Teach the controversy

From June but still of interest:

Rep. Terese Berceau, a Madison Democrat, was quizzing Rep. Jesse Kremer, her Republican colleague from Kewaskum, at a hearing for his proposed Campus Free Speech Act before the state Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities recently.

Berceau wondered what would happen under the bill — which requires University of Wisconsin System institutions to be neutral on “controversies of the day” — if a student in a geology class argued the Biblical theory that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

“Is it okay for the professor to tell them they’re wrong?” Berceau asked during the lengthy session on May 11.

“The earth is 6,000 years old,” Kremer offered.  “That’s a fact.”

Pause for the mind to reel at the fact that a state legislator – someone who makes the laws – is that ignorant, not just of what the facts in question are, but what a fact is.

Then pause again for the mind to reel at the fact that that same staggeringly ignorant legislator is promoting a bill that would require Wisconsin state universities to be “neutral” on what he, the ignorant legislator, considers “controversies” as opposed to “facts.”

But, he said, “this bill stays out of the classroom.”

Yet Kremer immediately speculated that students who felt intimidated from expressing their opinions in class could bring their complaints to the Council on Free Expression, an oversight board created in the bill. So the law could potentially cover things that happen in the classroom, he suggested.

So then students could bring official complaints against geology professors who taught their subject, on the pretext that there is “controversy” over whether or not the earth is 6 thousand years old.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, is a sponsor of the bill. He spoke at the hearing about the importance of presenting all views on controversial topics on campus.

“Probably the biggest debate is global warming,” Vos said. “A lot of people think it’s settled science and an awful lot of people think it isn’t. I think both sides should be brought to campus and let students decide.”

But which people? Vos is counting people in general, lining them up as if it were an election as opposed to a large complex technical subject that relies on evidence, not opinion. The fact that “an awful lot of people think it isn’t” is not relevant on subjects of that kind, because an awful lot of people think all kinds of things that aren’t true simply because they don’t know enough about them.

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