Last month I asked my students to take a pro or con position on the topic of genetic engineering; one student vociferously announced, “I completely disagree with it. We don’t know how it’s going to affect us in the long run!” The boy next to her replied, “Ally, they use genetic engineering to manipulate bacteria to make human insulin. I’m diabetic; that insulin keeps me alive.” Other students thrust their hands into the air anxious to share their point of view, while others simply blurted out their ideas – our classroom was intellectually alive and I was the moderator.Ok, number one: No actual teenaged person ever spoke the words "They use genetic engineering to manipulate bacteria to make human insulin."
When asked why they were so engaged in the lesson one student replied, “It affects our future. We want to help build it.”
The other students clapped in agreement.
What is a good teacher worth?
No adult ever spoke the words "They use genetic engineering to manipulate bacteria to make human insulin." Not unless the adult was giving a lecture from notes.
"They use genetic engineering to manipulate bacteria to make human insulin" is not the way people talk.
Number two: No teenaged person ever said "It affects our future. We want to help build it," either.
Number three: Structurally speaking, the student who has diabetes is given the last word, which means s/he wins the point. I object. If this isn't a class where 'critical thinking' means 'adopt politically liberal positions re: science policy,' then both the discussion and the paragraph need to be handled differently. I.e.: some contrarian points of view need to be raised by the teacher.
Or maybe students could, you know, read something about the precautionary principle before they get so fired up they're thrusting their hands into the air and blurting out their ideas.
Which brings me to Number four: How is a bull session on genetic engineering a "lesson"?
(And, just out of curiosity, how does a bull session on genetic engineering, absent any engagement with the literature on the subject, help build the future?)
update 4:28pm: High school students preparing for a debate.