Some of us worry that students in the United States aren’t learning all the science they should. If our young people are to cope with the myriad challenges they’re certain to face in the rest of the 21st century, they need a strong grounding in science. As adults with a role in education, we need to model our respect for science, so students will see it as something highly valued by the leaders in the community.

Of course, that’s just one side of the issue. To be purely objective, I should offer a “credible, legitimate opposing view.”

On some issues–like gravity, say, or global warming–such credible, legitimate opposing perspectives can be hard to come by. Fortunately, for purposes of this column, just such an opposing perspective is readily at hand. It comes from the governors of the Federal Way School District near Seattle.

In January–while citizens in many parts of the country were sitting outside in their shirt sleeves enjoying the 70-degree winter weather and reading about an ancient ice shelf the size of Manhattan floating out to sea after breaking off from Ellesmere Island in the high Arctic–the Federal Way School Board was slapping a moratorium on showing one of the highest grossing documentaries in U.S. history. At issue was the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” in which former Vice President Al Gore presents the scientific evidence demonstrating global warming.

The School Board acted after a parent who supports Creationism and opposes sex education complained about the documentary.

“Condoms don’t belong in school, and neither does Al Gore. He’s not a schoolteacher,” said Frosty Hardison, a father of seven who also said he believes the Earth is 14,000 years old. His objections came via eMail, according to the local press and various wire services. “The information that’s being presented is a very cockeyed view of what the truth is. … The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn’t in the DVD.”

Hardison’s eMail to the School Board prompted board member David Larson to propose the moratorium on Jan. 9.

“Somebody could say you’re killing free speech, and my retort to them would be we’re encouraging free speech,” said Larson, a lawyer. “The beauty of our society is we allow debate.”

School Board members adopted a three-point policy that says teachers who want to show the movie must ensure (1) that a “credible, legitimate opposing view will be presented,” (2) that they must get the OK of the principal and the superintendent, and (3) that any teachers who have shown the film must now present an “opposing view.” The requirement to represent another side follows district policy to represent both sides of a controversial issue, board President Ed Barney said.

“What is purported in this movie is, ‘This is what is happening. Period. That is fact,'” Barney said.

Students should hear the perspective of global-warming skeptics and then make up their minds, he said. After they do, “if they think driving around in cars is going to kill us all, that’s fine, that’s their choice.”

Liberals and assorted bunny-huggers, of course, have hopped on the bandwagon opposed to this stand “encouraging free speech” by the Federal Way School Board. But I’d like to suggest yet a third point of view.

Although modeling respect for science might, on the surface, seem like a desirable practice for pillars of the community, another phenomenon might just come into play, a phenomenon so far identified by nearly no one commenting on the Federal Way flap (and for good reason).

The phenomenon to which I refer might be described as the “allure of forbidden fruit.” Coupled with the natural proclivity of young people to resist the admonitions of their elders, what this School Board has done might just be the best thing that possibly could happen to “An Inconvenient Truth”–at least in school circles.

Consider this: Federal Way students interviewed by the local press the day after the board’s vote generally wanted to watch the movie.

“I think that a movie like that is a really great way to open people’s eyes up about what you can do and what you are doing to the planet and how that’s going to affect the human race,” said Kenna Patrick, a senior at the district’s Thomas Jefferson High School.

“Watching a movie doesn’t mean that you have to believe everything you see in it,” she added.

On the other hand–to be fair and balanced about it–there certainly are older, respected citizens who insist that watching a movie means you do, too, have to believe everything you see in it.

Being very much like people, high school students probably suppose they can think for themselves. But honestly now: With controversies like this heating up their educational environment, when will these kids ever learn?

Links (fair and balanced):

Federal Way School District http://www.fwps.org/

AIT Educator Site http://www.participate.net/educators/