here 😉
Well … we can let the teachers in England fight their own “Politics in Education” battles … we here in Sweden have our own to “enjoy”.

However, now … even in don’t-rock-the-boat Sweden  😉  … there are people bringing critical thinking to the idea of “Sustainable Development” … good! … I say 🙂

Here are two suntanned smiling professors in the sunshine to add a bit of rhetoric to the argument, but maybe the logic behind their happy counternances is compelling as well. Read on fellow Swedes … and be amazed by the audacity of these chums trying to buck the system … or for those excluded from the delights of this wonderful language read on anyway and you may pick up the delightful melody so often missing from modern tongues. 

Christer Gunnarsson och Martin Andersson:
Hållbarhetsdogmatikerna har fått starkt fäste vid universiteten och i den offentliga debatten. Ett problem med deras föreställningsvärld är att de håller sig med en förmodern retorik som inte tar hänsyn till dagens verklighet och som bortser från att fattigdomen är ett mycket större miljöhot än tillväxt. Det skriver Christer Gunnarsson och Martin Andersson, ekonomhistoriker vid Lunds universitet.

Hållbarhetsideologerna lever i en 1700-talsvärld


Vi hävdar att hållbarhetsdebatten hindrar en förståelse av hur mänsklighetens stora ödesfråga ska kunna lösas, hur underutvecklingen i världen ska kunna utrotas eller åtminstone avsevärt minskas inom överskådlig tid. Hållbarhetsdebatten domineras av grupper och organisationer som inte tar denna viktiga utvecklingsfråga på allvar. (… sustainable development is dominated by groups and organisations that don’t take development questions seriously)
Hållbarhetsparadigmet håller därför på att driva biståndsmålen bort från tillväxt och fattigdomsminskning. Att fattigdomen anses bero på västvärldens ohållbara utvecklingsmodell har idag blivit en ofta framförd uppfattning. (… drives money away from growth and poverty reduction)
Verklig hållbar utveckling betyder ständig förändring och bättre utnyttjande av kapital, naturkapital inräknat. Bevarande betyder enkelbiljett till en tid och en värld då livet var brutalt och kort.( a one way ticket to a time and world where life was brutal and short)
Sooo … it looks like it might be a good thing for my students to do a “Kritiska Tänkande” exercise about the concept of  “hållbar utveckling” , since both terms are in the Skolverket Kursplan for Science: “… På så sätt ska undervisningen bidra till att eleverna utvecklar ett kritiskt tänkande kring sina egna resultat, andras argument och olika informationskällor.”
(“… in this way teaching should contribute to students developing a critical thinking about their own results, others arguments and different information sources.”

I hope that this is still legal too 😉

Teaching Critically Brady

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