Muggles for Harry Potter

Tanaqui tweaver at
Mon Jun 19 13:54:04 EDT 2000

Mary Ann:
+ Do people in other countries find that it is widely believed that hard
+ science (and other subjects taught in schools) are Lists of Facts?

Sometimes, at what's now GCSE level, sciences are taught that way. It's
so blindingly obvious that the scientific method is a set of techniques
constantly being refined that most kids realise that despite the approach.

It is almost impossible to do classroom experiments without someone 
coming up with an, erm, original way to explain the data. A teacher
knows what's supposed to happen, but any teacher who says "no, you're
wrong" rather than "why that model? isn't this one a better/simpler/
more complete explanation" should be sacked.

Just show kids an old Periodic Table - or an article about the latest 
transient radioactive element discovered - or _New Scientist_ each and
every week (so that they can see data being debated, and people writing
into the letters column with their own interpretations of research)...

science is a process. _New Scientist_ erred in giving a platform to the
creationists because the creationists deride and abjure the process. They 
are absolutists, plain and fixed and they manipulate selected oddments of
data ("cherry picking" is the term). While the periodic table may be 
massively useful in grouping elements according to their properties and 
nuclear size, and the same with many of the "facts" used as a basis for 
science, they are only the best models we have at this time. Were you of
a mind, you could pick out and selectively exploit inconsistencies, explain
how the transuranics are the devil's elements because they don't fit into
the divinely ordered pattern (some scientist made it up? nah, god's puppet)
*and* they're terribly bad for people &c &c. 

Ccreationists don't use the models at all. They use data mined from them
to support their preset models. Scientists are busy refining the model,
not dismantling it in some theocratic rape'n'pillage.

Magic is one explanation of how things happen. It exists outside the 
scientific method, because it's not something done in a controlled and
repeatable way. In both magic and science, intuition is an important 
factor - though in the former it's absolutely crucial and in the latter
it's just a helpful way to discard bad models faster than a computer could
crunch through all the possible setups.
+ It takes work. And I find that a lot of Americans feel that it's Morally
+ Correct not to permit the discussion of topics people disagree about,
+ particularly if they are felt to be Upsetting. I find this very annoying, as
+ it gives priority to the status quo--and there's nothing neutral about that.

We should demand that _Black Maria_ (sorry, _Aunt Maria_ in the censoring
States) be taught in the Bible belt!! DWJ has very little respect for the
we-know-best element of society, and is a deal more tough-minded than Rowling
in demonstrating it. If the fundamentalists have a fit over Harry Potter's
wizardly free spirit, then we can expect full-on coronaries over DWJ.
+ I also found in teaching economic history that my students had no notion of
+ reading analysis as argument and considering the approach taken. To my
+ delight and surprise, they seemed to enjoy working on this. 

Suddenly life makes sense, because the most absolute authoritarian ever to be
informed directly by God can't make up a completely consistent picture of the
universe in a child's mind. Someday, having an independent analytical mind
will be invaluable in not being driven crazy by God's mad dictates.

It's fine if people "don't believe in" evolution.
it's what these people manage to believe instead that really scares me.

To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list