Tuesday, October 27, 2009

verisimilitude

If you have watched the Stephen Colbert program on the Comedy Channel, you may have heard him mention "truthiness" which is a term he uses to describe things that resemble real facts and thus could be accepted to fit as real in your framework of beliefs. For those who have no real experience in the world and thus have no common sense framework for understanding, truthiness works just fine. The earlier term for this is verisimilitude. Verisimilitude in its literary context is defined as the fact or quality of being verisimilar, the appearance of being true or real; likeness or resemblance of the truth, reality or a fact's probability. Verisimilitude comes from Latin verum meaning truth and similis meaning similar. In science verisimiltude has a slightly different meaning as used by Karl Popper, in that one false theory may be closer to the truth than another false theory. So even verisimilitude can be confusing enough.

When you have science instruction taking place with right and wrong answers, and expertise demonstrated through multiple choice examinations, student understanding is built on a platform in which truthiness might be perceived as equally valid as truth, and verisimilitude will suffice in place of knowledge based on evidence and observation. Students in many states are taught that the truthiness of creation science and intelligent design are as relevant as direct scientific examination and that the student gets to make a choice between the two. It is certainly easier for some to just believe however they want, compared with having the intellectual curiosity required for more rigorous examination of reality. Having little or no personal experience in scientific method, students have no means through which to estimate the credibility of various scientific arguments.

We are at a point of complete irrationality in American politics with made up stuff taking the place of reality. Recent polls indicate people's understanding of such things as global warming is in decline and denial. I rue the day that we became a nation in which truthiness and verisimilitude rule the day. We formulate our beliefs based on political and social and religious alignments, rather than through scientific observation. And what we have now is what happens as a result of multiple choice, right and wrong answers as the foundation of our school experience.

In the arts and in wood shop, there are lots of right ways to reach ever changing objectives. Projects are often flexible in scope. What the children learn is the making of judgments, the testing of those judgments, and the diversity of outcomes and perspective. There are no right or wrong answers, but the arts offer the encouragement to observe and evaluate methods and outcomes.

Today the 7th 8th and 9th grade students worked on galvanized metal tags for marking trees. The photo above shows the 7th grade class. The students are making a self-study guide for a local park that visitors will be able to use to expand their own knowledge of our local trees and shrubs by comparing the number on the tag with the number on the key. So today and continuing next week we will be doing metal work instead of working with wood. But it involves close observation of cause and effect... the foundation of real science.

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