Looking back at school a decade later, I reflect on the courses that shaped me. As a liberal arts alum, the landscape of my educational background is a kaleidescope. Ethnomusicology, Introduction to Drawing, Astronomy 101. I always seem to come back to one course, “Science and the Supernatural” by professor Roberts. You haven’t seen Skepticism in action until you show that one to your parents on your report card, trust me.
Professor Roberts began day one, explaining his background. As a child he witnessed the violent murder of his father in the streets of Chicago. Since then, he’d felt a certain gift, developed with the help of several spiritual mentors over the years. His first inclination was a strange awareness of details about the caller whenever the phone would ring. He’d worked on this gift and developed it such that he could actually identify the caller prior to answering the phone, with astonishing accuracy. 50 years later, he’d cultivated this gift into a variety of talents.
Many students bore skeptical smirks, and Roberts could feel the tension starting to build, so he decided to lay doubts to rest. We were asked to write down our student ID numbers and put them in a hat. Roberts drew a number from the hat and, asking the class to remain silent, entered a deep trance, eerily narrating his visions. “I hear glass bottles clinking….something smells like barley. I seem to picture a young man working all day on an assembly line, leaving work in a raging blizzard, and heading to the ski hill to practice for the race that weekend. I see an older brother watching a race with pride, seeing his own amazing talents shared by his younger brother….and then a terrible crash, and several days in a hospital bed, a mother torn to pieces”. Finally a young man in the back of the small, and highly amused classroom burst out… ”Enough already. I worked in the Molson beer factory in Canada in high school. My older brother was an Olympic ski racer, he used to come watch my races. I broke my back in a fall one winter and spent 2 weeks in the hospital…” The class fell silent! Roberts repeated this feat twice more before we stumbled out of the classroom in shock. Students I spoke with afterwards said they’d never seen anything like this, Roberts was a true psychic. Most of these kids were in the top 10% of their high school class and had aced the SAT. We were convinced!
Day 2, Roberts began with a cheshire grin. He walked us through how he’d deceived us by making a few simple calls. First, to admissions, a quick read through our applications and essays, one call to a reference, Roberts had the knowledge about us only a psychic could conjure. He presented the course outline and emphasized that those who believed in alternative medicine, crop circles, and ghosts should be prepared for lots of class participation!
Similar coursework should be mandatory in the curriculum of our public schools; this I believe. Children are bombarded with superstition, mythology, and speculation but are rarely given the tools to separate truth from fiction.
Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. The burden of proof for an incredible claim lies with the claimant. The scientific method is not just for laboratory use. I think children deserve these gifts in the name of intellectual honesty.
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