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10+ Teachers Discuss How They Respond to Students Who Deny Science

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It must be frustrating to teachers today to deal with this kind of ignorance.

But I guess that’s what they get paid for, right?

AskReddit users who also happen to be science teachers sounded off about how they deal with kids who don’t believe in science. I commend them, because I don’t think I’d have the patience to deal with this.

1. Deniers

“I teach an intro astronomy course at my university, and I’m pretty sure there’s at least one denier every year.

I don’t bother arguing, and that’s all they’re interested in: arguing. They don’t actually want to learn. If they want to put down the wrong answer on their test, I’ll just mark them incorrect and move on. If they continue to answer incorrectly, they’ll fail the course. It’s their money, and they’re free to spend it on a course they’ll purposely fail if that’s what they really want to do.”

2. Make them question things

“I teach secondary science (11-18yo). I don’t argue, I simply ask them questions. Or I put forward follow ons from what they’ve said. For example for students who are against evolution I ask them about MRSA and how do they think it’s happened.

Telling someone they’re wrong very rarely changes their views. Getting them to actively interrogate their own ideas is much more important.

To be honest it’s the same for everyone. One of my favorite questions to ask students is to prove to me the Earth orbits the sun and not the other way around. Science has told them it’s correct but few of them can give me coherent arguments as to how we know it’s the case. Make them question things.”

3. Shut down

“My wife teaches high school science. She teaches the evolution section without actually using the term until the very end. By that point it’s so obvious that natural selection works and so forth that she gets no arguments and students are dumbstruck as to what the big deal is all about.

Starting with the word “evolution” causes some kids to shut down and resist learning.”

4. Believe what you want

“I teach at a Catholic high school in the deep south. I teach evolution and I am thorough.

Sometimes I have students come to me because they do not believe in evolution and they are concerned. I very gently assure them that they are free to believe whatever they believe. I expect them to be able to explain what the consensus of scientists is and how science explains evolution. I take their personal beliefs out of the equation, entirely.”

5. Paranoid insanity

“Physics/Astronomy/Maths with a smattering of KS3 general science here.

I get “moon landing deniers” in classes all the time, usually as a joke. Very rarely serious. I have taught biology and have had a couple of religious nutters object to evolution. I have yet to encounter “flat earth” yet, but it’s not so common here in the UK. 9/10 times something like this comes up in my class it is not conspiracy, but naivety, from younger teenagers who uncritically believe things they see on youtube. When the “Russian sleep experiment” creepypasta did the rounds a while ago I fielded questions about that, and I am regularly asked if the world will end tomorrow when that’s the madness du jour. Most students do not believe it, they just are curious and want answers – and as their science teacher, they ask me.

Once it’s become clear that they actually believe something mental, I am not going to change their mind with evidence – belief in conspiracy theories like science denial is not about evidence or facts – it’s about a sense of powerlessness and distrust of authority, and I can’t do anything about that. I’m not going to engage with crazies – just ignore them and teach kids who want to learn.

Then if they continue to disrupt the learning of others with stupid conspiracy ideas, I throw them out of my class. It is important for the majority of students to see such beliefs being treated as an abject joke, so they are not normalized.

Basically, you get a minute or two for me to establish if you are earnestly/naively asking a question about something you (usually) read online, or are actually a loon. If it’s the former, I will help you and educate you. If the latter then no mercy. I am paid to educate, not to indulge paranoid insanity.”

6. Meanwhile, in the UK…

“UK science teacher here – secondary. Most of the ones who do this dont actually believe what they are saying and are just seeing if they can get a rise out of me or a laugh from their peers. I just try to ignore it and get on with the lesson at hand.

What we have worse is that we are a rural school and lessons to do with nutrition or climate change(caused by farming) can get quite heated. For example during a lesson on nutrition I mentioned that there was a connection between eating too much red meat and reduced overall health.

One student, whose family farms beef, got really upset and offended like I was personally insulting his family:
“My dads a beef farmer miss, hes not trying to hurt anyone! We have beef every day and we don’t have any health problems. You saying we should be vegan? Vegans are idiots! This is stupid!” “

7. Philosophy

“I used to teach philosophy, and these kinds of students are even more outspoken in that environment. I would always allow them to talk and then ask them to prove their positions. None of them could and generally they would be fairly respectful about the fact that they had absolutely no ground to stand on. I think this is because in a real-life situation they’re forced to realize that they have nothing to back their argument.”

8. It’s their grade

“Ultimately it’s their grade. If they don’t want to follow my curriculum and respond correctly on the test, it’s their problem. But if time allows, I’m up for some good debating. My argument is backed up with scientific evidence. Theirs is usually backed up with something they found on Instagram or their parents told them.”

