Our society is based on the free exchange of ideas and diversity of political and social thought. It should be the policy of every school district to encourage unbiased, unprejudiced and scientific study of controversial issues as they arise as part of the school curriculum.
A controversial issue is any topic or problem which society is in the process of debating on which there is honest disagreement. The issue of global climate change is current, significant and of interest to students. It is included as "Unit 8 — Climate Change" in the Michigan high school companion document, which explains high school science course content expectations.
The core concept states that, "Predicting and mitigating the potential impact of global climate change requires an understanding of the mechanisms of Earth’s climate, involving studies of past climates, measurements of current interactions of Earth’s systems and the construction of climate change models."
In this case, the issue is the result of different interpretations given to the circumstances which surround global climate change.
One of the goals in science, when studying controversial issues, is to enable the student to develop techniques for considering such questions; techniques which he or she will use in later life. "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary film about climate change, specifically global warming, can provide opportunities for the development of clear thinking, balanced judgment, intelligent choices, informed opinion, an ability to differentiate fact from opinion and an understanding of propaganda devices.
The purpose of the film is to educate the public about the science behind global climate change and to enhance our understanding of global climate change, which, first and foremost, rests on the veracity of the science. It accomplishes this by giving the viewer access to a cohesive summary of scientific knowledge on this topic. The film does not contain "scientific proof;" it is a presentation of evidence based on science, which allows the student to engage in the most fundamental exercise as a scientist — to discover the truth.
Science education must give students an opportunity to read and listen for bias, to recognize bias and to research both sides of a situation. As the next generation of scientists, our students must be able to question, form hypotheses, experiment, adjust hypotheses and find supporting evidence.
In science, we teach students to identify a problem, check the literature for research about the problem, form a hypothesis, develop a way to test the hypothesis, collect data from the test and analyze the data, repeat the tests to ensure validity and then draw conclusions from the data. The hypothesis (our prediction) is either supported or refuted by the data and usually leads to further questions regarding the problem statement.
Our students should analyze the scientific evidence and the science teacher should strive to keep the focus of discussion on empirical data available that supports or refutes the general hypothesis. The controversial nature of this film does not lie in its scientific basis, but rather in its socioeconomic implications. It is the predictions and the impact of those predictions on society that are fueling the controversy.
The implications of a sun-centered solar system by Copernicus caused a controversy because it threatened to upset the social underpinnings of a particular belief system. Galileo was tried before the Inquisition and required to renounce his beliefs in Copernican theories. The theory was supported by the evidence acquired, but shunned because it required people to change the basic tenets of their society.
The role of science isn’t to determine the correct socioeconomic path for the human population, but rather to present valid, substantiated data that can be used to formulate a course that ensures a healthy, sustainable future.
"An Inconvenient Truth" gives science students worldwide a view into what may become the most talked about and researched experiment conducted on this planet. Students can research and discuss the validity and implications of the scientific research that is presented and the predictions that are made based on the evidence.
The film is an opportunity to view some impressive graphs, media
and data and to do a critical analysis of the scientific principals that
produced them. My students will make the final decision for themselves based on
their research into the validity of the evidence and will draw their own
conclusion as to what can or should be done to remedy the problem.
Michael Benda teaches science at Jeffers High School in the Adams Township School District, Painesdale.