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What to Do When Students Face Science Denial at Home

Education doesn't just happen inside the classroom. It happens on the playground, at the store, in libraries and museums – virtually every experience, regardless of where it is, is an educational experience. But perhaps one of the most influential educational institutions in direct competition with school is the home. 

Why use the word "competition;" why not "in conjunction with?" For the simple reason that what kids are taught at home doesn't always align with what teachers teach in school. 

This poses a potentially major challenge to educators.

Understanding the Struggle

First, who does the student believe? Is it their parents or guardians, or the teacher? Furthermore, how do you:

  • Reconcile that difference so you don't interfere with personal beliefs but still teach what's required
  • Correct reactionary thinking
  • Arm students with the wisdom to think for themselves

This is particularly true when students face science denial at home. Whether for religious, political, or other reasons, parents may raise students to think contrary to popular scientific beliefs (evolution, round Earth, the age of the Earth, vaccines, etc.) in part or in whole.

How to Handle Science Denial at Home

If science denial isn't harming the student's progress and parents aren't interfering with the curriculum, there is no need for intervention or extra effort. What the student and the family believe is their right. If it interrupts the educational process, you may want to take a few steps to help your student cope with a possibly distressing situation.

1. Don't Push

As an educator, you are not necessarily in the business of convincing someone to believe in a fact. If a student tells you that their parents say that what they are learning is incorrect or doesn't exist, tell your student that their parents are allowed to feel that way. However, you need to inform your student that they must learn how to work within the framework of what you're teaching.

2. Encourage a Scientific Mind

If you see that your student is closing their minds to new ideas and concepts, don't push the idea on them, nor should you single them out. Instead, teach the importance of having a scientific mind. A scientific mind doesn't mean rationalizing scientific concepts automatically but rather pursuing curiosity, opposing ideas, supporting academic ideas using evidence, and experimentation. Conduct simple experiments to concretize scientific concepts your student may be struggling to understand and allow them to draw their own conclusions.

3. Provide Plenty of Source Material

As much as we'd like our students to "take it from us," that's not always the case. Provide plenty of source material so your student, whether about to face science denial at home or already taught to deny it, can see that you aren't pushing a personal agenda. 

4. Encourage them to Examine Their Emotions

Sometimes denial can come from a deep emotional state, and your student's parents may have unresolved anger or other emotional strongholds that are proving detrimental to your student's education. This can be the case when politics or issues involving science and race get involved. 

If your student comes to you upset about vaccine or mask mandates, for instance, first, sit them down and have them calmly explain why they don't believe in the science behind it. They may be modeling the behavior they see at home and only know how to react in this way. Next, go through the rationale of the "other side," AKA, the science side.

Be compassionate and comforting; their denial may be a cry for comfort.

5. Meet the Parents

If things are going downhill quickly because of science denial, you may want to have a mediated sit down with the parents and the principal of your school.

Though you can't guarantee that tempers will remain calm, try to find common ground with the parents and work towards a solution based on that. Be ready for anything and everything, but be specially prepared to actively listen to concerns and show genuine concern back.

Never belittle or demean. If things get out of control, rely on the mediator to help you through.

Don't Beat Yourself Up

Not every student will agree with what you're teaching, even if it's been proven by science. The best you can do is maintain a non-biased and compassionate approach with the student, but have them understand that they should learn how to work within different frameworks – even if they deny the concept in the end.

Written by Amelia Ellis
Education World Contributor
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