9. Science is a process

“I’m late to the conversation, but it is important to teach the skeptical nature of science. Science can’t be wrong.

The reason is that science is about explaining natural phenomenon through the scientific method and following evidence. Through observation and experimentation, the evidence has led us to scientific conclusions. However, nothing should be considered absolute, rather that it has the most compelling evidence.

So let them deny the accepted scientific conclusions. But, they should be challenged to use unbiased evidence to back their claim. They should understand that science is a PROCESS, not a set of facts.”

10. Believe in stapler

“I’ll never forget my high school biology teacher pointing at the stapler on his desk and telling us: “Saying you believe in (or don’t believe in) evolution is like saying you believe in stapler. It’s not there for you to believe in or not, it just is.” Dude was the greatest.”

11. Conduct your own experiments

“You’re fully allowed to believe anything that you want, just as I’m allowed to speak about what I believe. Thousands of scientists have found hard evidence of there existence of what I’m about to talk about. I’m not here to change what you believe, but you are here to absorb and understand what I’m going to tell you, whether or not you agree. Also the great thing about science is that if you disagree you can conduct your own experiments to test your hypothesis.”

12. Physics

“When I taught physics, I always started the first class of the semester explaining that physics (and science in general) is not about finding truth. It is about mastering the web of cause and effect relationships that most accurately describe the universe as we see it. The goal is to find the most succinct cause-and-effect rule that covers the largest set of observations.”

13. Validation

“I teach HS bio and earth science. Most of the time when my kids are questioning accepted science, it really is just a lack of knowledge, so I take time to answer all their questions in language they can understand, show pictures or videos if I can, and just generally take the time they need to understand. A lot of the time, they’re distrustful of “how do scientists know that though?” because previous teachers have told them something is true without explaining the evidence.

I’ve had a few kids who have flat out said they don’t believe in evolution, an old earth, or dinosaurs because of religious reasons. I always say something to the effect of:
**”Those are your religious beliefs, and you are completely entitled to have them. I teach science though, so I am going to give you information from a scientific perspective.” **

Then I just teach like I would for any other student. I actually just had a kid the other day say, after a lesson on the geologic time line, that she was starting to doubt her beliefs. I’m not trying to convince my students to abandon their religious beliefs, but it was validating to hear that she was starting to look at things from a different perspective.”

14. Not trying to change minds

“My Freshman year science teacher made an excellent point to a few religious kids in our class, and they were appreciative of his consideration. He said he would be assessing them on the information presented in his classroom. It was not meant to insult their current beliefs. He wanted them to have the understanding of the other side of the debate. As he further explained, if he were a Sunday school teacher, he would expect answers from the teachings of the bible.

Yes, he hoped they would change their minds. But at the end of the day, he wanted a smooth class for all kids involved. By making sure they knew he was not trying to change their minds, they were more open to the coursework.”

15. Brainwashed

“High School Biology teacher. I teach in a small rural district. The town is full of baptist churches. For the most part I’ve learned that I just say we are learning the consensus of scientists. If you want to get the right answer, you will put down either the right answer, or you will preface any answer with scientists think, or scientists have concluded or evolutionary biologists have concluded, and then you proceed.

I’ve had parents try to pull their kids out of my room, I’ve had parents accuse me of hating God, I’ve had parents accuse me of turning their kids into nihilists. I’ve had parents file formal complaints against me to my administration, and when that didn’t work, to the school board. I’ve gotten the most insane emails from parents and my own coworker who is a parent of one of my former students. For the most part except a few totally brainwashed kids, my students go along and learn what I’m teaching. It also always the freshmen who think they have to parrot what their crazy parents are saying that are the worst to deal with. By the time I get the juniors and seniors for my electives they’ve all toned it way down. I’ve had my class interrupted because I had a kid saying Jesus over and over again out loud to every question. Literally just Jesus, like that was supposed to dispel my entire chapter of information.

Those kids won’t take another class from me again, even though there are only two science teachers, they specifically avoid me the rest of their career. I’m nothing but nice, kind, understanding, but the brainwashing is so complete, they think I’m some evil influence. I’m not exaggerating. I wish I was. I also teach an 8th grade class. Parents make specific requests that I not be the teacher of their children. Because I’m evil? I don’t know. It exasperating. I’m just doing my job and teaching the Next Generation Science Standards and the standards of my state. Some years are worse than others, sometimes I get a batch of brainwashed kids, sometimes the brainwashed kids shut the f*** up about it. Sometimes they are all reasonable.”